Supply chain crisis, granite shortage impacting Omaha headstone makers

Published: Dec. 2, 2021 at 7:11 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Even for those who are grieving, the supply chain crisis is unavoidable. A shortage of granite is hitting local monument and headstone makers hard.

“I’ve never had anything like this in the industry or the business,” says Ted Bloemker, owner of Fremont Monument Company.

Without granite, headstones can’t be made. When you run the largest monument company in the state like Bloemker does, you need lots of materials, including hundreds of thousands of pounds of granite.

“We have a lot of colors of granite coming from overseas so for the whole COVID process it’s not uncommon for our import colors to wait over a year for them to reach the United States,” he says. “And then they have to be loaded on to a train and taken to distribution points and then semis bring them into us, so it’s a very long process for us to get the granite where typically it might’ve been say three, four months, now its a year plus we’re having to wait.”

Ryan Norton owns Pulverente Monument Co. in downtown Omaha. Although he orders on a smaller scale than Bloemker, his business has been greatly impacted, too.

“Usually stuff that would take three to four months now takes six to eight months,” Norton says. “We’ve had stuff on order since July and still haven’t received them, so we’re just trying to do the best we can with what we got and adapt and change as we go.”

The problem isn’t just with internationally shipped granite, either. Even within the United States, deliveries are taking twice to three times as long.

“We have one company we get granite from, Georgia Gray and it comes from Elberton, and usually it takes about a week after we order, we receive it. They’ve only been here one time this year,” Norton says.

“The prices have gone up so much of all of these goods including the granite, they have just skyrocketed so that in turn has really caused everybody to kind of look at buying more domestic colors,” Bloemker adds. “So our domestic suppliers are sometimes strained with 40-60% more volume than they’re normally used to having, with less employees to do that work. So it’s just a snowball effect that has really, really slowed down the whole process.”

Higher prices also means some customers may start to see that reflected in their purchase, no matter how bad businesses don’t want to make those changes.

“Some of this granite I’ve ordered over a year ago from overseas, now we have Chinese tariffs, and we also have added freight costs, surcharges, so even though that memorial was sold a year ago and ordered for a set price, now our cost has gone up sometimes by a thousand dollars based on weight just for freight to get it to our door. Yes, you have to absorb as much as you can but you have to stay in business as well, make sure that your employees are taken care of and make sure they get their paychecks and can feed their families,” Bloemker says.

It’s not just the granite - other products they use to cut and shape granite into the artful headstones you see are limited, too.

“For instance, installing in the cemetery we use a special setting compound, that was not available for many months, and then it because available but they didn’t have the plastic buckers to put it in. Once they got the plastic buckets, they were missing the lids so then they had to get the lids produced,” Bloemker says. “That was a roller coaster.”

For the first time in their careers, both Bloemker and Norton say they’re not always able to provide a timeline for when headstones and memorials for customers will be complete. Simply put, if they don’t have the granite, they can’t do the work.

“Everyone wants to know when so you call your supplier and then they make a phone call and they don’t know when and usually the answer you get is we don’t know,” Norton adds. “Sometimes it’s a container sitting out in the ocean somewhere and sometimes it just takes longer to get and when you do get it, you try to put it on the front of the line and get it out as fast as you can because you know families are waiting.”

“I wish I had the golden globe and could tell you all the secret answer but our standard line is the truth of it’s going to be over a year before we even get the granite on our doorstep and we have to do all the personalization and lettering and the artwork so, you could be looking at a year and a half, realistically,” Bloemker says.

Both Bloemker and Norton say the best bet for those not willing to wait months for their loved one’s headstone is to order a color they know they have in stock, even if the choices are limited.

“We try to push people to buy things we have here on the lot because if we have it, we can answer those questions about how long it’s going to take, so we try to just kind of steer people to things we do have rather than wait for the unknown timeframe that keeps getting pushed back,” Norton says.

“We’ve been pretty lucky to make it through this year, I mean we’re kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel now but pretty soon we’ll have frost on the ground and everything will have to wait until springtime anyway.”

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