High-Tech Equipment Stimulates Company Expansion
April 1, 2009
Beginning with just a track saw in 2002, The Countertop Place of Wichita, KS, now owns a complete line of state-of-the-art equipment - turning itself into a technologically advanced fabricating shop. “We’ve come a long way in six years,” said Co-Owner Robert Larson, adding that Mike Bell is the other owner.
Larson began his career as a general contractor in April of 1986, and by 2000, he was seeking a new venture. “I was tired of being a general contractor,” he said. “I was looking for something to get into and not be a builder anymore. I decided [stone fabrication] was what I was going to start doing.”
After completing a few miscellaneous jobs, Larson established a shop at his current location in June of 2002 - at the time it was called Fairway Ltd. “When we started in this location, I didn’t even have a bridge saw,” he said.
Machinery ProgressionFour months at that location, Larson bought a Sierra bridge saw, followed by a Wizard radial arm polisher in March of 2003 and a Pro Edge III automated edge polisher a year later in March of 2004 - all of which came from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN.
In July of 2005, Larson explained that the company needed to go to the next level. “That’s when we got into the CNC machinery,” he said. “We switched directions and went with an Intermac 33.”
From there, the company purchased a Master JetSaw 3200 (combination waterjet/bridge saw) from Advanced Industrial Machinery, Inc. (AIM) of Hickory, NC, in September of 2007, and then in that same year, it bought an Intermac 43 CNC stoneworking center in November. “With the purchase of the JetSaw, we are a completely digital shop,” said Larson.
Becoming Digital and EfficientLarson explained that after the first CNC purchase, the company at the same time bought an LT-55 digital templating system from Laser Products Industries of Romeoville, IL. “This last summer of 2008, we purchased our second one.
“Basically, we’re doing twice the production since this last year due to the AIM JetSaw, which has become the heart of the operation, and the second CNC machine,” Larson continued.
The JetSaw and the CNCs have allowed The Countertop Place to be completely efficient, according to Larson. “Not only are we digital, but also, it allows the CNC machines to be more efficient because of less steps needed to be taken,” he explained. “The waterjet portion on the JetSaw allows you to cut everything on the line. The JetSaw eliminates one step in the normal process of the CNC.”
he company has gone from making wood templates to digitizing with an LT-55 and plotting vinyl templates with an Allen Datagraph plotter to finally eliminating the vinyl template step. “With the first CNC machine and the LT-55, we jumped to where we were making vinyl templates because you still had to make a template for the saw guy,” said Larson. “In 2007, with the purchase of the AIM JetSaw, that eliminated the need to make templates. This has been extremely important for us because of the money saved that was being spent with making templates as well as for production. With the JetSaw and the CNCs, I’ve literally doubled my production without the need of increasing employees.”
The BusinessNot only has The Countertop Place incurred technological advancements, but it has also more than quadrupled its staff inside of its current 18,000-square-foot facility. “When I started, we had four employees,” said Larson. “Now there’s a total of 17 - four of which are showroom and sales, two are laminate and solid surface workers, leaving only 11 employees for the entire stone fabrication and installation area.”
The shop runs one shift, but Larson plans to make it two almost immediately. “That will be my next step - to put on a two-man second shift for the CNCs,” he said.
Production currently allows for 1,000 square feet a week - or approximately 10 to 12 kitchens a week, along with tub surrounds, showers and outdoor barbecues, among other miscellaneous projects. The Countertop Place does all of its own stone fabrication, installation and templating. “We also do laminate countertops, quartz and, of course, granite,” said Larson. “Occasionally we do solid surface, but I’ve seen a trend of that moving more toward quartz. When comparing the two in price, most customers are swayed toward the quartz direction.”
Most of the work is completed within a 30-mile radius of the company’s facility in Wichita. “Ten percent is outside the 30-mile radius, but within a 100-mile radius,” said Larson. “We probably do 70% retail and 30% builders.”
The Countertop Place does some commercial work, but mostly residential. “The market we do covers a wide variation - from $2.5 million homes to a simple renovation,” explained Larson. “We are geared toward the more custom type of work versus the average low-end builder who only cares about the cost. We have four standard edges that we include in our cost. We also have five upgraded edges that we include.”
Larson explained that up until most recently, the business hasn’t been too affected by the economy. “The popularity of granite took a little longer to reach this town,” he said. “Six years ago it reached, and that’s when and why I got started. A lot of new guys have started, so they’re lower end. The type of work I do hasn’t been affected. The new guys are going after the builders, so they’re all fighting over the same customer base. Up to this point, the building [market] has been strong.
“Technology has increased my production, so now I have a reduction in prices,” he continued. “Now for a lot of my builders, I don’t need to charge for [extras].”
Ultimately, Larson would like to put on a second shift to again double the shop’s production. “This is so I can continue to maintain and reduce costs, and prevent costs from going up as a result of increased production [requirements],” he explained.
For this reason, Larson intends to continue to advocate the use of leading edge technology. “I couldn’t have done anything I’ve done without the technology and equipment,” he said.
Sidebar: The Countertop PlaceWichita, KS
Type of Work: Mainly custom stone fabrication for residential work, including full homes or renovations; some commercial
Machinery: a Sierra bridge saw, a Wizard radial arm polisher and a Pro Edge III automated edge - all from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN; an Intermac 33 CNC and an Intermac 43 CNC stoneworking center - both from Intermac of Charlotte, NC; a Master JetSaw 3200 from Advanced Industrial Machinery, Inc. (AIM) of Hickory, NC; two LT-55s from Laser Product Industries of Romeoville, IL
Number of Employees: 17
Production Rate: 1,000 square feet a week/approximately 10-12 kitchens a week