Creative Countertops increases efficiency in its stone shop

Creative Countertops of Poulsbo, WA, runs a small shop with a few pieces of equipment, but with an efficient workflow in place the company is a top producer in its region.

Creative Countertops increases efficiency in its stone shop: For some fabricators, expanding and growing the business means getting new machines, leasing out a larger plot of land and building bigger shops. But Bill Wyman, who has a philosophy of doing more with less, has been able to propel his fabrication business to one of the top performing in the area — being voted the number one countertop shop for four years in a row by readers of the West Sound Home & Garden magazine.

Wyman first began fabricating solid surface countertops with Meyer Laminates in Wilmington, NC, 25 years ago. The company produced one kitchen per day to supply cabinet shops and Lowes customers with Formica brand solid surface, “Surell.” In 2001, he moved to the Seattle area and started his business, Creative Countertops, located in Poulsbo, WA, in late 2002.

“Being separated from Seattle by the Puget Sound, we were the only local solid surface fabricator in the area,” said Wyman. “I would prefer to get as much work done with as little overhead as possible & have managed to keep the company debt to less than 5% of Sales. I began fabricating Corian kitchens by myself in my garage and then hiring a helper to install it. After getting a 40-unit new housing project, I rented a small 1,100-square-foot shop.”

In 2007, the company moved to a larger facility to fabricate quartz and granite using a Matrix bridge saw. Now, Creative Countertops has become the largest countertop shop on the Peninsula, providing granite, quartz and solid surface countertops to area residents. In 2015, the company added a tile department with a sales person and two lead tile installers and two tile helpers.

Their granite and quartz shop spans 3,600 square feet, while the Corian shop is 900 square feet, the tile shed is 500 square feet and its showroom is 1,800 square feet. The granite and quartz department has two, two-man crews, the tile has the same, and the Corian department has one, two-man crew. The facility runs one shift, but they are just starting to have two workers come in two hours early and two others staying two hours late to load and unload the CNC machine. In total, Creative Countertops has a total of 21 employees.

Shop workflow

Creative Countertops’ success comes from planning the shop’s workflow and storing finished tops. “We have four portable metal A-frames, where we keep two in the shop to load finished tops and each morning with the forklift, each install truck offloads their empty A-frame and loads up a full A-frame with all the tops for the day’s job on it,” said Wyman. “I put in a custom water filtration system with trenches and pits, two 1,100-gallon underground tanks and two 1,100-gallon above-ground water tanks, and now we recycle all the water. I put in three times the lights as a standard warehouse, so the fabricators can see their work better.”

Production Manager Jason Rebman also preplans the workflow so that all of the tops for the next day’s jobs can be cut, run through his Marmo Meccanica LCV 711 edge polisher and then transferred onto a custom-welded worktable that keeps the hand polishers busy and efficient. “We streamlined the office environment with a custom-made Access database that reduces data entry,” said Wyman. “The templator and the installers receive their daily worksheets on their tablets or smartphones. Also, preplanning the production schedule well in advance maximizes what we can produce. There’s a limit of 20 under-mount sink cutouts per week, so if we have more sinks than that, some need to be cut the week before.”

Additionally, Creative Countertops uses Slabsmith software to improve the layout with its customers. After a photograph is taken of each slab, the thermal printer prints a label with a barcode so the CNC operator always cuts the correct slab. It has helped his business immensely.

Bill & Jason have travelled to Brazil w/ Cosentino to tour quarries & granite factories multiple times. They have imported containers of Granite from Brazil for better pricing. “We stock over 200 slabs of granite for customers to choose and that also helps our yield,” said Wyman. “We mostly bring in bundles of six, and after we cut a job the leftover pieces go back onto the A-frame to be used on the next job. We have a large slab rack where all sold slabs are tagged and ready to go into production.”

Creative Countertops also stocks and stores sinks and faucets in two 20-foot containers that they made shelves and bins for. The company is also building a stockroom to store supplies. Currently each of the installers turns in a monthly requisition list with all the supplies they expect to need the following month. On critical items, they always try to have a backup on hand in case it fails. They keep spare water pumps, grinders, water polishers and the like.

Doubling production

The company installs between 8 to 10 – 70 square feet of residential kitchens per week in granite and quartz — averaging about two kitchens per week in Corian and multiple tile installs weekly. Besides the Marmo Meccanica 711 LCV edge polisher, the company has a LT-55 Laser Templator from Laser Products Industries and a Sabre CNC machine from Park Industries. After visiting Coverings in Chicago in 2016 they found the best solution to increase production. “We installed the Park Sabre CNC just over a year ago, and we’ve doubled production to 10 kitchens per week,” said Wyman. “A great reason we chose the Park CNC was their parts guarantee. If a part fails, call them to order, and if the part is not at my door in 24 hours, the part and the shipping are free.” Creative Countertops receives its tooling and accessories from GranQuartz and Braxton Bragg.

Creative Countertops does primarily residential work, but occasionally it receives large commercial jobs, including several 300-unit military barracks and a 50-unit hospital. Moreover, the company has done work for the high-end retailer, Nordstrom, a few banks and restaurants.

With more than 1,000 granite and quartz remnants, Wyman designed custom racks with treated lumber that allow customers to walk down and view them better. “Many shops just pile all of their remnants on a wall out back and nobody can see them, much less get them out,” said Wyman. “That’s been a great profit center, as the material is already paid for and we do three to five vanity tops each week from remnants. Each has a reduced price, flat rate and are the same price.

“I’ve streamlined the sales process where we use a standardized form to take down customer information and then plug that information into a custom-made Excel spreadsheet,” Wyman went onto say. “An average bid takes five to 10 minutes with me, and together with one other estimator greets 20 couples a day — taking their information and sending their bid within 24 hours.”

Looking into the future, Creative Countertops hopes to continuously improve and become even more efficient. “We just doubled the granite and quartz production and it took a little while to upgrade the information flow throughout the company,” said Wyman. “We are also trying to reduce paperwork by having job information, layouts to be sent onto the installer’s tablets and smartphones.”

By: Jason Kamery
Article originally appear on StoneWorld.com

Gecko Solid Surface Solutions Rises from the Bottom to the Top

Gecko Solid Surface Solutions Rises from the Bottom to the Top: Business major turned stone fabricator, Augie Chavez, began his own fabrication business after moving to Texas more than a dozen years ago, which is now among the most successful stone shops in the state

In 1984, Augie Chavez entered the countertop industry. He began working part-time for a small solid surface fabrication shop in California, which at the time, only offered three different variations of solid surface. “I really enjoyed it,” said Chavez. “I was attending college at the University of California Santa Barbara as a business major, but I liked working with my hands. When I moved to Texas in 2001, I had an idea to start my own shop.”

Four years later — on July 4, 2005 — Gecko Solid Surface Solutions (SSS) opened its doors. “At that point, I had already been in the countertop industry for 21 years, but this was my first go around as an owner,” explained Chavez, who also sits on the board of directors for the International Surfaces Fabricators Association (ISFA). “When I got here [San Antonio, TX], I noticed that there weren’t many people doing commercial work. Everyone was involved in residential building. I really liked the commercial aspect so that’s how I started off.”

Chavez separated himself from the competition by taking this route, and since opening his business, has successfully established his place in the Texas stone sector. “It didn’t take long to gain traction and make a name for our company as a commercial fabricator,” said Chavez. “Six months after our conception, we were asked to fabricate for Lowe’s.”

The company decided to take on the box store work to see where it would lead, but continued to focus mainly on commercial jobs all over Texas. “We started off doing one product line in solid surface in three Lowe’s stores, but since then, we have grown it into several product lines in solid surface, quartz and granite,” explained Chavez. “We now handle 21 stores.”

However, this only comprises 30% of the company’s business, with 65% in the commercial segment and the remaining 5% in high-end specialty work. “The Lowe’s work provides us with a constant flow of jobs that helps fill in the gaps in our commercial projects,” Chavez added.

On a day-to-day basis, Gecko SSS fabricates and installs solid surface, quartz, granite, ultra-compact stone and recycled glass. “On average, we fabricate and install 10 to 15 residential kitchens each week, sprinkled around our commercial work,” said Chavez.

In 2013, the company purchased an 18,500-square-foot building to expand. One major investment made before the move-in has led to substantial savings already, according to Chavez. “We had solar panels installed,” he said. “I felt it was not just good business sense, but also a social responsibility. It’s a good feeling that my employees and I get doing our part in reducing our carbon footprint. It also gives you a nice feeling as you pull up to the shop and you see the solar panels doing their thing.”

The company also installed a 14,500-gallon cistern to capture rain and feed the machines to contribute to its carbon footprint. “After it rains, it’s fun to check the cistern to see how much water we collected,” said Chavez.

Inside of Gecko SSS’s facility, a range of different equipment is utilized. The majority of stone-related equipment is supplied from Sasso USA, Inc. in Palatine, IL, while most tooling and consumables come from GranQuartz, which is based in Tucker, GA. In addition to the company’s veritable checklist of equipment for its solid surface operation, it also has a Fab King Fabrication Center from Braxton-Bragg of Knoxville, TN; air polishers from Alpha Professional Tools of Oakland, NJ; a small CNC machine for sink cutouts and several cranes to help manipulate and off-load inventory. Among the tooling are Cyclone blades from Diamax Industries, Inc. of Atlanta, GA, and Terminator blades from Continental DIA Diamond Products, Inc. of San Carlos, CA.

Most recently, the company purchased a Flying Flat backsplash polishing machine from Sasso USA, Inc., at The International Surface Event (TISE). “It has helped quite a bit,” said Chavez. “It allows our Bull 126 edge polishing machine to just run counters.”

The LT-2D3D Laser Templator from Laser Products Industries has also been a game changer for the company since it was purchased for templating. “It changed everything — from the time it took to measure to the efficiency in which we fabricate,” said Chavez.

Currently, Gecko SSS employs 17 people and runs one shift each day. “We handle everything in house; we don’t sub anything out,” said Chavez. “All of the guys are cross-trained to work on solid surface, stone and install.”

To continue growing his business, Chavez has made sure to establish a “laidback vibe” at the shop, where he treats his seasoned team more like family. “We have taught our employees that every project is important and every top that leaves our facility matters,” he said. “Through the years, they have taken on my attitude that nothing is difficult; it’s just a new challenge. Everyone from the office to the shop is always in team mode.”

Some of the most prominent local projects the company has completed include the Alamodome, AT&T Center (home of the San Antonio Spurs), Tobin Center for the Performing Arts and Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.

As ISFA’s 2017 Fabricator of the Year, Gecko SSS is a living testament of how you can start at the bottom and rise to the top. “We do a lot of interesting stuff here, which makes it kind of fun,” said Chavez. “Our philosophy is, we don’t stress about things, but we get our work done. And we try to have a good time while doing it.”

By: Heather Fiore
Article originally appear on StoneWorld.com

Rebuilding a stone business

Rebuilding a stone business:  After a fire destroyed Sharon Re’s fabrication shop, she rebuilt it, sold it and eventually opened a new operation in the same building

Beginning in their early twenties, Sharon and Chuck Re started a tile business out of their apartment. While doing tile work for five years, customers would often ask them if they could do a vanity top for them. “We would have to go to a stone shop and have a vanity made,” said Sharon Re. “At the same time, we were getting sick of doing tile work. We decided to go to Cumar Marble and Granite and told them we knew how to template and install. I don’t know if we really did or not, but he hired us and for the next two years taught us everything we know today. That’s where we learned the value of hard work, learning from the best was the turning point for us and we will be forever grateful to Ivo [Cubi] for that.”

Read more

Construction veterans opened Granite City in Eagle, AK, to meet the demand for stone fabrication in the area

Construction veterans opened Granite City in Eagle, AK, to meet the demand for stone fabrication in the area

Granite City of Eagle River, AK, was founded 11 years ago by current president, Matt Hickey, and vice president/general manager, Barry Anderson. They remain the owners today, along with treasurer, Melissa Hickey. Matt Hickey and Anderson had been working in the construction field for 40 years. They partnered to start the business because they saw a need for a granite fabrication and installation shop in the area.
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Growing Through Diversification

Growing Through Diversification, Marjan Stoen of Spring Valley, CA, continually researches, strategizes and invests in new technology, people and market trends.

While living in Bagdad, Iraq, Hikmet Pauls owned a factory that specialized in manufacturing terrazzo tile. When he moved to California, he used his experience and knowledge to start a career in the stone industry. After several years of working for a stone fabricator, Pauls opened his own fabrication shop, Marjan Stone, in San Diego, CA.

When I came to the U.S. in 1998, my family, my wife’s family and a lot of my community were already in San Diego,” said Pauls. “It made sense to be close to them. I applied for work at a stone fabrication company in San Diego, and they hired me the same day because of my previous experience. I worked there as an estimator, sales person and quality controller for about three to four years, and then I started my own business.”
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