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Families should expect longer wait times for headstones due to supply chain issues

The No. 1 issue for local companies is the shortage of a sandblast stencil. 3M, a main supplier of the thick, rubber stencil with Mylar backing, announced in October it was halting production due to increased material costs and a desire to focus efforts elsewhere.

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Dustin Anderson talks about granite and bronze options for headstones in the showroom space at Dakota Monument in Fargo.
David Samson/The Forum
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FARGO — A national stencil shortage and other supply chain issues are forcing some families to wait for closure following the death of a loved one.

The challenges have increased the wait time for a headstone to nearly a year in some cases.

Many headstones sold in the U.S. are made with granite from China and India. Shipping container shortages have made it difficult and costly to ship the stone. Furthermore, once it arrives in the U.S., it may sit on a cargo ship for an extended period of time before it's unloaded.

But thanks to close proximity to quarries, many Midwest monument makers use local granite. For many here, a shortage of the sandblast stencil needed to apply the epitaph and artwork is the bigger issue.

Dustin Anderson, general manager of Dakota Monument in Fargo, explained that 3M recently stopped production of its sandblast stencil. That's a big deal because the Minnesota-based company was responsible for about 60% of production, he said.

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"It's a special stencil. It's a thicker, heavy duty rubber that has a Mylar backing," Anderson explained. "Basically, we need to put it on, take it off, put it on, and take it off multiple times. In the sandblasting process we need a thicker, more durable rubber stencil so we don't ruin the stones."

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Dustin Anderson shows the rubber with Mylar backing used for stencil work at Dakota Monument in Fargo.
David Samson/The Forum

In an emailed statement to The Forum, a 3M representative said the decision to stop production was due to increasing material costs.

"In October, 3M notified its customers that the company will no longer manufacture Sandblast Stencil Products. Severely constrained raw material availability, exponentially increasing costs, and strategic business focus factored into the decision," read the statement.

FARGO - When Kim Buchholz was studying art at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, she never imagined that one day her canvas would be a headstone or that sand would be her pen.

Anderson said it's possible a growing demand for cremation versus traditional burial may be another reason behind the decision.

"In a bigger city like Chicago, I would say it's definitely a factor. I know of one cemetery in Chicago where you're allowed to bury up to 23 sets of ashes, but only allowed to mark three. That's a big issue out there," he said. "However, we're very fortunate in the upper Midwest where people get cremated but still want to be memorialized."

He's not aware of any trademark issues, so he hopes other suppliers will eventually be able to pick up the slack.

Dakota Monument has fared better than many companies.

"We've been able to keep everyone employed and working. I know of several companies across the country that have had to completely shut down due to lack of stencil or stone," he said.

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He said they now source their stencil from five different suppliers. They have also changed vendors for some of their granite colors because of shorter lead times.

"We're also keeping more inventory on hand to accommodate for the lack of inventory with our suppliers," he said.

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Bryce Dunford works with stencils on a headstone at Dakota Monument in Fargo.
David Samson/The Forum

Alternatives are available

Anderson said Dakota Monument's lead time averages anywhere from four months to a year depending on the type of stone and where it's coming from.

"(Granite from) India is taking a month or two longer than China, but both time frames are double what we are used to seeing," he said. "For domestic granites, depending on where it comes from, it can vary between 10 weeks and six months."

There are other options to granite for families who don't want to wait. For instance, a family could choose to go with bronze or marble. They may cost more, but the turnaround time is often shorter.

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A variety of monuments are seen in the warehouse area at Dakota Monument in Fargo.
David Samson/The Forum

He said Dakota Monument representatives are up front with families about the challenges. Most understand the delays are out of their control.

Jim Boulger, owner of Boulger Funeral Home in Fargo, agrees.

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He said families are typically aware that supply chain issues are widespread. In addition to the stencil shortage, he said there is also a shortage of wooden caskets right now.

"There is one major warehouse that manufactures a lot of wood for casket manufacturers. They've had people out with COVID and shut down for a day or two, and that puts everything behind. It's just a ripple effect that effects everybody," Boulger said. "Whereas metal caskets, we can get metal no problem. It's just a different supply issue."

He said they often put out a temporary monument, which satisfies most families.

"That will suffice until a permanent one comes in," Boulger said. "I just promise them it will get done eventually."

BUSINESS PROFILE:
WHAT: Dakota Monument Company
WHERE: 1212 24th Ave. S., Fargo
CONTACT: 701-237-4343
ONLINE: www.dakotamonument.com
ABOUT: Dakota Monument is a fifth-generation, family-owned memorial company that has been crafting distinctive monuments, markers, benches, signs and gifts for more than a century.

Related Topics: FARGO
Angie Wieck is the business editor for The Forum. Email her at awieck@forumcomm.com
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