Stone Column

Anticipating market deman

November 1, 2003
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In less than 10 years, Stone Interiors of Loxley, AL, has experienced tremendous success as a fabricator of kitchen countertops. A company that initially began with only seven employees and 7,000 square feet of space has grown to include a total of 95 workers spread across two locations. Much of the business's prosperity can be attributed to its strong core of leaders, who each have deep roots in the natural stone industry.

Stone Interiors was started in July of 1997 by G.K. and Linda Naquin and Lynn and Hank Mostyn. “When you look at the ownership part of this, there is well over 30 years of experience,” said Naquin. “I was a partner in Intrepid Stone in New Orleans, and sold out in 1996. I worked there for 25 years. Lynn was the financial officer there for 18 years.”

Today, the Alabama location is owned by Naquin, Lynn Mostyn, Hank Mostyn who is the installation manager, Jorge Cancel who is the sales manager, and Mark Blanda who is the operational manager. “Mark was at Intrepid 20 years prior to coming here,” said Naquin. “Jorge was the distribution manager for the Mobile area -- an independent contractor who was a cabinet maker.”

Naquin continued to explain that during the mid-1990s he had decided to leave the New Orleans area. Demographic studies were conducted in four areas before the Gulf Coast site was chosen in Alabama. “Loxley is 15 miles east of Mobile and 20 miles north of Gulf shores -- the beaches,” he said, adding that it is also in close proximity to Panama City. “There are 3.5 million in our market range.

“When we look at our history, I was a commercial installation and fabrication company,” continued Naquin. “Seeing the future of countertops, we opened this facility out here. Our first six months in business brought in $56,000, and we grew to $6 million after our fifth year.”

Because Stone Interiors received such a demand for its work, it was decided in 2001 to open a second location in Gaston, SC. “Within a 11/2-hour drive from Columbia, where the plant is located, is a demographic of 6 million people, which was why we decided on this location.”

Naquin and Lynn Mostyn are the primary partners along with Duane Naquin, operational manager, and Allan Gowans, sales manager. “Allan has recently come on, and Duane has been a partner since the South Carolina facility opened in 2001,” said Naquin. “The facility has grown quite a bit. Duane was running it single-handedly for three years.”

The philosophy of Stone Interiors is to value and give incentives to its employees. “As we move on and open other facilities, this is the kind of motif that we like to keep,” said Naquin. “Building equity in people working for you is important.”

The plants

Stone Interior's fabricating facility in Loxley sits on 3 acres and spans 35,000 square feet, while its 14,000-square-foot plant in South Carolina is on 9 acres. “We did not build our facilities in cities,” said Naquin. “The Loxley plant is in a little industrial park in a rural farming community. We train all of our employees. We find that they are much more willing to learn and train in a rural environment.”

The Loxley operation is comprised of 70 workers and runs two shifts six days a week. Equipment at the plant includes two HTO-1B Marmo Meccanica bridge saws, two Marmo Meccanica LCT 522 vertical edge polishers and a LCV 711M vertical edge polisher. The company prefers vertical edging machines because there is less of a risk for breakage than if the slab was to run flat through a machine, according to Naquin.

In South Carolina, there are 25 employees, and one shift is run six days a week. The plant consists of a HTO-1B Marmo Meccanica bridge saw and one LCT 522 and LCV 711M vertical edge polisher.

“All of our tooling is pneumatic,” said Naquin. “For the router type operations we use Ghines Sectors and hand tools -- Alpha pneumatics. The 522 vertical edger does radius polishing as well as flat. It runs around 50 linear feet an hour. We can produce 20,000 square feet a month, whereas a CNC shop would only get about 7,000 square feet a month.”

According to Naquin, the Loxley facility produces between 35 to 50 kitchens a week, while the South Carolina plant outputs 10 to 20 kitchens a week. Last year both locations fabricated more than 350,000 square feet of granite. “About 70 containers were brought in for our own fabrication,” he said. “We're not a distributor -- purely a fabricator. All material that we import is for our own fabrication needs. The remaining square footage that we fabricate is from regional distributors.”

Marketing a product

Stone Interiors maintains an on-site inventory of about 3,000 slabs. “In the South, you don't have to worry about freezing, so everything with the exception of marble is outside,” said Naquin. “Marble is actually kept outside too, but in a lean-to so sunlight doesn't damage it. That's how we are able to store such volume.”

The company keeps about 40 different colors of stone in stock -- 8 to 10 that are exclusively offered through Stone Interiors. “We do this to have a niche in our marketplace, “ said Naquin. “Juparana Bronze is one that is not on the market. We are the only people that I know of domestically who import it. We market it to our dealers, and all of them have it and market it to the retail public.”

Naquin explained that Stone Interiors does not sell directly to the public. “We sell to the dealers like cabinet shops and flooring companies, and they sell to the public,” he said. “We use dealers for a marketing tool. They sell to the builders and retail public and other distributors. The dealers represent us. They meet with the customer, make a material selection and get a drawing of the kitchen, and we fax the cost to them. The dealer sends the purchase order. We do our own measuring and in-house people fabricate it and install it.”

The company has six installation crews in Alabama and three in South Carolina. “They are expected to do two jobs a day,” said Naquin. “They are usually 50- to 70-square foot jobs.”

Stone Interiors measures and templates all of its own work, explained Naquin, adding that there are three people in Loxley and one in South Carolina who specifically do this. “We digitally photograph every job when we go to measure,” he said. “We take it back to the fabricating facility because there are always questions.”

Taking a digital image of the kitchen after the installation also is a way for the company to document the proper installation to dealers, contractors and owners.

“It's critical to us that prior to measuring, we call our contact -- we need to have them on site,” said Naquin. “We give them a three-day lead time. Our whole goal in this is to meet the customer's expectations. The biggest complaint that we get from customers is that they have seen granite installed in places and the seams are horrible. They want seamless countertops. We polyresin all of our seams and caulk between the backsplash and countertop for waterproofing. The polyresin is colored to match the top and make the seams less noticeable. We also offset the seam from the line of eye sight and embed it an inch. That's how you hide a seam.”

In addition to fabricating countertops for residences, Stone Interiors also mass produces countertops for condominium complexes. “Lacey Keegan heads up our commercial division,” said Naquin. “She was at Intrepid for 15 years. We did about 1,200 tops last year.”

Within the last 11/2 years, the company has also started fabricating stone pieces for high-end yachts. Naquin explained that Stone Interiors was approached by a company that was looking to offer a high-end installation package, including a full marble range for flooring and walls.

Approximately 80% of Stone Interiors' volume is in the 2-cm market, while the other 20% is in 3-cm-thick countertops. The company wants people to be able to afford granite, and by offering 2-cm pieces, it makes it more cost effective, according to Naquin.

Tile distribution, which is managed by Steve Hill, also comprises a portion of Stone Interiors' business. “We don't distribute a lot of SKUs, but what we have we do big volume in,” said Naquin. “Our biggest seller is Turkish travertine. So far this year, we have done 80 containers. We sell a lot of that.” The company also offers a selection of porcelain tile. “We are not full service,” said Naquin. “We don't sell supplies.”

Offering a specialty

Helping to create a niche for Stone Interiors is an exclusive line of finishing called Venezian[r], which was developed in 2002. The process presents a flat surface with a textured feel. It is said to represent the natural aging of granite through a multi-step mechanical process involving special tools that have been designed for this finish.

“About three years ago, I developed the concept, and Building Materials Supplies and Co. srl (B.M.S.) [a division of the Simonelli & Partners' Group of Carrara, Italy] produced it,” said Naquin. “I went to five companies, and B.M.S. did the best. We modified it to stay with flat surfaces -- you can slide a wine glass across it. There's not too much texture.”

Stone Interiors has been installing Venezian finished countertops for three years, according to Naquin. “We developed the process for domestic fabrication of the edges, and licensed GranQuartz to distribute these fabrication supplies,” he said. “The brushes and Venezian sealers distributed by GranQuartz were tested in our fabrication facility, and used in our installations prior to distribution by GranQuartz. The sealer has an enhancing agent that allows for ultraviolet protection, and we have not had to reseal any installations to date.”

According to Naquin, the Venezian finish restores color back to the stone. “You don't have to use as much enhancers as with other finishes,” he said. “It's a satin type finish -- not a shiney one.”

With the Venezian finish, there are several different edges that customers can choose from. “The most popular is the quarry edge, which has the effect of a chiseled edge, and the radius edge,” said Naquin. “On the darker colors of the Venezian finish we are able to get the edge darker than the face, which accents the natural aging process by looking more worn on the edge. Some of the fabricators have mitered the edges to give a cubic look and others have laminated edges to give a thicker look.”

Stone Interiors is the National Director of the Venezian product. As of now, there are about 15 to 20 distributors nationwide, with the list growing every day, according to Naquin. Venezian just passed the ASTM test for Slippery and Water Absorption, and is now suitable for all those projects where strict requirements are mandatory, according to B.M.S.

“We kept hearing the questions, and could never find a product durable, but that had the subtle nature of a marble or soapstone,” said Naquin. “We're always trying to develop a new way to do things and to keep up with technology. Our partners at B.M.S. did a great job.”

Education

One objective for Stone Interiors is to advance products and develop better techniques on a daily basis. One way to do this is through education, according Naquin. “It's important to us to educate the people we deal with,” he said. “Every month we hold two classes -- one in Alabama and one in South Carolina. There's between 10 to 20 in a class. It's all day. We go through geology and the actual install. We let each dealer mix the color kits to see what our installers do. So when selling our products the next week, each of our dealers can tell a customer exactly what they are going to get. Our philosophy is that if our people aren't educated to the best of the industry, they are not going to give you the job that you need. That's why we educate internally.”

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