Fabricator Case Studies

Staying true to the art of the trade

January 5, 2012
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In operation since 2004, de la tierra, inc. strives to be a true artisan shop. Based in Portland, OR, the fabrication company consists of a husband-and-wife team that values high-quality craftsmanship and first-rate customer service. Catering to the Portland Metropolitan area, de la tierra primarily works on residential remodels as well as some new home construction and small commercial projects.

The company was founded by Michael Ambrose, President — and fabricator — and Aurora Ambrose, Secretary/Treasurer, who is in charge of Client Services. Together, they produce four to five kitchens a month — with one to two vanity projects in between.

“We are literally a mom-and-pop shop,” said Aurora Ambrose. “Michael takes on all the templating, fabrication and installations and works out the bids. I do all of the office work and scheduling and will help customers pick out slabs. I also write up all the bids and contracts.”

Company history

According to Ambrose, Michael first got his feet wet in the industry in 1997, when he started working at a fabrication shop in the Portland area. “He started out as a foyer and then moved over into running the Pro-Edge and saw,” she said. “He then moved to the installation crew.

“Over a course of nine years, Michael worked at a couple of shops,” Ambrose went on to say. “He worked in all areas, and eventually, he was a production lead and then ran a shop for someone. We got licensed while he was running another shop. We were waiting for the right time to transition.”

Ambrose explained that they were licensed in December of 2003 and opened de la tierra as a sole proprietorship in July of 2004. “We didn’t know if we could sustain ourselves,” she said. “I was working full time as a Project Manager in the marketing department of a staffing company.”

To the couple’s relief, de la tierra became a successful operation. And in January of 2006, the company, whose name literally means “of the earth,” became incorporated.

The shop

“We fabricate and install natural stone slabs, recycled glass slabs and earth-friendly solid surfaces,” said Ambrose. In addition to natural stone, included in the company’s product offerings are Chroma, Silestone, Eco by Cosentino, IceStone and GleenGlass.

Material is processed in de la tierra’s 1,800-square-foot fabrication facility, which is equipped with a Te.Co machine bridge saw with a hydraulic tilt table, a 2005 Pro-Edge® III automatic shaping and edging machine from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN, a Spanco overhead bridge crane and a Manzelli vacuum lifter from GranQuartz of Tucker, GA. “The Pro-Edge III was purchased and operational in April of last year,” explained Ambrose. “We were fortunate enough to find a used one locally, in great condition and with very few hours of use.”

The shop is in operation for one shift Monday through Friday, and on Saturdays, if necessary. “Michael performs all on-site and in-shop fabrication functions — templating, fabrication and installation,” said Ambrose. “Our work is primarily focused on residential remodels — with a few new custom-home and small commercial projects each year. We only fabricate slabs, but have great tile-setter resources for our customers.”

For templating, de la tierra uses 3- x 1/8-inch-thick strips of luan door skin plywood to make physical templates for each surface of a given project. “We use a staffing company to source helpers for us the days we install,” explained Ambrose. “The staffing company has done a great job in creating a pool of employees that we call on regularly and have become familiar with the installation process. Before leaving for a jobsite installation, Michael has a safety meeting to review material handling, what the job will entail and emphasizes the importance of not rushing.”

Recently, de la tierra completed the second phase of slab stonework as part of a large remodeling project in an historic Northeast Portland neighborhood. “Our scope of work included two single-piece fireplace surrounds; a master bath vanity; a shower bench, curb and shampoo niche ledge; an entry threshold; and kitchen perimeter and island countertops,” said Ambrose.

Remaining true to the craft

According to Ambrose, it is important that de la tierra remains true to the craft of stone fabrication. “General contractors are always asking when we are going to get more employees,” she said. “We only focus on one job at a time, and maybe get a small vanity in [also]. We don’t want to double up on a job.

“We do want to add employees to accommodate repeat customers, but we still want to be an artisan shop,” Ambrose went on to explain. “We want to remain in complete control of the quality-control process. People ask if we are getting a CNC machine. Unless people put a hand to it, the finish isn’t the same. A lot of homeowners won’t know the difference unless they have something to compare it to, but we know.

“It’s hard to convey the value of having an artisan shop,” Ambrose went on to say. “When we tell someone it will take six to eight weeks out, particularly a homeowner, they don’t necessarily want to wait. We try to explain the value. If they can wait, they will get a much nicer finished product.”        

de la tierra, inc.

Portland, OR

Type of work: primarily residential remodels as well as some new home construction and small commercial projects

Machinery: Te.Co machine bridge saw with a hydraulic tilt table, a 2005 Pro-Edge® III automatic shaping and edging machine from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN, a Spanco overhead bridge crane and a Manzelli vacuum lifter from GranQuartz of Tucker, GA

Number of employees: 2

Production rate: four to five kitchens a month — with one to two vanity projects in between

                         

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