Re-emerging U.S. Stone Market
New plan for a 60-year-old quarry

John Petterson may not know much about the stone industry, but he does recognize a successful business deal when he sees one. This entrepreneur, who holds a Ph.D. in anthropology, recently purchased National Quarries in San Marcos, CA. And although his experience does not lie with quarrying and fabrication, he has a veteran crew in place, which he is confident will carry out his plans for the company's expansion.

Heading up the team is Hobie Fletcher and Dan Gray -- both who have years of experience in the stone industry. Fletcher, who is president of National Quarries as well as the U.S. and Canadian sales representative for Officine Meccaniche Candiani shaping and block saws, comes from a long line of stoneworking family members. Originally from Massachusetts, Fletcher has worked in numerous quarries throughout the U.S. and in Quebec. He initially learned the business when he worked for his father and the H.E. Fletcher Co. Fletcher was instrumental in negotiating the sale of National Quarries. He explained that the company's history dates back to the 1940s, and had remained in the same family until Petterson purchased it on January 12, 2000.

"The original owner was Emil Johnson, who started [the company] in 1941 and then sold it to his sons," said Fletcher. "The one son, Bob, then sold it to his sons, Mike and Gary. Mike bought Gary out and then sold it to John Petterson."

According to Fletcher, he has been traveling out to California for years, and in the spring of 1999 made a permanent move there. "I got here on May 10, 1999, and on June 7, 1999 developers wanted to shut the quarry down and build," he said. "I said that the best use was to keep quarrying granite -- to let that go would be a sacrilege. Mike Johnson didn't want to sell to developers. I needed to find someone to convince that this is the best use for the quarry. I was the consultant. I helped put the deal together between Mike Johnson and Petterson."

Gray, who is now chief operations manager, has been with the company for 23 years. "[Originally], it was a mom-and-pop operation," he said. "I started on the grinder at $3.50 an hour. I thought, 'Jeez, I'm only going to do this a couple of months.' " But as it turned out, Gray stayed with National Quarries and is now a key component to the company's success, according to Fletcher. "Since last January, we have really moved up," said Gray, adding that they recently installed an automatic polisher and two wire block saws.

Quarrying the blocks

National Quarries' operation is situated on a 210-acre site, according to Fletcher, adding that there are five small quarries on the property. "In one quarry, we are about 60 feet [from] top to bottom, and it runs 80 x 80 feet [in area]," he said. "We have only the one quarry site in San Marcos producing Imperial Blue and Palomar Black [granite]. We quarry our Yosemite White in Madera, CA, and we get our Bear Mountain Red from Fredericksburg, TX, through Cold Spring -- from the sale of that quarry from National Quarries to Cold Spring Granite Co. Cold Spring calls this stone Radiant Red."

Currently, the company produces about three or four blocks a week. "It's always been a very small company," said Fletcher. "[But], we are going to be doing more. Right now we are producing a little over 200 blocks a year. We hope to double or triple the production as time goes on."

To produce the blocks, National Quarries is equipped with various pieces of quarrying equipment. This includes a 70-ton P&H crane, a 3900 Manitowoc crane, a Bucyrus Erie 54B crane, LeRoi and Ingersoll Rand compressors, a core drill machine, an excavator, a track loader and a leased Tamrock Commando 300 drilling machine.

Processing the block

Approximately a quarter mile down the road from the quarry site is National Quarries' fabricating shop. Among the equipment used are two Officine Meccaniche Candiani Superior 4000 diamond wire block saws, a 10-foot Park Industries block saw, a Carl Meyer automatic polisher, a Carl Meyer bridge saw, a Savage bridge saw, an Edem grinding wheel machine, a Lane polishing wheel polisher and five conventional slurry wire saws. In addition, the company also has two Caterpillar forklifts -- V180 and V160 models, and a Wagner 50,000-pound forklift.

The company presently has 11 employees, including quarry and factory workers and office administration. In addition to Fletcher and Gray, office manager Jenee Quiram and plant foreman Len Barzee are essential to the company, according to Fletcher, adding that they intend to add three or four more employees within the next year or two.

In addition to selling its blocks, National Quarries also produces flat grass markers and other memorial products, surface plates, building stone, landscape pavers, ashlars, countertop slabs, boulders and sculptor art. "We do a little bit of everything," said Fletcher.

While the company's market is nationwide, the company primarily sells its products west of the Mississippi. "We're also trying to sell blocks to Elberton, New England and Canada," said Fletcher.

When looking to the future, National Quarries has extensive plans for development. According to Fletcher, the company intends to invest $1 million in expansion over the next few years. Additionally, the company hopes to raise annual sales from $1 million to $6 million within the next two to five years.

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