A Fresh Concept in Stone Fabrication
August 1, 2009
Nearly 10 years ago, Jeremy Werthan made the decision to leave his career as an investment banker and start a venture as a stone fabricator. He opened the doors to Werthan Granite in Nashville, TN, in April of 2002 and has slowly grown the company to a mid-sized shop that primarily caters to the high-end residential market.
Werthan explained that the idea to start his own fabrication business resulted from when he was getting estimates for his own house. “I was getting ridiculous quotes,” he said. “I knew it could be done cheaper.
“I started going to trade shows,” Werthan went on to say. “Originally, I started on the premise of importing blanks - sort of retrofitting [material] into houses. That didn’t work, but in the meantime, I went to Coverings and bought all the equipment that I needed from Park Industries in 2002.”
Expanding the shopIn the early days, Werthan Granite’s shop encompassed 10,000 square feet and was equipped with only a Sierra bridge saw and Pro-Edge III automatic edge shaper and polisher - both from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN. “When we got the Pro-Edge III, we were the only ones in town with an inline polishing machine,” said Werthan. “It was very high tech. We used it all the time.”
Also at this time, the company only had a staff of three. Since then, Werthan Granite has expanded the size of its operation to 30,000 square feet and 25 employees. Additionally, it recently invested in a RoboCut - a cutting system that combines a waterjet and a saw that was specifically designed for stone fabricators. The machine was developed by USGRobotics of Barrington, IL, and utilizes a waterjet pump and cutting nozzle from KMT Waterjet Systems of Baxter Springs, KS.
“The facility was 10,000 square feet when I started,” explained Werthan. “The rest of the building opened up the year before last. We needed more capacity, so I secured the other side. Once I did that, I had to figure out what type of machine to equip it with. I knew we had to increase our capacity.
“I had never heard of the RoboCut,” Werthan continued. “I called USGRobotics and went to look at it. I was very impressed with it. We have become 70% more efficient because of it. Before we would do five to six slabs a day. Now we can cut 15 to 20.”
According to the fabricator, the RoboCut could not have come at a more perfect time. “We needed it right away,” he said. “We had a condo project, and we were fabricating the whole thing here in our shop.”
Additionally, the shop houses a Flying Flat from Sasso Meccanica for backsplashes and a Sasso Experience TE straight polisher, which are serviced by SassoAmerica of St. Louis, MO. Shop workers also utilize hand tools and accessories that are purchased from various companies, including Braxton-Bragg of Knoxville, TN; GranQuartz of Tucker, GA; and Keystone Tools Co. of Commerce, CA. Manzelli vacuum lifters, also purchased through GranQuartz, are used to maneuver slabs around the shop.
Werthan Granite averages 15 to 20 jobs a week, said Werthan, adding that the size for each project varies. “We mostly do residential, although the first half of this year, we did a lot more commercial because that’s what was available,” he said. “We do some work for production builders. Custom builders are actually still doing well here.”
The company caters to a market throughout Tennessee and parts of Kentucky. “We service Jackson to Crossville and Bowling Green, [KY] to Huntsville,” said Werthan. And to better service its customers, the company built a showroom in 2008. Material is purchased from companies such as G&L Marble, Inc., Natural Stone Distributors, Nashville Granite & Marble, OHM International, Inc. and Triton Stone. Werthan’s brother owns Werthan Tile, a retail/wholesaler of tile in the mid-Tennessee area, and the two refer back and forth to each other, according to Werthan.
In addition to fabrication, Werthan Granite also employs its own install crews. It has four in total. “We have one templator,” said Werthan. “We template about six jobs a day. We’ve been using a Proliner [from Prodim USA of Vero Beach, FL] since 2008, and we love it. It took about a week to learn. A lot of my employees are very technically savvy.”
Riding out the downturnEven though Werthan Granite has successfully expanded in recent years, like everyone else, it has been affected by the recession. Business is down about 50%, according to Werthan. “For the long term, I’d like to get the cash-flow system going and pick up sales and secure things,” he said. “Right now I have my head down, and I am trudging along.”
Werthan went on to say that due to the downturn in the economy, he has had to reduce his staff by 10 to 12%. “We have gotten a lot leaner,” he said. “I don’t want to be massive. Coming from the investment banking side, I wanted to grow the company organically - build slowly. Coming out [of the downturn], I’m not going to invest capital in the company. I don’t foresee a need for new equipment. We are prepared for what happens.”
Starting his own fabrication operation has not come without its share of obstacles, said Werthan, who wants to bring an awareness to some of the risks. “I went through a divorce, and my wife was my partner, so I had to replace her with a bookkeeper who embezzled $100,000,” he explained. “There’s a learning curve to running a business. There are things that I didn’t know. For instance, there is insurance against embezzlement. I didn’t realize that. I think it is important to let people know this.”
To ensure success, Werthan Granite concentrates on producing high-quality products, offering high-quality customer service, and most importantly, being honest with its customers. “Our biggest challenge is to delineate ourselves,” said Werthan. “How do you make yourself stand out? We take every possible thing we do and highlight it. We make it a point to say we are OSHA compliant and have no illegal labor. We are not the cheapest, but we do quality work, and we are honest.
“This is the way I sell my company,” Werthan went on to say. “I will tell a builder when we are doing condos that we are human so we are going to screw up. How we handle it is what is important. I’m very candid. I think the more honest you are, it comes around and helps you in the end.”
Sidebar: Werthan GraniteNashville, TN
Type of work: primarily residential, some commercial
Machinery: a RoboCut from USGRobotics of Barrington, IL, which utilizes a waterjet pump and cutting nozzle from KMT Waterjet Systems of Baxter Springs, KS; a Sierra bridge saw and a Pro-Edge III automatic edge shaper and polisher - both from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN; a Flying Flat from Sasso Meccanica for backsplashes and a Sasso Experience TE straight polisher, which are serviced by SassoAmerica of St. Louis, MO; a Proliner from Prodim USA of Vero Beach, FL; Manzelli vacuum lifters from GranQuartz of Tucker, GA; a Gorbel crane system; tools and accessories from Braxton-Bragg of Knoxville, TN; GranQuartz; and Keystone Tools Co. of Commerce, CA
Number of Employees: 25
Production Rate: 15 to 20 jobs per week