Virginia Fabricator Refines the Craft of Stoneworking
March 1, 2009
For Robert and Lisa Carter, owners of the Albemarle Countertop Co. of Charlottesville, VA, the transition to stone fabrication was a relatively straightforward progression. The company started out as a solid surface fabricator six years ago. “Our previous business was bathtub repair and refinishing,” Robert Carter explained. “We began offering shower enclosures and other solid surface products, and after a year we realized that the market [for solid surface] was going downward.”
This led the company to begin offering natural stone products. “We entered with precut stone, but it really wasn’t right for the market, so we decided to get into regular slab fabrication,” Carter said. “We took the course at Regent Stone Products [of Virginia Beach, VA] and learned how to do it. The Stone Fabricators Alliance has also been a great outlet for us to learn.”
In 2005, the company moved into a new 4,000-square-foot facility with a 1,000-square-foot showroom, and this provided the company with the opportunity to devise an effective layout of the machinery. “We were able to place it so we have a real effective flow,” Carter explained.
The majority of the equipment in the shop is from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN. This includes a Cougar bridge saw and a Pro-Edge III line polisher. In October of 2007, Albemarle Countertop Co. added a Park Destiny CNC stoneworking center. Carter explained that he was trained to use the machine at Park’s facilities in Minnesota, and the learning curve for operating the machine was relatively simple.
Another piece of machinery is a Park Wizard radial arm polisher, which was used for sink cut-outs prior to the addition of the CNC. Now that the CNC is in place, however, the shop has found a different application for the radial arm polisher. “We buy soapstone locally, and it is gauged but not finished,” Carter said. “The [radial arm polisher] allows us to finish it.”
Tooling in the shop is supplied by Phoenix Diamond Tools of Mesa, AZ, and Regent Stone Products, and material is maneuvered in the shop using a forklift that has been equipped with an Abaco lifter.
Templating is done using assembled strips of Luan plywood. “We’re not ready to move into digital templating yet,” Carter said.
Sales and productionCarter estimates that 80% of the Albemarle Countertop Co.’s work is in the remodeling sector, with some wholesaling through cabinet shops. “Our market is medium to high-end work,” he said. Stone is purchased from local distributors in Virginia, such as Marva Marble and Granite and Fleet Imports. Additionally, Carter estimates that the company does around five projects per month in quartz surfacing products, such as CaesarStone.
In addition to kitchen countertops, the company processes soapstone sinks, bathroom vanities, shower surrounds, fireplace surrounds and hearths, restaurant service areas, health care facilities and reception areas.
While Robert Carter is focused on the stoneworking area of the operation, Lisa Carter is responsible for the business aspects - such as sales, accounting and other administrative activities.
In addition to Robert and Lisa Carter, Albemarle Countertop Co. has six employees, and the production rate is about 300 to 400 square feet of finished slabwork per week, although Carter said the company’s technology would allow for 800 to 1,000 square feet of production if demand called for it.
“We have a good core of employees,” Carter said, adding that several staff members have been on board since the beginning. “When we do have to bring in new workers, we tend to hire based on word of mouth. Classified advertising really didn’t work well for us. Our part of Virginia isn’t an industrial region, so it can be tough to find people.”
At the moment, Albemarle Countertop Co. isn’t planning any new investments, other than a water treatment system. “We need to stay where we are and manage to perfect what we are doing at this level,” Carter said.