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