Thin stone panels have made stone affordable and popular again, reopening a market for masonry contractors.

START WITH GOOD PEOPLE: The biggest up-front expense in entering the stone business is people. You need estimators who know the stone industry and preferably have some experience setting stone themselves.

ENGINEERING SERVICES: Many design professionals consider detailing stone connections beyond the scope of their services. The responsibility for this design-and the liability-fall on the stone contractor. These services aren't needed until you've been awarded the contract, but you have to know how much they cost to bid the job. One way to find qualified engineers is to ask the stone industry associations: Marble Institute of America (MIA), Indiana Limestone Institute (ILI), and National Building Granite Quarries Association (NBGQA).

SHOP DRAWINGS: Like structured steel, nothing is fabricated until after shop drawings have been prepared, reviewed, revised, and approved by the architect or engineer. If the stone supplier or your engineering consultant doesn't provide shop drawings, then you must prepare them.

PURCHASING: The architect and owner select the stone for a project, but the contractor purchases it. It is recommended that new stone contractors use an established supplier instead of buying directly from the fabricator.