Mass-producing Minnesota granite
October 1, 2009
When Steve Crandall founded RealStone, LLC in 2002 (originally named RealStone MFG.), little did he realize what the business would grow to become. While the company, which is located in Bagley, MN, was started as a simple experiment for cutting stone, it now concentrates its efforts on mass-producing authentic stone veneer.
“Steve and his family started supplying products for jobs locally, and then they worked on sourcing stone in quantities that would allow for ramped up production,” said Chad Kelly, the company’s chief marketing officer. “Then, after making many small sales, March of 2006 marked the first major sale for a giant-sized commercial building, and mass-production of stone veneer was underway. Throughout the next several years, many major projects were supplied, and the proprietary cutting technology was continually improved - to the point where efficiencies surpassed even the family’s initial dreams.”
After the surge in RealStone’s business, however, Steve Crandall suffered a critical heart attack. As a result, he left the company under the leadership of his daughter, Angela, and son-in-law, Randy Soderstrom. Today, the company is owned in a partnership between the family and Unlimited Peak, a holding company, according to Kelly.
“The family partnered with an investment and management group to bring operations, accounting and marketing expertise to further improve its growing company,” he said. “Today, under Angela and Randy’s leadership, RealStone is experiencing tremendous growth, and it is continuing the tradition of undergoing additional product changes to become even more efficient.”
The productsAccording to Kelly, RealStone processes and distributes only natural stone. “The RealStone signature stone is quarried locally - out of Clearwater County - a stone’s throw from the headwaters of the Mississippi River,” he said. “It is a glacial till granite.”
Kelly went on to explain that leading geologists have noted that the granite quarried in the Minnesota region is one of the most colorful found anywhere in the world. It features 290 colors - blended in interesting veins and speckles.
The granite is processed into building stone, including thin veneer, full veneer, thin and full veneer corners and flooring products with a thickness of ¾ inches. Additionally, the stone is processed into landscape products such as 2-inch pavers, 6-inch stair treads, pool coping, birdbaths, garden benches and water features as well as specialty items, including wainscoting, electrical box cutouts, light box cutouts, trim stone and fireplace hearths.
“Our production capacity was increased significantly, with a recent 10,000-square-foot addition to the facility,” said Kelly. “Our production year-to-date in 2009 has been tracking at a double-digit percentage increase over 2008, when we through-put many thousand tons of natural stone.”
Processing the stone
RealStone operates out of a 25,000-square-foot facility - running one shift year-round and two shifts in the summer. At peak production time, the company typically has more than 20 employees working in the factory.
“We utilize custom-made saws with a proprietary technology that has worldwide patents,” said Kelly. “We have [recently] added conveyors and two new splitters. This has sped up our through-put and reduced waste.”
Kelly explained that RealStone’s market is balanced between residential and commercial projects. “The residential was the first market to start - with log homes, timber homes and other upscale builders,” he said. “The commercial side is growing more rapidly right now.
“We began serving the upper Midwest where we have our strongest distribution and advantages for distribution and LEED points - 500-mile-radius jobs,” Kelly went on to say. “We are now starting to get a foothold in Eastern states, and more and more inquiries from the South.”
Future plansInnovation is at the forefront for RealStone. “We want to keep innovating,” said Kelly. “We have a line of Stonehenge benches, which are unique and stunning and brand new to the market. We added thin and full split-stone to the line last year, and it caused us to have to expand our facility. We have other projects in the works, and we love to supply our distribution partners with products that are unique and beautiful.”
According to Kelly, the company will continue to strive to add beautiful natural stone to its product line, such as white marble, a conglomerate, more “green” products, a Moss Field Stone and a Brown Mountain Stone. “We are currently testing a conglomerate out of Michigan and an Autumn Flame out of Minnesota for processing through our plant - both products are green products,” he said. “We want to serve our customers better than our competitors. We really like being in partnerships that are advantageous to both parties.”