Starting from the ground up
California Stone Co. of Brentwood, CA, has been in operation since 1989, and today, with the help of his partner Craig Zickenberg and state-of-the-art machinery from Matrix Stone Products of Rancho Cucamonga, CA, Cookson continues to produce a top-quality product for his customers.
Cookson, being one of five family members in the tile contracting and fabrication business, has been in the stone industry for the past 20-plus years. After working out of his garage for a short while, he spent two years in Monterey, CA, installing slabs for CL Frost, a company for which his uncle ran the slab shop at the time.
“After that, I came back to Brentwood and started working in the rear of a parking lot on weekends with a portable Ghines Vector saw and work benches to hold up the slabs,” said Cookson. “After a short time, I realized I needed help, and so I turned to my friend Craig, who was interested in stone fabrication at the time. We became partners and started California Stone Co., and in 1990, we moved into a 1,600-square-foot shop - producing everything by hand.”
Over time, the partners slowly began purchasing new machinery, which included an edge profiling machine that was manufactured in China and a VIC H1010 bridge saw. And, about a year-and-a-half ago, they purchased a Sebring bridge saw and a Daytona XL Edge Profile System from Matrix Stone Products, which are the only machines in production at the shop today. “Both have been outstanding, and in my opinion, we purchased them about 10 years too late,” said Cookson.
As far as CNC stoneworking is concerned, Cookson doesn’t feel that the company will purchase a computer-controlled machine any time soon. “The worker we have on the saw now is so good at bookmatching, and there is no way a [computer-controlled] saw can do what he can do,” he said.
The shop is also equipped with a Ghines Sector portable router for radius edge detailing as well as Keystone and National Abrasives polishing pads and cutting discs. Furthermore, the company built its own water recirculating system. “The stone industry needs to provide a better water circulation and dust control system,” said Cookson. “We had to design one on our own. The dust control is a spray booth that we modified, and it works better than any other system I have seen out there.”
The company’s production consists of 90% granite, leaving only a small percentage for marble products. Handling 90% new homes and custom remodels and only 10% commercial work, production includes mostly kitchen countertops as well as fireplace hearths, showers and tub decks. Additionally, the company does outdoor work such as elaborate barbecues, which Cookson said is a big trend lately.
California Stone Co. currently employs a staff of 12, of which only two had prior experience upon being hired. “We like to hire people with no experience and have our shop foreman train them from the ground up,” explained Cookson. “When you bring workers from other shops, they tend to have too many bad habits.”
Furthermore, the company handles its own installations and runs four trucks. Typically three workers are out in the field installing, while the rest are in the shop, according to Cookson. “Some can do both shop work and field work, “ he added. “Being versatile helps to make the product better when you can understand what you are doing, and when you are able to do it all.”
California Stone Co. purchases its slabs from local distributors with showrooms. “We send our clients out to view the slabs before we produce anything,” said Cookson.
Currently, the company runs a 12-hour shift, but in the future may have to add another shift. Future plans also include the purchase of a second Daytona XL Edge Profile System. “Our goal is to keep perfecting what we do,” he said. “We are getting more efficient at what we do. We would like to be able to contract enough volume for high-end production work because there isn’t a lot of it out there right now, and that it what we are geared to do.”