Headstone shortage ahead?

Shortage of laborers taking a toll on industry during pandemic

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Frances Stewart, owner of Southwest Monument & Bronze Memorials, showcases granite colors in the showroom. The granite supply chain was interrupted this year. (Photo by Carol Mowdy Bond)

By Carol Mowdy Bond
Contributing Writer

A shortage of laborers has interrupted the supply of granite that is needed for headstone monuments.

There is plenty of granite left on Earth, but the availability has been affected by the pandemic. Also, policies related to the COVID-19 pandemic are disrupting the supply chain, and thus impacting various parts of the industry, experts say.

Matt Stewart is the manager of Southwest Monument & Bronze Memorials, located at 7200 S. Western Avenue in Oklahoma City.

“There’s no shortage of materials, such as granite and other,” Stewart said. “The problem is a shortage of labor.”

Stewart began seeing changes in the ability to access granite in a timely manner during Jan./Feb. 2020. He said Southwest Monument’s granite is imported from China as the first source. And the second source is India.

“Before COVID-19 impacted the U.S., it impacted countries overseas,” Stewart said. “At that point, China had stay-at-home mandates. So, this impacted the China granite suppliers because their laborers weren’t going to work. So, then everyone rushed to India to get granite. But India’s suppliers weren’t ready for all the orders. So, in the beginning of the pandemic, we had extreme delays in our granite orders. This impacts day-to-day business.”

“It’s different now than it has ever been before,” Stewart said. “Things that used to take weeks are now taking a month. Things that used to take a month are now taking six months. There are changes in importing times, and customs, and a lot of things we’re running into.”

“We used to get a truck of granite every three to four weeks,” Stewart said. “Now we get a truck every six to eight weeks. It went from 90 to 120 days to now 120 to 200 days to import.”

And the delay in accessing materials doesn’t just apply to granite. Bronze makers are also running slower. Most bronze makers are in the northern part of the U.S., in places like Minnesota and Pennsylvania. “We used to have a four to six-week turnaround time to produce bronze,” Stewart said. “Now that’s pushed to eight to 10 weeks turnaround time.”
“Families aren’t patient,” Stewart said. “They have the Amazon mentality.”

But families have other options so they can get their memorials and headstones in a timely fashion. “They could buy whatever we have in stock,” Stewart said. “We have options that take eight to 10 weeks, which is a pretty quick turnaround time.”

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Stewart said he can’t tell whether or not the uptick in orders is directly related to COVID-19 deaths, and he pointed out there are other possible reasons for an uptick in orders. “There are a lot of people at home with time off from work,” Stewart said. “They used to not have time to choose memorials and headstones. But now they have more free time.”

Granite is a common rock that makes up a big part of Earth’s crust or outer layer. It is mined worldwide.

Most domestic granite comes from Georgia where there are a lot of quarries. Their turnaround time was about four weeks. Now it’s 10 to 12 weeks.

Southwest Monument uses Canadian granite for one reason.

The granite color known as Morning Rose, also known as North American Pink, is the only granite that they import from Canada.

Stewart’s parents, Frances and Win Stewart, started Southwest Monument & Bronze Memorials over 33 years ago. With experience in designing and creating memorials, Southwest Monument is one of the few monument companies that does its own sandblasting, with that work done at their south Oklahoma City location.

The company has artists on staff who can create whatever the client has in mind. As well, the company provides both laser etching by machine, and laser etching by hand.
The company’s home office is at 7200 S. Western Avenue in Oklahoma City. There’s a showroom at that location, and that’s where all the sandblasting and other work is done. But the company also has an Edmond location at 720 S. Broadway. The company takes orders from clients in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Kansas.

The company offers a vast array of items including granite and bronze memorial products, including headstones and markers, mausoleums, bronze markers, dedication plaques, vases, benches, porcelain photos, laser and diamond etching, cremation options, and more. They have a huge list of civic memorials they’ve created that are in place, including work at Successful Word Church, in Warwick; Murrah Building Memorial in Oklahoma City; Chesapeake Boat House located in Bricktown in Oklahoma City; Oklahoma Farm Bureau in Oklahoma City; Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City; Taylor’s Island View on Lake Texoma; commercial business signs; pet memorials; engraved brick pavers; engraved dedication granite pavers; plaques and signs and memorials.

To connect with Southwest Monument & Bronze Memorials, call the Oklahoma City location at (405) 631-1718, or the Edmond location at (405) 341-5544. Or go online to http://www.southwestmonument.com, or email swmonument@sbcglobal.net.