Massachusetts fabricator seizes an opportunity
When the company started as a cabinet maker, it was working on residential kitchens and other furnishings. This evolved into commercial cabinet work, and the company began processing DuPont Corian in the mid-1990s. Ultimately, TWD Surfaces moved into quartz surfacing and stone.
“We saw the market go to hard surfaces, and when DuPont Zodiaq approached us, we knew we had to diversify,” said St. Gelais. “We were doing templating and installation of stone and quartz anyhow, but we were giving up control by not doing the processing.”
In 2007, the company purchased its current building, which has 30,000 square feet of space, and it began fabrication in 2008.
TWD Surface also found an opportunity in the stone business when a local competitor went out of business. “There was a hole in the stone market that we benefitted by when they vacated,” St. Gelais explained. “It was more in the dealer business and builder business.”
Equipment in the facility includes a Destiny CNC stoneworking center, a Yukon II bridge saw, a Fastback edging machine and a Wizard radial arm polisher — all from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN. Edgework is also processed using a variety of hand routers.
Tooling in the shop is supplied by Granite City Tool of Waite Park, MN, and GranQuartz of Tucker, GA, while material is maneuvered with the help of a Gorbel jib crane equipped with a Manzelli vacuum lifter, also from GranQuartz.
In addition to investing in shop equipment, the move to stoneworking and business growth also means investments in delivery trucks and personnel. “We were able to get local employees from our former competitor,” St. Gelais said. “We hired stone technicians, installers and salespeople, and it really helped our transition into stoneworking.”
Additionally, St. Gelais also delved into stoneworking techniques on a personal level. “I am very hands-on,” he said. “I wanted to know about stone polishing and cutting early on. Our General Manager, Bob Gleason, has a similar background. We had done a lot of research, and we learned from others who expanded [into stone/quartz surfacing]. We’ve been really pleased with what has happened.”
According to St. Gelais, 2009 and 2010 proved to be “growth years” for TWD Surfaces’ hard surface business. Today, approximately 40% of the company’s hard surface business comes from commercial projects, such as hospitals, schools and corporations, and 60% comes from Big Box retailers, kitchen and bath dealers, and builders. “Everything [on the commercial side] is bid, but we have developed good relationships with our clients,” he explained. “A lot of that was built during our days of doing cabinet work.”
For commercial projects, the company can either ship finished pieces, or it can do both the fabrication and the installation, which it does throughout New England. It also installs residential projects as far away as the New Haven, CT, area and New Hampshire.
Striving for excellence
TWD Surfaces has taken a number of initiatives to ensure that its business runs with an optimal level of quality and professionalism. Among them, the company was officially accredited by the Marble Institute of America (MIA) earlier this year. The MIA Accreditation program recognizes companies that meet the industry’s highest standards for business activities, product knowledge, fabrication and installation. To earn MIA Accreditation, a company must complete an intensive, rigorous process that includes documentation of its business and employment practices, letters of recommendation, a written examination and site visits to the facility and completed jobs.
In addition to achieving MIA Accreditation, TWD Surfaces is also a member of the Artisan Group, a national organization of independent fabricators that have joined together to offer the Artisan StoneTM Collection, the first and only brand of granite wholly owned by Artisan Group, which has a comprehensive lifetime warranty. The group also offers Heritage WoodTM countertops and Kohler sinks and faucets.
“We were nominated by Don Hinckley of NBC Solid Surfaces in Vermont,” St. Gelais said of the Artisan Group, adding that they joined the organization at the end of 2009. “Artisan gives credibility to the stone industry. It is a group of reputable businesspeople sharing information and linking best practices at meetings and other events.”
Overall, TWD Surfaces has 33 employees, and the shop is organized for synchronized work flow. “We were schooled on Synchronized Flow from the South Carolina Manufacturers Partnership (SCMEP),” St. Gelais said. “This is one leg of Lean Manufacturing, along with 5S and Value Stream Mapping, which we also incorporated.”
“I took a 12-week course on Lean Manufacturing at the University of Massachusetts,” St. Gelais said. “Part of the process is to use the available manpower you have wherever it is needed. We want people who are cross-trained, and we have been utilizing our people that way. It is sort of how Bill Belichik coaches the New England Patriots; we like people who are ‘utility’ players and can contribute in different ways. We encourage our workers to learn as much as possible.”
This philosophy also carries over to the company’s workers in the field. “We have five trucks on the road with two men in each,” St. Gelais said. “They are installers, but they can also template a job if they are some distance from us, and it needs to be done.” Trucks in use by TWD Surfaces include two Dodge Sprinters and three box trucks.
Templating is done using stick templates as well as LT-55 laser templaters from Laser Products Industries of Romeoville, IL. The templating method depends on the complexity of the project and how it will be fabricated. “We work in different ways to avoid a CNC bottleneck,” St. Gelais said. “There are some things that have to be done on the CNC, but 60% are straight runs.”
The shop itself is set up in a manner similar to an automobile manufacturing plant, with individual work cells for the various steps in the process. “We are also using Moraware [scheduling and job management software],” he said. “We are adding e-pads at each cell where people can clock in and update the progress for each job.”
The company’s total business in 2010 totaled $5.5 million. “Our solid surface business has dipped, but hard surface has grown,” he said. “The majority of our hard surface work is quartz, especially for commercial work. We do Silestone, Zodiaq and CaesarStone. For residential work, the percentage of [natural] stone is higher.”
In assessing the market, St. Gelais acknowledged that his business has defied market conditions. “I am living my five-year plan ahead of schedule,” he said. “They way we are structured, we are in a great position. We are profiting when other people are hurting. We were up 4% in 2009 and 8% in 2010. Commercially, a lot is going to be happening, particularly in quartz. [In terms of new residential construction], we don’t have a builder market in New England right now; it is more remodels. People are keeping their homes until the value comes back.”
Type of work: residential and commercial fabrication of stone and quartz surfacing, as well as solid surface fabrication
Machinery (for stoneworking): a Destiny CNC stoneworking center, a Yukon II bridge saw, a Fastback edging machine and a Wizard radial arm polisher — all from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN; tooling from Granite City Tool of Waite Park, MN, and GranQuartz of Tucker, GA; a Gorbel jib crane equipped with a Manzelli vacuum lifter from GranQuartz; an EnviroSystem from Water Treatment Technologies; LT-55 laser templating systems from Laser Products Industries of Romeoville, IL; JobTracker scheduling and job management software from Moraware of Reno, NV
Number of Employees: 33