Fabricator Case Studies

Granite countershop business grows after the recession

After feeling the effects of the 2008 recession, Daniel Ghionoui moved his company’s location to help grow his fabrication business

August 1, 2014

Daniel Ghionoui entered the granite countertop industry in 1994 with a shop in Detroit, MI. Business was going well until the 2008 recession hit the housing market and Ghionoui decided to move his company, Natural Stone City, to Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, in November 2008. Two years later, Ghionoui moved the business once again, but this time because his business started to grow, largely by word of mouth.

“Our main office with one desk turned into four desks,” said Flav Rusu, purchasing and operations manager for Natural Stone City. “From one bridge saw, we went to two bridge saws and a CNC router. From a handful of A-frames holding customer slabs to over 50 A-frames, stocking over 100 different colors of granite. One thing remained throughout all these transitions: Our industry-unheard-of three to five business day turnaround from customer selections to installed job.”

The current facility is 13,000 square feet with just over 20 employees, running two shifts. The company also has two full-time installation crews. Natural Stone City targets the retail customer, as well as kitchen and bath dealers within a 300-km radius, while averaging 20 to 30 kitchens per week, with the typical kitchen being 40 to 50 square feet.

The facility’s machinery includes a Park Industries Yukon II bridge saw, Sasso Flying Flat edge polisher and a Marmo Meccanica HTO 1B bridge saw. The company’s newest machine is the Park Industry Titan CNC Router.

Natural Stone City

Kitchener, Ontario, Canada

Type of Work: retail customer and kitchen and bath dealers

Machinery: Park Industries Yukon II bridge saw and Park Industries Titan CNC Router – both from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN; Sasso Flying Flat edge polisher from Sasso USA Inc. of Palatine, IL; Marmo Meccanica HTO 1B bridge saw from Marmo Meccanica North America of Rochester Hills, MI; a Laser Products LT-55 XL Templator from Laser Products Industries of Romeoville, IL; ADI tooling from GranQuartz Canada of Stanstead, Quebec, Canada; Zenesis blades from General Tool of Irvine, CA.

Number of Employees: 20, two full-time installation crews

Production Rate: 20 to 30 kitchens per week, the average kitchen being 40 to 50 square feet

“Mid-2010 we hit a production capacity limit with sink cutouts, so I was tasked with finding a CNC for sink cutouts,” said Rusu. “After speaking to a few of the CNC players on the market, we decided on a Park Titan 1700 CNC Router. I asked Daniel, [the owner of Natural Stone City], if I can buy bits to also polish the sink cutouts since the pieces are already on the CNC. He hesitated but agreed. I said, ‘What about Ogee and Double Ogee? The shop always complains about those profiles and I hear the CNC can do a really good job.’ Again, he hesitated but agreed. After the CNC was installed, the whole shop gathered around to watch a sink cutout. We timed the cut, and I think it was a very close tie for a simple sink cutout. We timed the polishing of the cutout and the CNC won by a good margin. After that initial test, it was decided by Daniel that the CNC would cut and polish all sink cutouts.

“Fast forward a few months and the CNC went from processing 10% of the jobs to polishing all the jobs except the ones requiring a leather edge or chiseled edge, or very simple pieces that can run through the flat polishing machine,” Rusu went on to say. “Our shop employees changed from polishers to CNC operators and material handlers. Our sink cutout guy turned into our quality control specialist. We would like to mention that we were very impressed with Park’s free overnight shipping of warranty parts and calls returned within one to three hours. I think our longest unscheduled downtime on the Titan CNC was about 26 hours due to premature failure of a water union for which the replacement was shipped overnight.”

Because the company had a lot of money riding on its new CNC machine, the new CNC had to polish as well as, or better, than the best shop employee if it was to gain serious traction. Rusu spoke to a few shops and a few of Natural Stone City’s suppliers, and settled on ADI tooling with closed profiles from GranQuartz Canada.

“After running a Double Ogee edge on a piece of Titanium the shop begrudgingly admitted defeat,” said Rusu. “GranQuartz promised us 3,000 linear feet before redress. For us, we consider it time to change the bits when the lines can be felt by hand. We are able to consistently hit between 3,000 to 5,000 linear feet with five metals before redress.”

The company’s first set of T30 metals are still going strong at 11,000 linear feet with only two redresses in-between. Its ADI Magic polishers are also lasting between 3,500 to 4,000 linear feet before they wear out.

When Rusu first started the shop was exclusively using the Zenesis II bridge saw blade by General Tool. “We had experimented with a few other blades from different manufacturers but settled on the Zenesis II due to its chip-free cutting and long life,” said Rusu.

When it comes to templating, the company went from using a tape measure with cardboard to the tape measure with an Allen Datagraph iTech vinyl template cutter that came bundled with a LT-55 XL Laser Templator from Laser Products Industries.

“Coming from cardboard templates hot glued together, it was a night-to-day difference,” said Rusu. “We have been very happy with the service we received from Laser Products.”

Besides new tools, the introduction of 3 cm granite in the company’s local market of Kitchener has helped it grow. At the time, Natural Stone City was the only fabricator to carry a selection of 3 cm granite slabs in stock while the nearest slab distributor was one hour away.

“We were offering 3 cm granite, installed within three to five business days, allowing the customer to tag their slab at our shop, all the while our price was more competitive than the local
2 cm granite price,” said Rusu.

After 20 years in the business, Natural Stone City plans to take the next step with a complete barcode inventory system using Moraware JobTracker. “Hunting for a slab that was tagged by a customer three months ago in our inventory of over 1,500 slabs scattered around the shop is not fun,” said Rusu. “After finding the slab, we realized we don’t have enough because someone cut a vanity out of it. There comes a point when the cost to track inventory is cheaper than to not track inventory.”     

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