Carving a niche in the slate industry

May 30, 2002
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The slate pieces are cut with old and new equipment, including a traditional slate trimmer (top left), and an automated trimmer that was purchased two years ago (above).
The back roads of Vermont - and much of New England - offer a broad cross section of slate roofing, from classic houses and barns to new developments. But the use of natural slate roofing expands far beyond New England, and the increased demand for product has been a boon for companies such as Vermont Specialty Slate of Brandon, VT. The company produces finished roofing slate for custom homes, and it also supplies a full range of slate products for commercial and residential applications, including tiles and countertops.

The company was formed in 1995 by the Sauder family as a manufacturer of slate welcome signs and similar items. But over the past few years, the company has made the "natural progression" to roofing and architectural products, said Jeff DeCelle of Vermont Specialty Slate. "Once the name got out there, we were getting more and more requests [for architectural products,]" he said. "We already had the machinery, so it just made sense."

Production at Vermont Specialty Slate relies on a combination of old equipment, new technology and handwork. Slate pieces are cut to size with a traditional slate trimmer, and the company also purchased an automated trimmer two years ago.

The production for roofing slate starts with palettes of unfinished pieces, which are then fabricated to meet the specifications of a project. The pieces are cut to size with the two trimmers, and the nail holes are punched with a manual piece of equipment that DeCelle estimates to be over 200 years old.

In addition to monochromatic designs, Vermont Specialty Slate developed patterns that use both the green and purple slate varieties as well other combinations. Also, the company offers salvaged slate, which can be re-trimmed to the customer's specifications. "A lot of other companies don't sell the salvaged slate, but for us, it has helped us get our foot in the door for other new business," DeCelle said,

The company stocks 2,000 squares of roofing slate on its premises, and the typical timeframe for a project is about two weeks, according to DeCelle, who added that a typical house uses 40 to 60 squares of material.

In addition to New England, Vermont Specialty Slate sells its products nationally as well as in Canada. The company's client base is contractors and builders, and it also works directly with the homeowner once a project is contracted. "We cater to homeowners, who want to understand the process," DeCelle said, adding that most of the residences are middle or upper class homes. "You don't need to have a lot of money. A lot of our customers aren't rich. It's a little more expensive [to have a slate roof], but if you long at the longevity factors, you won't be replacing it every 15 to 20 years." The company contracts projects through bids, and it also has a web site - www.vtslate.com - which has generated interest among end users.

In addition to roofing slate, Vermont Specialty Slate provides custom slate packages for homeowners that may include flooring tiles, countertops and landscaping. It also sells slate products such as coasters, signage and lazy suzens. The popularity of the architectural products has grown to the point that it now comprises half of the company's business, with the remainder being roofing slate.

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