Quarrier Maintains Optimism in a Volatile Economy
July 2, 2009
While difficult economic times are causing many stone industry professionals to put a halt on expansion and equipment investments, Stone Wholesale, Inc. of Fort Collins, CO, is proceeding optimistically with steady growth. “When I began in this business in the early 1980s, the economy was in recession, just as it is now,” said Jim Striggow, company president. “Despite the recent downturn, Stone Wholesale is carefully moving forward with plans of new quarries and retail-showcase facilities.”
At this time, the company is comprised of a staff of 15 and operates three quarries, which are nestled in the foothills of northern Colorado. While one site produces moss rock, which is sold wholesale, the other two locations produce two varieties of sandstone - Brownstone and Cherokee. And to further expand its operation, plans are currently in the works for obtaining two additional quarries.
“The permit area for Stone Wholesale’s current Brownstone quarry, located near La Porte, CO, increased in August 2008 from 9.9 to 58.75 acres,” said Striggow. “In addition, I am finalizing plans for two new quarries, including finishing the required state and county mining permit applications. Though the process to obtain the permits takes approximately two years, I think the timeframe is worth it. At 640 acres apiece, and within 10 miles of the existing quarry, each new site will diversify Stone Wholesale’s product line with a variety of colors of high-quality sandstone, helping to insure the company’s longevity.”
Along with the expansion of its quarries, Striggow has also made investments in new machinery. One of its most recent additions is a V30 Cee-Jay Tool thin veneer saw. “The saw was engineered to be safe and efficient,” said Quarry Manager Justyn Hamilton. “I’m amazed with the square footage we get per hour, and it even adapts to cut veneer corners on the same machine. We have added several new pieces of equipment recently, but this is my favorite.”
As a result of the new saw, Stone Wholesale shipped its first container of Thinstone Brownstone to Finland on February 11, 2009. “A custom builder in Finland saw the Stone Wholesale Web site, traveled to the U.S. with his wife to visit the quarry and “The Rock Garden” - our retail showcase for our products - and consequently were sold on the products,” said Striggow. “They build custom homes all over Europe, so we are excited about the prospects.”
In addition to the V30 thin veneer saw, other recently purchased equipment includes: a Pellegrini Pentawire wire saw; four Cee-Jay Tool Chris Cutter hydraulic splitters; a Sawing Systems 24-inch bridge saw; a 220 Volvo loader with detachable bucket and forks; a 90 Volvo loader with detachable bucket and forks; a 70 Volvo loader with detachable bucket and forks; a 45 Volvo loader with detachable bucket and forks; an IT24 Caterpillar loader with detachable bucket and forks; an M55 Moffett three-wheel forklift with delivery truck-mount capability; a Volvo 35-ton, six-wheel, drive off-road dump truck; two Caterpillar 262 B Skid Steer loaders with detachable bucket and forks; two 330 Hitachi excavators with hydraulic thumb and detachable hydraulic hammer; a Peterbuilt Tandem delivery semi with a variety of trailers; and a John Deere 310 backhoe tractor.
“We added the Volvo and Hitachi equipment for a very simple reason - more bang for the buck,” said Striggow. “The fuel savings alone is a huge advantage, but other factors are the reasonably priced parts and service excellence that Stone Wholesale receives from its Denver-based dealership, Power Equipment.”
Striggow went on to explain that the company is fortunate to be within 20 miles of the Cee-Jay Tool factory. “The Chris Cutters and V30 thin veneer saw not only are high-quality pieces of equipment, but the company provides personable service and complete parts availability at our back door,” he said.
While the new quarrying and stone-processing equipment has allowed Stone Wholesale to approximately triple its production rate, the company still relies on older equipment during the stone production process. Among the machines still in operation are two Tysaman gangsaws from 1927, which the company had reworked out of a scrap pile, a 55C Hanomag loader with detachable bucket and forks and a 6-x-30-foot stone tumbler, which Striggow assembled himself.
“As markets and trends of the stone industry have changed, so have we,” said Striggow. “It’s an exciting and ever-changing adventure. ‘Make good things happen’ has always been my goal.”
The Rock Garden
According to Striggow, the company produces sandstone from two distinct strata of the quarry, which are called “Brownstone” and “Cherokee.” “Both layers feature a range of colors and textures bearing a rustic, earthy appeal,” he said. “A formal precision approach is achieved when Brownstone is sawn to dimension. After the sawing process, Brownstone is called ‘Watermark Buff’ because the blocks are quarter-sawn to expose the watermark patterns.”
Veneers of both Brownstone and Cherokee - split to 1-, 2- and 4-inch bed depths - have been a mainstay for the company. To create a custom look, tumbling or a water texturing method are applied to the stone pieces. Stone Wholesale also offers a variety of other stone products, including dimension stone and landscape boulders as well as custom-crafted water features, fire pits, stone furniture and stone art.
The products are all on display at the company’s retail showcase, which is named “The Rock Garden.” “After traveling to Europe in 1996, I realized that my thoughts kept returning to images of Stonehenge,” said Striggow. “In creating ‘The Rock Garden,’ Stonehenge was an inspiring point of departure. The Rock Garden is not intended to be an exact model of Stonehenge, but an impressionistic use of monoliths and lintels. We excavate some large monolithic pieces from the quarry and set them aside for special projects. The Stonehenge figure is a natural for these monoliths. So is a cross, and so we made a 15-foot-high Brownstone cross and donated it to a local Church last Easter.”
Striggow explained that customers of The Rock Garden started calling the location “Colorado’s Stonehenge” on their own. In addition to showcasing Stone Wholesale products, the garden serves as the main office and point of sale for local contractors, masons and homeowners. “It is a pleasure to see people’s reaction to The Rock Garden,” said Chris Boyd, Rock Garden manager. “Everything about it is a work of art. We keep revising the displays so it’s always fresh and fun for our visitors.”
The Rock Garden is an expression of creativity with stone, according to Striggow. “In fact, the facility’s tag line is ‘Rock Solid Inspiration,’” he said. “Geometric works with representative titles such as the ‘Helix,’ ‘Orb’ and ‘Pyramid,’ are made from Brownstone and Cherokee and can be converted to water features.”
Among some other featured products in the showroom are rolling-ball fountains, which are marketed as “Spheres of Tranquility” and custom made at the garden. These fountains are available in sizes up to 4 feet in diameter.
“Another hot Rock Garden product is the ‘Boulders of Fire,’ a decorative outdoor fire pit constructed with a gas flame,” said Striggow. Because of the variety of stone bases from which they are carved, including moss rock boulders, ‘Boulders of Fire’ are custom made and one-of-a-kind.”
Thrilled with the success and local public enthusiasm of The Rock Garden, Striggow and his team are devising plans for a second location in the small upscale town of Windsor, CO. The opening is tentatively scheduled for the summer of 2010.
“I’m continually amazed by the excitement that the garden generates,” said Striggow. “But, the public reaction is natural - given the excellent ideas our people continue to come up with and the new types of stone that will soon be available to us.”