Advancing with digital technology
“Twenty-four years ago, we decided to get into business for ourselves,” said Mike Langenderfer. “After researching numerous businesses that were for sale, we decided to start a business from scratch. In 1988, Karen and I started a sign company called Signs Plus. We operated the business together for the first year and then added a partner. By the end of the second year, we had decided to sell the sign business and purchase a commercial cabinet company. In June of 1990, we took over a cabinet business and ran that business for the next 13 years.”
Langenderfer went on to explain that in 2001, he and his wife were looking to diversify the business. “We decided to get into the residential countertop business,” he said. “We purchased a small residential countertop shop in June of 2001. By 2003, the countertop business was outperforming the cabinet business, so we closed the cabinet company and devoted ourselves to expanding the countertop business.”
With a successful operation in place, the couple made the decision in 2003 to add stone fabrication equipment to their shop and broaden their offerings to the residential market. “The new equipment allowed us to offer several additional products which boosted our sales,” said Langenderfer.
Building a stone shop
Before purchasing equipment for The Countertop Shop’s 10,000-square-foot facility, which includes 2,000 square feet for office and showroom space, the owners did some research. “After looking at several brands and talking to others in the business, our first piece of stone equipment was a Park Yukon bridge saw,” said Langenderfer. “In 2007, we added a Park Destiny CNC [equipped with vacuum pods from Blick Industries] as well as a Gorbel overhead crane system from GranQuartz and a Wood’s Powr-Grip vacuum lifter. In early 2012, we replaced the bridge saw with a Park Fusion bridge saw/waterjet. Each upgrade increased our capacity and allowed us to increase sales. The bridge saw/waterjet alone has increased our production by over 30%.”
Currently, The Countertop Shop produces approximately 60,000 square feet of product per year from a single production shift. It fabricates and installs everything from laminate to granite. It offers many brands of quartz surfacing, including Caesarstone and Silestone by Cosentino.
“Probably one of the most extreme changes has been in the templating area,” explained Langenderfer. “Like everyone else, we started out using wood strips and hot melt glue guns to make stick templates. As we purchased CNC equipment, templating had to keep up. We went from stick templates to a photo template system where with the aid of special targets, tape and a camera. We took photographs of the jobsite and downloaded them to a computer. The computer then processed the photos into a format that the CNC could understand to cut the material to the template produced by the photo system. This system worked fine for a few years, until better speed and accuracy was needed.”
As a result, in 2010, the company switched to a LT-55 Laser Templator from Laser Products Industries of Romeoville, IL. “It is much more accurate and allows our templator to produce an actual drawing at the jobsite so the customer can see what their countertop will look like,” explained Langenderfer. “This is always helpful when explaining to the customer what an overhang or corner will look like.
“After the template is completed and downloaded, all the information about the project is entered into the Moraware [JobTracker] System,” Langenderfer went on to say. “Our equipment, software and personnel allow us to service a large market area. We try to stay within a market area that allows our installers to travel and install in a single day, but our days sometimes get pretty long.”
According to Langenderfer, the Moraware system is a critical component in providing top-notch customer service. “Over the years, we have made many changes in our procedures and the equipment we use,” he said. “A very helpful tool is our scheduling software. We use the Moraware system. It allows everyone in the office to have real time information on everything from the customer’s name to the date the job was completed and everything in between. It even allows us, through the Internet, to log onto jobs from the field to check information or make changes. The nicest feature of the software is being able to give customers password protected access to the system. They can log in and check the exact status of their current orders or go into the history and look up past orders.”
Maintaining a qualified staff
At the present time, the company employs seven production workers, four installers and an office staff of eight, including programmers, salespeople and a templator. “They are all employees of the company so we have better control,” said Langenderfer. “I really don’t believe in subcontracting the work.
“The most important resources that we have invested in over the years are our employees,” Langenderfer went on to say. “We have extremely dedicated employees and a very small percentage of turnover. They are always making suggestions about where we can save money or do a procedure more efficiently. Their suggestions allow us to produce top-quality products and help to secure their future. Our mission statement is something we keep in mind every day. The purpose of The Countertop Shop is to provide all orders to all customers complete and on time with no excuses. To do everything above average from the quality of our finished products to the effort we put forth to meet the customer’s expectations.”
Two of the owners’ three children are integral parts of the business, according to Langenderfer. “Nick runs inside and outside sales and Melissa runs the operations of the company,” he said.
Customer service ranks high in priorities at The Countertop Shop. “Our sales staff concentrates on making the customer feel a part of the team,” said Langenderfer. “We stress to both our sales staff and our customers that we need to be partners in today’s market. By educating customers and helping them with all the decisions that have to be made when ordering a countertop, we try to make them feel as good about their purchase as we can. We try to set all appointments for templating and installation around the customer’s schedule to make their countertop purchase as stress free as possible.”
Marketing its products
The Countertop Shop’s primary market is Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan. “We have ventured into Cleveland and Cincinnati on occasion, and shipped to California, but those projects are normally for current customers that also have projects out of our local area,” explained Langenderfer. “The furthest we have traveled has been for a large retirement project in Philadelphia.”
While most of the company’s work is wholesale to kitchen and bath dealers, builders, remodelers and Big Box stores, it also does some light commercial jobs and a small amount of walk-in retail business. “We do 80% in stone or quartz, 15% in solid surfaces and 5% in laminate — with 50% from remodeling, 30% from light commercial and 20% from new construction,” said Langenderfer.
Among some of The Countertop Shop’s recent projects are: the Davis Street Building, Lima Memorial Hospital and St. Rita’s Medical Center — all in Lima, OH; McDonald’s restaurants in over 20 Northwest Ohio locations; and Disneyland (remote projects).
Planning for the future
“We have been asked many times where we are headed in the future,” said Langenderfer. “I think I am a pretty good listener, and I only say that because that’s where we are headed. I try to listen to what the customers, my peers and the market are saying. Then we try to stay on the crest of the wave. We want to be on the leading edge by offering the newest products and innovations. As members of the Toledo Home Builders Association, Toledo Remodelers Association and the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, we feel confident we have a good idea about the local market.
“By being members of those associations and organizations, we are able to give back to the community and the industry,” Langenderfer went on to say. “But, the biggest benefit of giving back is what we gain in return. Those groups hold us up and reinforce us. They often boost our morale. By hearing what is going on in the area and discussing the industry with our peers, we are encouraged that we are on the right track. By being able to share our experiences, opinions, advice and suggestions, we are able to make intelligent decisions. We can try to avoid problems and pitfalls that other have already experienced. When you give your time and talent, you get back in many ways.”
According to Landgenderfer, The Countertop Shop’s short-term goal is to get past the down economy. “Our long-term goal for the company is to continue to be a vital part of the local business community by modestly growing the business in offering leading edge products and services to our customers,” he said.
The Countertop Shop
Type of work: primarily residential and some light commercial in granite, quartz surfacing and laminate
Technology: a Fusion 4045 bridge saw/waterjet and Destiny CNC stoneworking center — both Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN; vacuum pods from Blick Industries of Laguna Beach, CA; a LT-55 Laser Templator from Laser Products Industries of Romeoville, IL; Moraware Jobtracker system, Reno, NV; Gorbel overhead crane system from GranQuartz of Tucker, GA; vacuum lifter from Wood’s Powr-Grip of Laurel, MT
Number of Employees: seven production workers, four installers and an office staff of eight, including programmers, sales people and a templator
Production rate: 60,000 square feet of product per year