It’s a grave problem: A shortage of materials, months-long backlogs and rising costs are causing holdups in getting monuments and gravestones.
George Pantelic, owner of ABC Monuments in Lawndale, said orders from a domestic supplier used to take four weeks to arrive. Now, they take seven months.
“I’m out of gray stone that’s coming from Georgia, and I have close to 100 orders that I can’t fill,” Pantelic said. “I’ve been waiting for that stone for the last two and a half months.”
COVID-induced supply chain issues have affected almost every step of monument and gravestone production. Many quarries closed when the pandemic hit. When they reopened, there weren’t enough workers. Add to that a shortage of containers for shipping the stones, severely congested international ports and a shortage of truckers to deliver the product from port to shop.
Business owners like Pantelic try to get around the problem by ordering products well in advance and going straight to suppliers abroad rather than going through a domestic middleman. Still, he said, the supply chain situation is worrying — especially for smaller businesses used to operating on a for-order basis.
“I’m kind of versed in doing that stuff,” Pantelic said. “The guy that never imported the container or doesn’t have a facility to bring the container and unload the container … he’s done. He’s, like, you can put the key in the door and walk away, because how do you sell a headstone to a customer telling him it’s going to be in 14 months.”
To make matters even more complicated, the stencils used to engrave headstone are also in short supply. 3M, one of the three biggest manufacturers of the stencils, abruptly got out of the business last fall.
“In October, 3M notified its customers that the company will no longer manufacture Sandblast Stencil Products,” 3M said in a statement. “Severely constrained raw material availability, exponentially increasing costs, and strategic business focus factored into the decision.”
“We’re already dealing with quite a big backlog,” said Lisa Troost, president of Peter Troost Monument Co. “Even in the best of circumstances, it would be taking longer to deliver than we would normally, and this just kind of throws another wrench in that process.”
“The global supply chain issues really hit home, on a micro level, with a small company like ours,” Troost said.
Olga Barrett, owner of Monumental Art Works, said her business has soared, but keeping up with demand has been hard.
“We didn’t think we were going to have such a positive couple of years,” Barrett said. “The demand was huge. May and June things started taking off. ... It was bonkers.”
When supply chain issues made if difficult to keep pace, Barrett looked around for new quarries. She hit a dead end.
“Demand at the quarries was so high, even hiring enough people was a challenge,” Barrett said. “Certain quarries aren’t even taking new customers. … Nobody that we haven’t worked with before is accepting new customers. It’s crazy.”
Orders that took six weeks to arrive at Monument Artworks now take upwards of six months.
Barrett tried to hold the line on prices, but rising product and fuel prices, along with high import taxes and tariffs on goods from China, have made that impossible.
“Usually, you set the prices at the start of the year. … We had to raise our prices two times [in 2021]. It was very disheartening,” Barrett said.
The shortages come at one of the busiest times for the industry in years. Demand for gravestones is up, both because of COVID-19-related deaths and an increase in orders for pre-pandemic graves, Troost said. Many of her customers have come in looking to honor a loved one who passed away before the pandemic, she said.
Troost said she doesn’t expect the situation to get better in the near future.
“I would encourage people that, if this is something that they’ve had on their mind, to start the process and conversation sooner rather than later, because I don’t know if prices are going down,” she said. “And at this point, I don’t see the lead times shortening anytime soon.”