Las Vegas Rock: Adapting to a new business strategy
In the 1930s, Las Vegas Rock in Jean, NV, started off by extracting meta-quartzite stone. Since then, they have expanded to produce the “Vegas Cut” collection, landscape rock, flooring, custom stonework, slab material, windswept, cut-to-size panels, engraved signage, nominal split-face, random split-face and planking. As the company grew, it decided to build a new fabrication facility and purchased it for a quarter-of-a-million dollars in 2006. The bank they were expecting to receive the loan from ran out of money and eventually disappeared. It wasn’t until August 2010 that Las Vegas Rock was able to get financing through the USDA loan guarantees program and commence construction of their building. The building finished construction in March of 2011.
“In that interim period, we had commitments from about six different distributors from around the country that we selected from about 30, because they were the most financially sound retail distributors for floor tile and slabs,” said Chris Schulte, president of Las Vegas Rock. “Then in March of 2011, when we opened the building, each one of them came to us and said, ‘We are sorry, but we don’t have customers anymore.’ So our whole deal that we were going to get this continuous income from selling two truckloads a month to these six different people that they were going to distribute the material, collapsed.”
During the span from 2006 to the opening in 2011, Las Vegas Rock had worked diligently with several architects from around the country to do architectural representation for various buildings. “That was successful, but the construction of the buildings was delayed indefinitely by the downturn of the economy,” explained Schulte. “So our investors loved what we were doing; we produced enough material, but the construction was delayed. Since then, and at this point right now, we are slammed with work. The architectural representation that we had done since 2006 is coming to fruition with a vengeance.”
According to Steve Wickman, owner of Las Vegas Rock, it wasn’t necessarily the work that was done then that was important, but it was the business model. The work that was being promoted then didn’t necessarily happen, but they learned from it. “So right now we are 100% architecturally specified,” said Wickman. “It’s a perfect fit for us because our stone is so unique that it requires an architect working with a customer to utilize the strength of our stone. That’s kind of where we are at today.
“Now with the demand for blocks, we had to take the next leap of faith and invest a couple of million dollars to develop a quarry for blocks and block sales internationally,” Wickman went on to explain. “We developed a lot of great relationships, and our future is extremely bright, and we are managing growth now. Though, there is still a lot of work to be done.”
During the downturn
While the company had difficulties during the economic collapse, Wickman and Schulte both realized they had no choice but to weather the storm. Las Vegas Rock originally had 65 employees, but during the economic collapse, they went down to 20. “We became much more efficient through necessity,” said Wickman. “We were self-financed, we didn’t owe banks any money, so that’s how we survived. At the same time, it meant that ownership was putting money back into the business, but we did it because we believed in it so much.”
Schulte said that one of the things Las Vegas Rock does very well and has a good reputation with is that they did five major casino jobs. “We haven’t done a job in the last five years where the owners, or the owners’ representatives, didn’t come out and thoroughly vet us to make sure that we were going to be around,” he explained. “We own outright 338 acres, and that’s what we are currently quarrying in. We also have a lease on 600 more acres.” Since downsizing to 20 employees, Las Vegas Rock is now back up to a total of 60 workers.
For 2015, Las Vegas Rock is expecting to produce 180,000 square feet, or 2,500 tons, of product. “One of the cool things about our operation is that we utilize our waste,” said Wickman. “We don’t call it waste anymore. It’s now our secondary products, so we can sell our sand and crushed rock. We sell 100% of our secondary products just as fast as we can make it.”
“We recently purchased two machines that are going to take the secondary products we make and they will take that product and turn it into a sellable product to help us compete with the ‘lick ‘em and stick ‘em,’” said Schulte. The company’s fabricating facility houses two Loeffler machines, an edging and a kerfing machine; a T500 Thibaut polishing machine; a Thibaut 8500 horizontal wire saw; a TC-4 and a TC08 Thibaut bridge saw; a monument polisher, three Pellegrini single-wire saws, of which two of them are the Evo 6-Axis wire saw; a 50-blade gangsaw and an 18-head polishing machine — both from Simec of Italy; a Hydrasplit stone splitter, a ThinStone TXS-2600 thin stone cutter and a Jaguar II bridge saw — all from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN. The quarry is equipped with machinery from Atlas Copco of Stockholm, Sweden, including a D30 four-wheel driven down-the-hole drill rig and a XAVS 400 CD7 portable air compressor.
Looking toward the future, the company is ramping up to provide a large stock of slab and block inventory to contractors and fabricators to facilitate the cut-to-size projects that specify their unique stone material. Las Vegas Rock is also planning to sell significantly more blocks around the world, something they are extremely excited for. “Our next progression is definitely to sell blocks internationally,” said Schulte. “If you have a unique product that you can sell around the world, and that no one else in the world has, then there is a great opportunity to sell blocks around the world, and that’s what we are going to do.”