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Originally from Jordan, Halabi grew up in Saudi Arabia, and then came to the U.S. in 1984 to attend college. After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley in 1988 with a degree in Civil Engineering, he had a plan to return to Saudi Arabia and help his father with his construction business. “While I was working on my Master’s Degree in business, I met a business consultant that was working with Duracite on developing a production software system for the company,” he said. “He asked me to help him with the project a few hours per week, and that was the first interaction I had ever had with the countertop business.”
Halabi went on to explain that at that time, Duracite was mainly producing solid surface countertops, and they were just getting their feet wet in the stone business. Halabi continued to learn more about the trade, while working for Duracite for free. “I just loved learning about business, and I did not mind working for free since my family was still supporting me,” he said. Finally, in 1989 Halabi became the General Manager of the company, and he ultimately bought the business four years later.
Since Halabi is the owner and CEO of Duracite, his top priority is to ensure that his business continues to operate profitably. “I worked with many of my managers to help them continue improving their respective areas of responsibility,” he said. “I also spent a lot of my time in our shops to ensure that we were delivering on our promise to our customers.”
Currently, Duracite employs 130 professionals, and according to Halabi, the employees are a true product of the company. “It is the experience and interaction between our employees and our customers that we really sell every day,” he said.
Investing in technology
A range of stoneworking technology can be found at all of Duracite’s 13 locations. Basic slab cutting is done with seven bridge saws from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN. More advanced cutting work is completed using a dual-table RoboCut from USG Robotics, which is a combination bridge saw and waterjet. This machine operates using KUKA robotic technology, and a pump and cutting nozzle from KMT Waterjet Systems of Baxter Springs, KS. The unit allows Duracite to use the bridge saw for straight cuts and the waterjet for complex cuts without having to move the slab.
Two models of edging equipment from Park Industries are used in the shop. They include the Velocity for decorative and laminated edges, and four Pro-Edge II units for automated straight edge processing. In addition, an Omega 100 from Comandulli of Italy is used for automated straight edge processing. When working the edges of smaller pieces, the company uses a unit from Marmo Meccanica of Italy.
For more complex routing and edging, Duracite utilizes three CNC stoneworking centers from CMS/Brembana. Additionally, the surfaces of workpieces are also processed as needed using three Park Industries Wizard radial arm polishers.
Furthermore, Duracite has implemented a conveyor system for moving materials around the shop.
In terms of stone tooling, Duracite utilizes Diamut tools from Granite City Tool for the company’s CNCs. “We use a combination of diamond pads from Continental DIA and Abrasive Technologies for our inline machines,” Halabi said. “We have developed our own importing program for most of our other cutting and polishing needs.”
“The investment in the RoboCut has been the best investment I have ever made,” Halabi said. “We are now able to cut all our jobs on that machine. We also run a continuous production line in our shop, and these machines have increased our productivity and reduced the cycle time for all our jobs in the shop. We do most of our jobs in two to three days.”
Other recent investments include additional PhotoTop kits for templating. Furthermore, the showroom was recently remodeled.
Changes and challenges
In addition to Duracite’s recent investments, Halabi added that the company’s production systems have been completely changed since the company switched to digital templating. “Today we are able to measure jobs over old existing countertops, and we are also able to give our customers full service removal and installation of their new granite tops in one day,” he said. “Our accuracy in producing jobs has increased significantly, and we have reduced the manual labor in our shops to almost nothing.”
Just like many businesses during this economy, Duracite’s biggest challenge is currently trying to recover the volume that the company lost over the past four years. According to Halabi, Duracite’s margins have been cut significantly, and its volume has been cut in half. “Even though these challenges have been very significant to our business, and increased pressure on our cash flow, we are learning from them, and we are able to continue to develop new ways to be profitable,” he added. “As the business comes back, we will be in better shape to handle jobs and manage them more profitably.”
Employees within the shop include workers dedicated to a single operation as well as ones that multi-task. “Our production employees are specialized,” said Halabi. “We have a dedicated cutting staff, edging staff and finishing staff. Our installation teams are very experienced and they can do multiple tasks and install different products.”
Most of Duracite’s employees have been with the company for over 10 years. “We train our employees on safety first as they join our company,” Halabi added. “If we hire someone with more experience, we have them work along one of our existing crews to learn our systems. We also bring people aboard by giving them training in the shop, and having them work as helpers with our installation teams.”
With 130 employees, Duracite’s facilities are producing an average of about 25 projects per day — for both solid and hard surfaces. More specifically, the company is running between 1,100 to 1,300 square feet of stone per day.
Type of work: Residential countertops, as well as additional slab work
Technology: dual-table RoboCut from USG Robotics, which operates using KUKA robotic technology and a pump and cutting nozzle from KMT Waterjet Systems of Baxter Springs, KS; Velocity edger and Pro-Edge II edgers from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN; Omega 100 from Comandulli of Italy for automated straight edge processing; edging unit from Marmo Meccanica of Italy; three CNC stoneworking centers from CMS/Brembana of Italy; Park Industries Wizard radial arm polisher; Diamut tools from Granite City Tool for the CNCs; diamond pads from Continental DIA and Abrasive Technologies for inline machines; PhotoTop kits for templating
Number of Employees: 130
Production Rate: 25 projects per day (in stone and solid surfaces), equating to 1,100 to 1,300 square feet
A proud member of the Artisan Group
A member of the Artisan Group since it was founded, Duracite is part of an elite, North American network of independent countertop professionals. Company owner Fadi Halabi explained that about 12 years ago, before the Artisan group was founded, AG&M — the main supplier of granite for the group — put together a Granite Buying Group. Duracite was one of three original members of that group, and as more members joined the group, they decided to differentiate themselves by setting the highest standards.
The Artisan Group was ultimately founded, and the Artisan lifetime warranty for granite was born.
“To be a member of our group, the company must be approved by the majority, the company must be financially stable, it must offer and honor the sealer and installation lifetime warrantee, and the company must become a Marble Institute of America-accredited company,” Halabi said.
According to Halabi, there are many benefits to being part of the Artisan group. “The most significant benefit is the association we have developed with the other members in the group,” he added. “They are the best at what they do, and the learning we share together has a tremendous value to our businesses.”
In addition to the connections, being part of the Artisan group has also allowed Duracite to use purchasing power to get competitive prices on products.
“The marketing efforts of the group continue to help our business grow,” he said. “Because of our association in the group we have expanded our product offering to include soapstone, wood countertops and plumbing fixtures by Kohler.”