Waterjet unit fuels company start-up
Fairly new to the stone industry, Stephen Bowker, owner of Bowstone of Ball Ground, GA, has quickly learned what it takes to rise to the top, and he attributes much of the company’s success to the assistance of a waterjet machine from WARDJet, Inc. of Tallmadge, OH.
Just a little over two years ago, while working from home as the CEO of another company, Bowker looked into purchasing granite countertops for his house. And after realizing the cost of the material and speaking with an industry professional, he decided to start his own fabrication company. “I wanted stone countertops and after looking at Home Depot and Lowe’s, I realized how expensive the material was,” he explained. “Then I spoke with Gus Atmatzidis of Mega Marble, who owns quarries and factories in Greece. He sold me stone, and we became good friends. He suggested that I look into starting a shop and obtaining a waterjet, and one thing lead to another from there.”
After researching several different brands of waterjet machines as well as contacting more than a dozen fabrication shops to see what they were using, Bowker decided to go with the Z-813 waterjet from WARDJet, Inc. “I didn’t know anything about the stone industry, so I did quite a bit of shopping around,” he said. “WARDJet has been phenomenal. Their support is unbelievable. They came to our shop twice to train us, and I went to their facility once as well.”
The shop also houses a Fushan straight line polisher and a Meridian bridge saw from Komo Machine, Inc. of Sauk Rapids, MN, which the company purchased about seven months ago. “The Meridian features a 16-inch blade and a table size of 6 x 12 feet,” said Bowker. “The bridge saw cuts four times quicker than the waterjet and leaves a better edge for straight cuts, but the waterjet is ideal for radius cuts.”
For now, the company uses a CNC machine owned by Precision Stone and Tile. “We switch on and off sharing equipment with them,” said Bowker. “They use our waterjet and we use their CNC.” Plans are underway, however, for Bowstone to add its own CNC stoneworking center in the near future, as the owner has already begun researching the equipment. Furthermore, workers rely on two hand routers - one from Ghines, which was supplied through Braxton-Bragg of Knoxville, TN, and a Magnum portable router from Diarex, which was supplied by GranQuartz of Tucker, GA.
Bowstone mostly handles commercial work for banks and office buildings, but it does handle some residential work such as countertops, vanity tops and fireplaces on occasion. “We do mostly commercial work and custom fabrication of furniture such as conference tables,” said the owner, adding that they have been handling a lot of work for CBBE (Commercial Bank & Business Equipment) lately. “Most of what we use the waterjet for is commercial jobs for manufacturers who make a certain product and need something produced.”
The company’s 12,000-square-foot facility includes 10,000 square feet of shop/warehouse space, and another 2,000 square feet is dedicated to a showroom. Moreover, the facility was built on 4 ½ acres of land, allowing for Bowstone to keep a vast outdoor slab area, which contains 500 slabs on average. According to Bowker, plans are underway to purchase another building and expand once the market picks back up again.
The company currently employs a staff of five, which are all trained to handle any aspect of fabrication. Most employees are hired through word of mouth. “With new guys, we start them out doing something on the easier side, like polishing, and it usually takes about six months to a year to get them where they really need to be,” he explained. “Then we can train on the waterjet, which is easy to use, but it takes about a year to really get up to speed on how to diagnose problems and fix the machine if anything breaks.”
According to the owner, the company purchases most of its slabs from Mega Marble, and others from Universal Granite & Marble. “Since Mega Marble owns their quarries, they can get us products that no one else has,” said Bowker. “They supply us with this marble called Achilles Noava Blanca, and it’s such a hard marble. It makes a world of difference.”
Bowstone also handles most of its own installs for locations all over the Southeast, including Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina.
“Since I haven’t been in the industry long, much of the process was trial and error, and some things I had to learn the hard way,” explained Bowker. “I rely on Gus from Mega Marble and Louis Buckman from Precision Stone and Tile because together they have about 50 years in the industry under their belts. I have great working relationships with both of them, and they have helped to lead me in the right direction.”