Nevada fabricator merges technology and craftsmanship
January 6, 2010
Like most fabricators these days, Perfection Connection in Carson City, NV, is facing more competition in the marketplace than ever before. To combat the presence of “discount fabricators” in the region, the company makes an effort to educate customers while also promoting the quality of its work.
“We’ve had excellent success in getting the client into our shop and educating them fully,” explained James Donaire, owner of Perfection Connection. “We offer them 10 projects to look at, and really, my clients are my best salespeople. I want them to see why we cost more than a garage shop. I want them to see the equipment. That won’t work over the phone.”
The company has a vast library of photos of its completed work - including detail shots of the seams, edges and other areas of interest - and it strives to show customers exactly what to look for when assessing the quality of finished stonework.
“We pretty much do 90% middle to upper end fabrication for the residential market,” Donaire explained. “Maybe 10% of what we do is commercial work, but we mainly work on residential. We never got into the tract home business. We stuck with homeowners and builders.”
Developing a shop
Donaire began in the business more than 20 years ago, ultimately developing and expanding his own shop. “After I got out of high school in 1987, I got into construction learning most of the phases, and tilework was part of my duties,” he said. “By 1995, I started working with the company full time as a tilesetter. About a year later, I worked for another company in Oakland, CA, and I had the opportunity to take it over. That’s how Perfection Connection came alive. We officially opened our doors in 1997. We started with tilework and we were subbing installs for a fabricator. A year later, we decided to start fabricating on our own. We ended up getting a facility and we bought a Track-Star 2000 saw from Leitch & Co. We worked with that for a little while, and we were doing a lot of hand fabrication.”
As time went on, Perfection Connection added a range of equipment. “In 2000, we added a Park Industries Pro-Edge, and it was running so fast that our saw couldn’t keep up,” Donaire said. “So within six to nine months, we broke down and bought a Park Industries Sierra bridge saw.”
A few years later, Perfection Connection opened a second facility in Nevada, with the intention of running multiple locations. “I grew up in South Lake Tahoe, NV, and we moved to Carson City in 2005,” he said. “The plan was to work two facilities. A year into it, I decided that it was too difficult to run two facilities and get the quality we wanted. So I sold the Oakland facility, including the Pro-Edge, the Sierra and a ECS-Eich water treatment unit from Pyramid Supply.”
The facility in Carson City is currently equipped with a Park Pro-Edge III automated edging machine and a Park Sierra bridge saw, both of which are from Park Industries. It also has an ECS-Eich water treatment system, which was purchased from Pyramid Supply, and a compressor from Ingersoll-Rand.
In late 2006, the company added a CNC stoneworking center from Northwood Machine Corp. of Louisville, KY, which marked a new era of automation for the company. “I never thought we needed a CNC,” Donaire said. “We were doing 4-cm edges, and we laminate pretty much everything, but we finally decided to buy a Northwood CNC in 2006.”
Donaire explained that learning the technology was a relatively quick process. “We did the in-house training at Northwood, and we didn’t have computer experience at all,” he said. “The first few days of learning was a struggle, but then it all clicked. The screen really guides you through it. It was a tough learning curve in the very beginning, but part of it is that you’re really timid at first and maybe overly careful. It probably took us two or three months, and now we are running it day in and day out. The thing that I love is that we haven’t even explored everything we can do with it yet. Sooner or later we will, as we progress.”
According to Donaire, the transition to CNC technology has been the company’s biggest advance in fabrication over the past five years. “That investment has been the biggest change hands down,” he said. “Anyone who thinks they can out-operate [a CNC shop] without CNC is fooling themselves.”
In terms of tooling, the company uses Terminator tools for the CNC, along with Terminator saw blades and multi-purpose grinder blades from Continental Diamond Products, Inc. “We also use DeFusco Industrial Supply and Phoenix Diamond Tools,” Donaire said.
Perfection Connection’s newest investment is a Proliner 6.0 digital templating system from Prodim USA of Vero Beach, FL. “We just purchased it,” Donaire said. “The graphics are a lot better and you can pretty much walk away from a job with the whole kitchen templated. It has very powerful editing capabilities. Since utilizing that, our little quirks have lessened.”
The company also invested in a Procutter Plotter, also from Prodim USA. After digital templating is completed, the resulting DXF file is read by CAD and then transferred to the plotter, which produces a physical template of the job.
A changing marketplace
Speaking on obstacles in today’s industry, Donaire said that increased competition has made a difficult economy even tougher. “I think the biggest challenge for us is the same one that every fabricator is going through,” he said. “When I was in the Bay Area fabricating, we had the Dot-Com crash, which killed the Silicon Valley’s net worth, and everyone survived that. I think the reason for that is because we didn’t have so much competition. We had a big market change, but there weren’t so many people in it back then. Now we’re seeing this huge slowdown with the economy, but there are double or triple the fabricators out there now. That’s the major challenge: How do we get past the mediocre shops?”
Although the company has seen some positive signs lately, Donaire is cautious about his future outlook. “We do between three and five kitchens per week, although it has been more at times,” he said. “I have seen some good signs, but I am not banking on it. It doesn’t mean the economy is turning around as much as that I signed some good contracts.”
Perfection Connection’s market area spans a broad area that goes well beyond the South Lake Tahoe region. “We do 60% of our work in the Bay Area and 40% in South Lake Tahoe. We are willing to travel, and we work in a 250-mile radius of our shop. That’s a product of the market. You cannot be complacent.”
In all, Perfection Connection has five employees, including one bookkeeper. “My main guy has been here for six years, and he basically runs my shop,” Donaire said. “He knows every aspect of it, except for programming the CNC.”
The company has been fortunate to retain employees since opening in Carson City. “I haven’t had to hire new employees much,” Donaire said. “The guys that I have here have been with me through thick and thin. We had two acquisitions from other shops. When you bring someone in from another shop, it can be tough to get them out of bad habits. If they can show us a cool trick, that’s one thing, but we have to get rid of the bad habits.”
Looking to the future, Donaire said he expects a slow rebound in the market, but challenges remain. “We are hoping for the best,” he said. “I think we will see some normality. The problem is the economy, but the bigger issue is that there are three times more fabricators out there than the last crisis.”
Sidebar: Perfection ConnectionCarson City, NV
Type of work: Middle to upper-end fabrication for the residential market
Machinery: CNC stoneworking center from Northwood Machine Corp. of Louisville, KY, Pro-Edge III automated edging machine and Sierra bridge saw, both of which are from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN; water treatment system from ECS-Eich of Germany, purchased from Pyramid Supply of Barre, VT; air compressor from Ingersoll-Rand; Proliner digital templating system and ProCutter plotter from Prodim USA of Vero Beach, FL; Terminator CNC tooling and Terminator saw blades and multi-purpose grinder blades from Continental Diamond Products, Inc. of San Carlos, CA; tooling and accessories from DeFusco Industrial Supply of Tempe, AZ, and Phoenix Diamond Tools of Mesa, AZ
Number of Employees: 5
Production Rate: three to five kitchens per week