Taking a leap into stone fabrication
What began as a glass company in 1955 has since evolved into a stone fabrication business now in its fourth generation of family employees. Bailes Granite of Charleston, WV, currently owned and operated by Sue and John Carper, switched from the glass industry to stone production in 2001, when the company was averaging just one kitchen a week. Today, the company puts out about 15 to 20 kitchens a week, and it is looking to expand its business territory to include all areas of West Virginia within the next few years.
According to David Anderson, the company’s General Manager and the owner’s son-in-law, the idea to delve into stone fabrication came in 2000 when Z. Bavelloni, which was supplying the company with all of its glass machinery at the time, suggested that they make a change. “The salesmen explained to us that they were making stone machinery which was pretty similar to the glass equipment, only bigger,” said Anderson. “He really felt that this sector was a growing trend and that it was going to be something big. We really trusted him and had a long-standing relationship with Z. Bavelloni. We did some traveling and visited several companies, including a glass company that had made the switch into stone, and their businesses were booming.”
Machinery investmentsIn May 2001, Bailes Granite purchased an Italian-made Egar 320-4 CNC machine from Z. Bavelloni, and by 2004, the company had completely phased all of the glass out of the business. “Now we are only stone,” said Anderson.
Today, the company’s 5,000-square-foot shop is equipped with three CNC stoneworking centers from Z. Bavelloni - which has its U.S. office in Greensboro, NC - including an Egar 320-4, 315-4 and 323-4. Workers also rely on a Montressor Lola-40 flat edge backsplash machine from Italy - which was purchased from Bergman-Blair of Oyster Bay, NY, (now a part of Salem Stone of Winston-Salem, NC) and a Pedrini M931 bridge saw from Pedrini of Italy. The shop’s newest addition, purchased in April of 2006, was a GMM Rotex CNC saw from Italy, purchased through Salem Stone. “It is a computer-aided CAD saw that cuts everything off of .DXF CAD files,” Anderson explained.
According to the general manager, only he, the owner John Carper, the production manager John Carper II and one other employee can operate the CNC machines. “I went through the training process and trained two others,” he said. “From being in the glass business, I was familiar with computers and computer-aided drafting and I knew how to do the drawing aspect, so it wasn’t a big learning curve for me, and in no time at all we were fabricating stone on the CNC.”
The company also purchases its profiling tools from Z. Bavelloni, while diamond saw blades are purchased through Diamant Boart of Olathe, KS.
According to the General Manager, the company’s vast success has mostly to do with technology. “With our Pedrini saw, the amount of slabs you can cut is amazing, and now with the newest saw, you put a slab on it, load a file, push ‘go,’ and then it cuts really quickly,” Anderson explained. “These machines really allowed us to increase capacity and produce more and more countertops without having to increase employees and work hours during the day. The saw cuts so precise that no handwork is necessary.”
Current productionAlmost all of Bailes Granite’s production is 3-cm countertops, while fireplace surrounds are also common. Residential work comprises about 85% of the company’s business, and a large portion of this work is for remodels, especially lately, according to Anderson. “When we first got into this business, we did maybe one kitchen a week at the most,” the General Manager said. “After that, work just started to pick up. After six months or so, we were doing two or three a week, and it just kept snowballing. Now, we average 15 to 20 a week.”
Additionally, the company handles a little commercial work, mostly vanity tops for hotels. “We recently completed 100 bathroom vanity tops for the Red Roof Inn in Parkersburg, WV, and also 20 guest rooms and two conference rooms for the historic Blennerhassett Hotel in Parkersburg,” said Anderson, adding that Charleston Marriott Town Center also recently purchased 300 bathroom thresholds from the company.
Bailes Granite supplies granite for four Home Depots in the area, as well as selling material directly to homeowners, kitchen and bath designers and contractors. “We work mostly with granite, but also with some marble, quartz, CaesarStone and Silestone,” said Anderson.
Today, the company operates one shift with a staff of 26 employees, including a few members of the Carper family. “My wife’s great grandparents started this business, and her parents are the current owners,” said Anderson. “My wife and her brother work here and are fourth generation. The nucleus of the company is family, and some of our employees have been here for 15-plus years. The good thing about us is that our instructors and trainers have been family members passing down their knowledge and experience.”
Many employees are hired through word of mouth, and according to Anderson, Bailes Granite has a constant stream of people filling out applications. “We also have a couple of local trade schools that we use as referrals,” he said. “Two of our digitizers were hired as a result of us approaching instructors at a trade school.”
According to Anderson, one of the challenges the company has faced is ensuring that they get the best quality materials. To overcome this, they started to import materials directly from Brazil and India. “We hand select a lot of materials and ship them here in ocean containers,” he explained. “We visit Brazil a few times a year and have developed friendships and business relationships with a lot of Brazilian quarriers.
“When we first switched into the stone business, a lot of fabricators warned us about stone being so fragile, and we were afraid of this at first,” Anderson continued. “But that ended up not being an issue. Nothing is more fragile than the exceptionally thin, large pieces of glass we had been used to carrying through people’s homes.”
Right now, Bailes Granite covers a vast territory from Ohio and Kentucky through West Virginia over into southern and central Virginia, but according to Anderson, plans are underway to try and cover all areas of the state, since there aren’t too many fabricators around.
In addition to the company’s shop, the facility also houses a 1,500-square-foot showroom and a 20,000-square-foot slab yard. “We would like to increase the amount of stone we can hold in the slab yard,” said Anderson. “Right now we have the capacity for 2,000 slabs, but we are hoping to double that within the next couple of years.”