Applying lab surface expertise to kitchen countertops
The Durcon Company of Canton, MI, an industry leader in laboratory work surfaces, is rapidly becoming a major fabricator of kitchen countertops with quartz surfacing. The company credits its success in this endeavor to an aggressive growth plan and a dedicated team using state-of-the-art processing equipment.
“Although the company has been in the kitchen countertop business a little over six months, shipping its first order in September 2006, we expect seven-figure sales from this product line in its first full sales year, doubling in its second year, and to be ready to expand production operations shortly thereafter,” said Wayne D. Pedlar, general manager.
Pedlar added that Durcon’s rapid growth in the highly competitive kitchen countertop industry is due to its straightforward business plan. From the outset, it wanted to establish itself in the sector with a simple and attractive competitive pricing structure, a well-connected marketing and distribution partner and a reliable quartz product.
Durcon was established over 30 years ago as a producer of laboratory work surfaces for schools, universities and industrial labs. Today, Durcon accounts for about 70% of the laboratory work surface market with its epoxy resin products fabricated at plants in Canton, MI, and Taylor, TX.
About two years ago, the company began looking for other markets where its expertise might be a fit, and it hired two executives with extensive experience in the surface industry to help execute the plan. Pedlar was selected as general manager at the Canton plant, where the project would be initiated, and Mark Heitman was hired as director of new business development.
Heitman, with a 10-year background in the solid surface industry at Wilsonart® International, a leading company in decorative surfacing, helped guide Durcon into the residential side of the business, with the long-term goal of entering the commercial field as well. “With our experience in large scale fabrication for the laboratory, we turned to kitchen countertops and related products because it is an established field looking for high-quality fabrication, great service and on-time delivery,” Heitman said.
Heitman also helped in the selection of HanStoneTM as the material of choice and Lumbermen’s Inc. as the marketing and distribution partner for Durcon’s new line of residential surfaces. “It was very timely,” said Heitman. “When we entered the market, Hanwha was just entering North America with their HanStone product.”
Lumbermen’s Inc., an employee-owned diversified building material supplier headquartered in Grand Rapids, MI, was picked as the marketing and distribution partner for Durcon’s new line of kitchen countertops. Heitman, who had worked with Lumbermen’s in the past, said it is noted for its wide selection of products and services; knowledgeable salespeople and product specialists; and broad range of customers, including material dealers and installers. Lumbermen’s also serves an array of independent kitchen and bath dealers throughout the upper Midwest, providing measurement, templating and installation services for the products it represents.
Fabricating kitchen countertopsThe final ingredient in the execution of Durcon’s aggressive growth strategy was to equip and train a team to fabricate kitchen countertops. As a high-volume fabricator of epoxy resin work surfaces, “we knew the value of using first-class precision equipment and well-trained operators,” explained Pedlar.
After an extensive evaluation process that included visiting a number of granite shops, trade shows and kitchen installers, Marmo Meccanica equipment was selected for the new engineered stone fabrication operation, and it was supplied through Marmo Machinery USA of Southfield, MI.
“Marmo equipment is cost competitive, sold and serviced locally, and it is highly regarded among fabricators for its reliability, precision, ease of operation and high quality,” said Pedlar.
Both Pedlar and Heitman said they were especially impressed with the high level of service provided by Marmo and its sales and technical representatives.
Equipment from Marmo Machinery USA at Durcon includes the C-TEC 3 numerically controlled 3-axis milling machine, which utilizes easy-to-learn software based on traditional moving bridge architecture.
Edges are processed on a Marmo Meccanica LCT-522 CAI vertical-edge polishing machine, which is automatic and capable of polishing a range of edge shapes, from squared or inclined edges to torodial edges and other convex shapes. Meanwhile, a Marmo Meccanica LCV Magnum is used for flat-edge polishing smaller pieces.
With an eye on the environment, the company operates a MB-30 dust control booth from Marmo Machinery USA that employs a dual capture system with micro-misting to filter and clean air during the hand-polishing operations that are required for wide radius corners. It also has a DEP Water Reclamation System from Marmo Machinery USA, a self-contained unit that can process over 50 gallons of water coolant per minute, which can then be reused, dramatically cutting the shop’s water bill. “This means savings of $25,000 to $30,000 annually,” said Pedlar.
Durcon uses an existing six-head, home-built bridge saw for cutting the HanStone slabs.
Durcon added four operators for the kitchen countertop fabricating operation, and it expects to add four more when a second shift is added during the summer of 2007.
“We’re very pleased with [the equipment], and how the business is doing,” Pedlar said. “Right now, we’re doing about four residential kitchens per day, with an average of about 60 square feet of counter surface per kitchen. We’ve also started our first large-scale project - a condominium development located in a resort area in northern Michigan, which will have 126 kitchen countertops.”
Durcon also has short lead times - often within five days - and they ship to Lumbermen’s within seven days so they can quote and install a job within three or four weeks.
“Now we’re looking for large-scale commercial applications for HanStone, a market with which we’re very familiar,” Pedlar said. Durcon is introducing HanStone in the upper Midwest, but expects to expand to other geographic locations.