Digital Stone Age: Local Companies Launch New Online Platform

If you had told Chattanooga’s Natalie and David Martin a year and a half ago that they would be breaking into a multi-billion-dollar natural stone industry, the couple wouldn’t have believed it.  

But that’s exactly what’s happening — the Heed Public Relations owners have joined Patrick Wells and John Bryant in launching StoneLoads, a national online marketplace for natural stone. 

By using the new platform, natural stone quarries and fabricators across the country can list full truckloads of product to be purchased by landscape supply yards nationwide. 

“StoneLoads was built to disrupt [the industry], but also to empower the existing structure of the industry,” David Martin, Chief Marketing Officer, StoneLoads says.  

Before this platform launched, some industry professionals relied on sending text messages with photos of stones to customers – leaving room for error and customer dissatisfaction.  

Wells, who is also the head of his own quarry and fabrication company, says the new marketplace provides more transparency about product availability.  

“Now quarries and fabricators can list their products online for a national audience of landscape supply yards that are hunting for those exact materials,” he says.  

Finding Business Partners  

The Martins established Heed PR in 2018, and have hit a good stride with the business, which is still growing. 

They started asking themselves, “what’s next,” and when they weren’t sure about the “what,” they moved on to the “who?” 

Who would they want to work with if the right opportunity presented itself? 

“We had a very short list, and Patrick Wells was on that list,” David Martin says.  

The Martins had worked with Wells’ business Majestic Stone, and the three built a solid relationship.  

Fast forward a few years, when Wells reached out to David to tell him about the marketplace idea, but said he was stuck on the technology part.  

From left to right: David Martin CMO, Natalie Roy Martin CTO, Patrick Wells CEO, John Bryant COO
Photographer: Randi Vasquez Khataei

The Technology    

Enter Natalie Martin.  

“Natalie stepped in and helped guide that tech out of the quagmire into what it is now — a sophisticated, smart piece of technology,” David Martin says.  

Prior to launching Heed, Natalie worked in web development, internet marketing analysis and web project management.  

Although the idea for the marketplace was simple, Natalie knew the platform would end up being complex.  

For example, the stone industry doesn’t have a consistent way to categorize and name stones. One quarry might call a stone gray, while another calls it charcoal. And buyers need to know specific details, such as thickness and weight. A simple Shopify site wasn’t going to work for the special needs of the natural stone industry.  

Natalie, who led the team of developers to create the marketplace, knew that the business’ success would be won or lost by how user-friendly and accessible they could make the platform.  

And having insight from Wells, who knows the industry, was essential, she says.  

StoneLoads’ Industry Impact  

Like many industries, natural stone operations are seeing generational turnover.  

Younger professionals are growing into family businesses and are looking to operate their companies in a way that’s more comfortable for them, which usually includes technology.  

Photographer: Randi Vasquez Khataei

“Young leaders want to get away from the Rolodex,” David Martin says. 

StoneLoads is meeting that need and customers are taking notice.  

“StoneLoads has provided a much-needed solution to a widespread problem in the natural stone industry. Our customers expect us to offer a robust inventory of natural stone for various projects, and being able to simply go online and browse full truckloads of products that are instantly available makes our job a lot easier,” Ryan Hamil, President, Knepp Sand & Stone, New Paris, Indiana, says 

The new marketplace isn’t an effort to compete with distributors. Instead, it opens up networks for both buyers and sellers, the duo says. 

“It’s giving a lot of the smaller operations the opportunity to shop for products that they historically didn’t have access to because of pre-existing and sometimes rigid buying and selling networks,” David Martin says.  

One of the first transactions on the site was from a mom-and-pop operation that got access to more products and efficiencies through the marketplace.  

“One of our biggest users is one of the biggest groups in the world, however, we are starting to see a lot of these midsize and smaller [using the platform],” David Martin says. “It’s really democratizing.” 

StoneLoad benefits include:

For quarries and fabricators—

  • Buyers ready to purchase full truckloads of stone
  • 24/7 shopping experience
  • Payment within 24 hours of pickup
  • A simplified selling process

For landscape supply yards—

  • Full loads of stone available for pickup immediately
  • Actual images of materials in a load
  • Realtime updates of product costs
  • A simplified buying process

How it Works  

  • Currently, StoneLoads makes money only on a transaction fee, which is capped and paid by the seller.  
  • Users apply to sell, and assuming the business is a legit quarrier or fabricator, they get approved for the platform.  
  • Users set up their own profile, similar to a social media account.  
  • Users add their products to the site, which provides a streamlined process and consistency in the listings.  
  • Buyers also have to be approved to use the platform, but anyone can go to the site and search. 

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