Fabricator credits customer-focused planning for success
September 27, 2010
Located in London, Ontario, Canada, The Top Shop Inc. manufactures custom granite and quartz countertops in its granite division for retail and wholesale clients and has been on the cutting edge since it began in the stone industry eight years ago. From humble beginnings in 1985, management at The Top Shop found that becoming a stone fabricator was just a natural extension of the successful laminate countertop division they’d been operating for 17 years. Although it has had challenges since opening the granite division, operations have been running very smoothly for the past few years, largely because of key decisions made in the planning stages.
From the beginning, the father-and-son team of David Dean (President and Owner) and Michael Dean (Operations Manager - Granite Division) made the bold decision to use 3-cm material instead of the regionally more common 2-cm material. Since then, granite and quartz suppliers report that regional sales have increased for the 3-cm material, and they now exceed the demand for the thinner stone. Whether or not demand increased because of The Top Shop’s reputation for quality and excellence or some other external market condition, they were well positioned to respond to the shift toward the thicker stone.
Another key decision was going digital. “We decided to be a completely digital shop from day one,” said Michael Dean. “So we started with one Stealth 7200 Digitizer, an Intermac Jet CNC and a GMM Eura 35 CNC bridge saw.” This foresight enabled management to position The Top Shop as a leader in the industry very quickly. In addition to its start-up machinery, the company has also invested in a Northwood CNC, additional Stealth Digitizers, O’Brien overhead cranes, a waste water recycling system by Water Treatment Technologies and most recently, a Marmo Meccanica 711 line polisher. As expected, the line polisher has dramatically reduced production time on square edge pieces.
The most important investments made over the last five years were those that helped The Top Shop create its unique customer experience program. For example, customers select their granite material protected from unpredictable weather in a 4,500-square-foot warehouse that is affectionately called “The Quarry,” adorned with a 46- x 19-foot banner of an Eastern Canadian quarry. “It’s a much better environment for our clients because they are removed from the grinding mess and machinery noise of the 5,000-square-foot wet shop area,” Michael Dean said.
Within the confines of “The Quarry,” the experience is designed to be quiet and calming, with visitors hearing natural sounds such as chirping birds and running water, while simultaneously seeing the visual of an extraordinary quarry landscape. Add the impact of over 500 full-sized slabs of granite, gorgeous exotics, 30-foot ceilings and a massive O’Brien overhead crane, and most clients are completely overwhelmed by the operation because they’ve never seen anything like it before. “It leaves an unforgettable impression, but that’s what we are going for,” Michael Dean said. “We’ve built our business around the customer experience.”
The company’s new 1,300-square-foot showroom, completed earlier this year, is also a major focal point for clients. Displaying life-sized examples of countertops, sinks, faucets, quartz samples, edge profiles and a completed job photo gallery, the environment is very conducive to helping customers make the right decision for their individual needs.
Operating a lean and efficient shop continues to be a challenge, but the ongoing effort has paid off because The Top Shop is able to produce 25 kitchens a week with a dedicated stone staff of 15. “We hire from all avenues, depending on the skill set required for the position that needs filling at the time, but we’re fortunate to have a very low employee turn-over,” said Michael Dean. “Training is generally done with mentors so the new employee benefits from the personal, hands-on, industry expertise of fellow co-workers. A mix of skill sets is required throughout the shop, so employees are cross-trained where it makes sense for the business. We’ve found cross-training keeps staff challenged and engaged, which goes a long way to keeping them motivated and happy.”
Another major challenge is customer expectation management. Determining what customers expect and educating them on what can be delivered is always challenging. Network television programs show the general public that building and renovating can happen in the blink of an eye. And with absolutely perfect construction being showcased in popular media, educating clients and resetting expectations about what can be done with natural products like granite and quartz is extremely important.
Presently in its 25th year, David and Michael Dean have seen many changes in the industry, and the company is looking to pursue new avenues in the future. “There’s a few things I’m working on now, but no matter which initiative comes first, I can tell you The Top Shop is well positioned for growth,” Michael Dean said.
The Top Shop Inc.Location: London, Ontario, Canada
Type of work: Full-service fabricator of natural stone and quartz surfacing
Machinery: CNC stoneworking center from Intermac of Italy; Eura 35 CNC bridge saw from GMM of Italy; CNC stoneworking center from Northwood Machine of Louisville, KY; Stealth Digitizers, serviced by Touchstone Instruments of Plaistow, NH; O’Brien overhead cranes; EnviroSystem waste water recycling system by Water Treatment Technologies of Hampton, NH; 711 line polisher from Marmo Meccanica of Italy
Number of Employees: 15
Production Rate: 25 kitchens per week