CNC Case Study: Custom countertop fabrication

September 30, 2002
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Although the owners of World Stone Fabricators are fairly new to the stone industry, their experience with fabricating technology dates back much further. David Eller, Robert Gambill and Mark Pegram all worked together in the glass business before starting their own endeavor six years ago in Charlotte, NC.

"It's kind of a funny story," said Eller. "Robert and I worked for Mark. It was a family-owned business, which was a well-established glass and mirror factory. The glass and mirror company was making a lot of furniture tops out of glass for their customers - it used the same machinery [as for stone]."

While attending a trade show one year in Italy, the three men first toyed with the idea of branching out into the stone business. "Robert and Mark were in Italy looking at some equipment, and they saw the future out there," said Eller. "Manufacturers that we knew who promoted [products] done with glass, also showed how the same products were being used for stone fabrication purposes."

According to Eller, Pegram approached him and Gambill about opening a stone fabrication shop. "Mark had the reputation," he said. "He wanted to see if Robert and I wanted to start a venture. Robert and I started, and then Mark, with his experience in a similar industry, gave us direction along with helping to capitalize it."

The first business decision made by the partners was to move their location to Charlotte, NC. They had been living in Wilkesboro. "It's a great location for growth," said Eller. "In the area we're in, I feel like it's to our advantage."

Making connections

World Stone Fabricators' first purchase was the Z. Bavelloni Egar 102 S. "We had a previous relationship with them in the past," said Eller. "Our intentions were to start with furniture. We knew a lot of furniture reps that we were selling glass tops to. Our first big order was for 500 [stone] tops -- in two or three different sizes. That helped to get us going."

Working in Charlotte, the company soon became involved with the building industry. "We were approached by several builders," said Eller. "Soon we were phasing out of the furniture and taking more custom countertop orders. As we started building relations there, it started snowballing for us."

For the past 41/2 years, the majority of the company's work has been custom homes. In fact, 90% of its work is custom countertops, according to Eller. "We do high-end homes to high-end tract homes," he said, explaining that in higher end-tract homes, builders offer options such as stone upgrades.

In addition to custom residential work, World Stone Fabricators is also starting to do some commercial projects. "It's something that we are definitely pursuing, but we want to keep the relationships that we have with builders and continue to service our current customers as well as new ones, yet continue to keep the necessary lead times and quality standards that we aim for."

Setting up shop

The company has a 16,000-square-foot fabrication facility, of which 1,000 square feet is used for showroom space. The facility, which runs two shifts, is now equipped with two Z. Bavelloni Egar 102 S CNC machines and a Sawing Systems 54 10 gantry saw.

In total, World Stone Fabricators is comprised of 20 employees. This includes a team of installers as well. "The installation is mostly done in-house," said Eller. "Once in a while, we subcontract to people that we are very familiar with - that's how we control the quality. We're responsible from start to finish."

According to Eller, most of the company's workers have been there from the beginning. "We have a low turnover rate," he said. "You have to have good people and skilled craftsmen to do handwork. It's just as important [as the technology]. You're only as good as your last job installed."

On average, the company produces 25 kitchens per week. "We average fabricating five kitchens a day and install two to three kitchens per day," said Eller. "We take time with the customer. Every customer looks at the slab and has the full attention of our staff of showroom designers and project managers."

Looking ahead

On a short-term basis, World Stone Fabricators is striving to provide quality craftsmanship to expand growth in the Carolinas, according to Eller. "We want to make sure the homeowner has a good feeling with the whole process," he said. Currently, the company primarily targets Charlotte and the surrounding area west of the city. In the future, it hopes to pursue new markets as well.

"In the long term, we definitely want to continue to be on the cutting edge of technology and always expand our presence in this region," said Eller. "We feel like technology is how we started, and it has helped us to stay abreast to the quality issues. We want to continue to thrive on doing that. Obviously the stone industry is growing. As more fabricators get in it, there is going to be more technology needed and standards definitely can't drop."

In addition to maintaining high standards and producing quality materials, World Stone Fabricators also wants to continue to place emphasis on customer service and paying full attention to detail.

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