Fabricator Case Study: Growing through diversity
January 1, 2007
In 1960, John Hoffmann set out on a mission to build a stone operation that was characterized by quality workmanship and “hometown” customer service. While the company, which was named Dixie Cut Stone & Marble, Inc., started out small, it has continued to thrive in the more than 45 years that it has been in business. Today, the company is comprised of about 100 employees, who operate out of three primary locations throughout Michigan. And as of 2002, it has been a part of Oldcastle Architectural Products Inc. - one of the world’s leading building materials companies.
“My uncle John started the company, along with Gerald Knoll, who was with the business for the first three or four years,” said Andy Hoffmann, the company’s production manager. “They began in a small building in Bridgeport, MI, and did small limestone and marble jobs. In the mid-’60s, they started doing more commercial projects and getting known for limestone and marble applications. In 1971, they moved to a new location and tripled in size. By that time, they were starting to carry patio blocks and 30 different veneer stones. They got into the landscape side as well.”
Hoffmann went on to explain that by the mid-1970s, his uncle also started to focus on energy conservation. “He specialized in fireplaces and equipment and accessories that go with it. He started selling wood-burning stoves.”
Through the years, business continued at a steady growth. “In the mid-’80s - as tooling improved vastly - Dixie started to venture into granite countertop production,” said Hoffmann. “Uncle John took on additional partners in the ‘80s, Kim and Keith Keufner, Steve Aspin and Jim Vanwormer, and the business took off. Dixie became known as a stone leader in Michigan. Uncle John always says, ‘If you do things right and keep the customer happy, everything else will fall in line.’ Now we do fireplaces, tub decks and everything possibly imaginable.”
In 2002, Oldcastle Architectural Products Inc. purchased Dixie Cut Stone & Marble, Inc. The corporation, which is a global conglomerate of key building product manufacturers and subsidiaries, provides a broad spectrum of architectural masonry and concrete products, including the distribution of architectural block, glass, precast concrete, masonry and exterior hardscaping products, throughout the world. This strategic decision has allowed Dixie Cut Stone & Marble, Inc. to maintain its family-owned pride, while utilizing the copious resources of this industry innovator to better service its customers, stated the company.
“Uncle John felt strongly that this could help us down the road, and it would help Dixie grow beyond its current resources,” said Hoffmann. “Our long-term intention is to be represented nationally.”
Countertop productionDixie Cut Stone & Marble, Inc. operates out of three locations in Michigan - Bridgeport, Novi and Petoskey. The 200,000-square-foot facility in Bridgeport, which is the city where the company first anchored its roots, is its headquarters and includes a 5,000-square-foot showroom as well as the company’s fabrication operation. “It combines all of Dixie’s products,” said Hoffmann. “There is a limestone/granite staircase that twists - it’s all three-dimensional carvings. It’s just beautiful.”
The shop where granite countertops are processed is equipped with four bridge saws, of which three - a Prodigy, a Jaguar and a Yukon II - were purchased from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN. Additional machinery from Park includes two Pro Edge II computer-controlled edge shaping and finishing machines and a Wizard radial arm workstation.
Also among the equipment utilized in Dixie Cut Stone & Marble, Inc.’s countertop production process is a Marmo Meccanica LCV 711M flat edge polisher from Marmo Machinery USA of Southfield, MI, and two Maxima CNC machines from CMS North America / Brembana of Caledonia, MI.
The newest piece of equipment to be added to the marble and granite shop is a Faro digital templater. “We just got it two months ago,” said Hoffmann. “We started to use digital templates in the Petoskey market. It helps us service our customer better. We can send the CAD files daily [electronically] instead of waiting two days in transit. It’s great.”
There are currently 27 employees in Dixie Cut Stone & Marble, Inc.’s granite fabrication shop as well as four installation crews. The shop runs one split shift. “That gives us additional coverage in the busy season,” said Hoffmann. “We ran a second shift last year for about a month in the heat of the season.”
Approximately 90% of the granite shop’s production is custom homes. “We produce an average of 2,000 square feet a week,” said Hoffmann, adding that the typical size kitchen is about 65 square feet. “Our principal markets are Detroit and Petoskey, and we are stretching into Toledo, [OH]. ”
As for providing its customers with a selection of material to choose from, the company maintains an inventory of about 80 different granite varieties. “We work with local distributors to keep options varied,” said Hoffmann.
In addition to granite, Dixie Cut Stone & Marble, Inc. started carrying Dupont Zodiaq quartz surfacing and set up a shop to fabricate Corian countertops. “There is a call for that product,” said Hoffmann. “You have to be willing to diversify your business to service the customer’s needs.”
The limestone divisionAnd while production of granite countertops has proven successful for Dixie Cut Stone & Marble, Inc., the company still runs a strong limestone division on the same site in Bridgeport. “The limestone department fabricates all types of architectural elements - both commercial and residential,” said John Hess, lead stone carver and project manager for Dixie Cut Stone & Marble, Inc. “We design and fabricate everything - from a simple hearth or sill to a fireplace or door surround.”
The limestone shop houses a Jaguar saw and two profilers - all from Park Industries - as well as an Omag Mill / CNC machine. “We use the CNC for small parts that we need to detail,” said Hess. “We also run an Omag lathe for columns, and we have a small lathe - one that was converted from use on steel to stone - for small stuff like balusters.”
The Omag lathe can sculpt columns as large as 26 inches in diameter and 9 feet, 6 inches long. The shop is also equipped with two Rockford planers - one that is 48 inches x 144-inch bed x 60-inch throat and one that is 42 inches x 144-inch bed x 35-inch throat. Additionally, Trow & Holden pneumatic hammers, chisels and hand tools, Hilti hammer drills and Chicago pneumatic hand tools are utilized in the company’s limestone production process.
“[Also], we tried Faro [technology] on ramps and twists, and incorporating it into CAD,” said Hess. “It really comes in handy.” The shop also includes seven finishing booths and one booth for sandblasting, which all run with four Tri-mer air filtration systems to keep dust down.
“At any given time, we have between 12,000 to 14,000 cubic feet of limestone on hand,” said Hess. “The majority of our work consists of Indiana limestone, but we also carry Texas Cordova Cream and Texas Leuders. We do take other stone upon request. If we are doing a restoration or renovation, we can get it. Those are the three main ones we carry though.”
Currently, the limestone division employs 16 workers, according to Hess. “We have room to double that and add a second shift to really go to town,” he said. “I think the whole economy has slowed down a bit. If for some reason a big job comes along though, we are all set up and ready to go.”
Dixie Cut Stone & Marble, Inc. doesn’t have its own installation crews for limestone. “Installation is generally done by masons,” said Hess. “The clients we have are generally masons and architects who have their own crews.”
Those in the limestone division are skilled craftsmen who offer detailed customized work for both residential and commercial projects. “I started carving for Dixie in 1997,” said Hess. “Our limestone team really takes great pride in what we do.”
Another residential project that the company is presently working on is a large estate in Pennsylvania. “We are working directly with the client,” said Hess. “Once the job was awarded, he came for a facility visit to see our capability. We have been working with him for over a year. The job was set up in phases. Right now we are working on 5-foot-tall “His and Her” family crests that will be located on the rear elevation of the house. Also, there is a large relief carving in the lintel over the main entry. It’s quite in-depth.”
According to Hess, Dixie Cut Stone & Marble, Inc. continues to grow. “We offer hand designs and carvings as well as one-of-a-kind craftsmanship. Limestone is timeless. It really makes a statement.”
Dixie Cut Stone & Marble, Inc.Type of work: granite countertops and vanities as well as customized carved marble and limestone architectural elements for both interior and exterior applications in both residential and commercial designs; some restoration work
Machinery: (in granite shop) a Prodigy, a Jaguar and a Yukon II bridge saw, two Pro Edge II computer-controlled edge shaping and finishing machines and a Wizard radial arm workstation - all from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN, a Marmo Meccanica LCV 711M flat edge polisher from Marmo Machinery USA of Southfield, MI, two Maxima CNC machines from CMS North America / Brembana of Caledonia, MI, a Faro digital templater from Faro Technologies Inc. of Lake Mary, FL; (in limestone shop) a Jaguar bridge saw and two profilers - all from Park Industries, an Omag Mill / CNC machine, an Omag lathe, two Rockford planers, Trow & Holden pneumatic hammers, chisels and hand tools, Hilti hammer drills and Chicago pneumatic hand tools
Number of Employees: 100
Production Rate: an average of 2,000 square feet a week, with the typical size kitchen measuring about 65 square feet (granite shop)