Solid Surface Tops started fabricating by hand before moving to automated equipment after the financial crisis
Starting in a barn in Buckingham, FL, Solid Surface Tops of Southwest Florida, Inc. was formed and incorporated in April 2002. The company, founded by Jack and Glenda Balentine, the company president and corporate secretary, respectively, began by only fabricating solid surface materials exclusively.
“After about six months, we moved to a 1,250-square-foot shop on Metro Parkway in Fort Myers, FL,” said Glenda Balentine. “We template, fabricate and install solid surface countertops, most generally Corian, to builders, both new construction and remodeling, and some retail. We soon outgrew that small shop and moved a few blocks away to a 5,000-square-foot space on Idlewild Street.”
Soon after the move, the construction boom happened, and the company became preferred fabricators for DuPont. It had approximately 40 employees at the time, all doing hand fabrication. While doing everything by hand, Solid Surface Tops of Southwest Florida, Inc. was turning out countertops for over 1,500 new homes per year for builders such as 1st Homes, now sold to K. Hovnanian, Mercedes Homes and other local and regional home builders.
“In 2006, we purchased our first major equipment, a panel saw and V-Groover for use in our solid surface fabrication,” said Balentine. “We also expanded 5,000 square feet into the adjoining space.”
As new construction started to disappear and the financial recession was beginning to kick in, Solid Surface Tops of Southwest Florida, Inc. decided they needed to re-invent their core product. “To that end we purchased a Sierra bridge saw and brought our granite and engineered stone fabrication and installation in house; previously we had sub-contracted that out,” said Balentine. “We also contracted with builders who were remediating homes containing Chinese drywall to remove, clean and reinstall, or replace countertops in those homes. Though we struggled with major layoffs and severely declining revenues, we were blessed to continue our business through the downturn and for the last couple of years have seen a return to our former productivity.”
Expanding the business
Four years ago, the company moved the entire production shop, including its granite inventory, to its present location at 1861 Benchmark Ave. in Fort Myers. The new facility has 12,500 square feet for granite production that houses its new Fusion saw/waterjet with two tables, from Park industries in St. Cloud, MN, which was put into service in late 2014. Additionally, last year the company added another 12,500 square feet at 1849 Benchmark, its next door location, and re-located its solid surface production, slab storage and administrative offices there.
The fabrication shop is also equipped with two Gorbel 2,000-pound capacity workstation cranes, a Park Industries Sierra bridge saw, Atlas Copco air compressors, Yale forklifts, a Park Industries Digital Image Capturer Pathfinder 1200, Slabsmith software and Manzelli vacuum lifters. The company buys its tools and accessories from Lackmond Stone, Omicron, Triton, Barton, GranQuartz and Braxton-Bragg. It also uses Apex router bits, Makita grinders, Alpha air polishers and Akemi adhesives.
In November 2015, the company added a Park Industries Titan 2800 CNC and Fastback to its line-up of machinery. “The Titan and Fastback have taken over the production fabrication, freeing up our skilled fabricators for applications such as miter cut and butt laminations, flush mount sink applications, chiseled profiles, etc.,” said Balentine.
For templating, the five install crews at Solid Surface Tops of Southwest Florida, Inc. use two Laser Products LT-2D3D, which have allowed them to more than double their template production and reduce mistakes made in the field, according to Balentine. “Laser Products regional sales manager, Matt Drnec, was the perfect solution to our training and technical assistance issues,” she said. “The customer service that he provided to us was top notch, and the Laser Templator products were the best match to our templating needs compared to the other products on the market. We highly recommend their product and service before and after the sale.”
Solid Surface Tops of Southwest Florida, Inc. manufactures countertops and backsplashes, custom applications such as pool spillways, vertical stone cladding, window sills and stone fire pits, as well as working with engineered stone and solid surface material. Among its recent projects is a granite memorial for the Submarine Veterans in Fort Myers, FL. The company’s monthly production capacity is currently 14,000 to 15,000 square feet.
Solid Surface Tops of Southwest Florida, Inc. primarily works on new residential projects on the Florida Gulf Coast -- from Bradenton south to Marco Island. With a staff of 40 employees, it runs two 12-hour shifts on the Titan and one on the Fusion. On average, the company produces 40 to 50 kitchens a week, each one measuring approximately 60 square feet.
Currently, Solid Surface Tops of Southwest Florida, Inc. is putting the finishing touches on new model homes for Palladio Homes in Cape Coral for their 2016 Parade of Homes, also for London Bay in Naples, FL. On the commercial side, they just completed a Corkscrew Shores clubhouse and amenity center for Cameratta Construction. “Our next effort will be to concentrate on profitability by implementing a Stone Profits software system,” said Balentine. “The software will allow a better tracking of inventory, especially remnants, and step-by-step monitoring of each job from estimating through invoicing. This will result in better customer service as well, by being able to communicate more real-time job status.”
The company is currently in the planning stages of building its own facility, large enough to incorporate everything under one roof. They would like to see the design center, sales, slab selection and manufacturing together in one central location to better expand into the retail arena, which is its weakest area of exposure. At that time new lines would be added such as tile and flooring so the company’s customers could have a one-stop shopping experience.
“We have a long history here in the Fort Myers, FL, area, and we have developed many wonderful relationships with builders as we worked together weathering the ups and downs in the construction industry,” said Balentine. “Through it all, our employees have worked with us as family, supporting the business in the hard times and working hard in the good times. A business is nothing without its people, and
ours are the best in the business.”
Solid Surface Tops of Southwest Florida, Inc.
Fort Myers, FL
Type of Work: primarily residential
Machinery: a Fusion 4245 saw/waterjet with two tables, a Titan 2800 CNC stoneworking center, a Fastback edge polisher, a Sierra bridge saw and Digital Image Capturer Pathfinder 1200 -- all from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN; Gorbel 2,000-pound capacity workstation cranes and Manzelli vacuum lifters -- both from GranQuartz of Tucker, GA; Atlas Copco Compressors; Yale forklifts; Slabsmith software from Northwood Designs, Inc. of Antwerp, NY; Apex router bits; Makita grinders; air polishers from Alpha Professional Tools of Oakland, NJ; Akemi adhesives; and tools and accessories from Lackmond Stone of Marietta, GA; Omicron, Triton, Barton, GranQuartz and Braxton-Bragg of Knoxville, TN
Number of Employees: 40
Production Rate: 14,000 to 15,000 square feet monthly