Developing a high-end customer base

September 2, 2008
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In business since 1986, MacLaren Fabrication Inc. of West Chester, PA, has experienced several transitions through the years. Today the company operates out of a 40,000-square-foot facility, which primarily fabricates natural stone.


MacLaren Fabrication, Inc. of West Chester, PA, has come a long way since it first opened shop in 1986. Initially, the business, which was founded by Company President Andrew MacLaren, started out as a DuPont Corian specialty shop. Since that time, the operation has significantly blossomed in size and capabilities. In addition to Corian, MacLaren Fabrication now produces natural stone and DuPontTM Zodiaq® countertops, and its most recent expansion is the opening of the “Verona Exotic Stone Gallery” - an upscale showroom catering to designers, custom builders and high-end homeowners.

“When I started here 14 years ago, there were seven employees,” said Jeff McPhie, General Manager of MacLaren Fabrication. “Now we have 90 employees.” This number is also a substantial increase from five years ago, when Stone World first wrote about the company. At that time, it employed 69 people.

The company’s focus has also slightly shifted over the past few years. “Builders were our primary customers, but that is kind of changing,” explained McPhie. “Now it’s innovative custom builders and remodeling contractors. We mostly cover the residential market, but moving into the multi-family and commercial market is also a very important strategy for our company. We have the facility, manpower, structure and efficiency to do any high-demand, high-visibility projects and meet the builders time constraints. We have project managers that oversee these commercial projects through to completion.”

According to McPhie, natural stone slabs comprise 70% of MacLaren Fabrication’s sales, while quartz and Corian are each 15%. The company first began carrying Zodiaq about 10 years ago, when DuPont first introduced the material. “We were already brokering granite and sub-contracting our fabrication,” explained McPhie, adding that the shop was originally developed for manmade materials, but the company then realized diversity was a better market strategy.


One of the more recent additions to the company’s fabrication shop is a Flow double-table waterjet from Flow International Corp. of Kent, WA.

Building an efficient shop

When the time came to move from its 3,000-square-foot shop to the 40,000-square-foot facility that houses the operation today, MacLaren and McPhie scouted other fabrication shops nationwide to get ideas. “We have a lot of friends in the business from the DuPont network throughout the country,” explained McPhie. “We had the opportunity to visit a lot of shops. [Our factory] is little bits and pieces of other shops.”

To maintain an efficient workflow, equipment is lined up sequentially in the work area. Three Marmo Meccanica line polishers for backsplashes - an LCT711 and two LCV522s - are stationed on one side, while a Flow double-table waterjet from Flow International Corp. of Kent, WA; a GMM Lexta 36 bridge saw from Salem Stone of Winston-Salem, NC, and a GSC-2000 bridge saw from Matrix Stone Products of Rancho Cucamonga, CA, line the other wall. The second LCV522 line polisher and Flow waterjet are more recent additions to the shop.

“I always thought of the waterjet as a luxury tool,” said McPhie, explaining that he envisioned it being used for detailed inlays. The machine, however, has become a key component in the company’s countertop production.

Other critical components of MacLaren Fabrication’s operation include three CNC machines - an Intermac Pro, and two from Marmo Meccanica. Tools and accessories are purchased from Salem Stone and Regent Stone Products of Virginia Beach, VA.

As with all fabrication shops, safety is a top priority at MacLaren Fabrication. “We give all kinds of training,” said McPhie. “We have an internal safety committee that meets once a month.”

With safety in mind, every station in the fabrication shop is equipped with a vacuum lifter attached to a boom crane. In total, there are 12 cranes, and several of the vacuum lifters are from Wood’s Powr-Group of Laurel, MT. “We never have a situation where there are nine operators and eight are waiting for a crane,” said MacLaren.

In addition to the main workspace, an area has been designated for laying out templates. “We are 100% manual templating right now,” said MacLaren. “We physically lay out the old-fashioned way.”

Another area - named the “Red Zone” - is where completed jobs are kept. “We have a saying - ‘100% complete and defect free,’” said McPhie. According to the General Manager, approximately 16 to 20 jobs are in progress during a workday and 70 to 80 kitchens are completed per week.

MacLaren Fabrication owns a fleet of eight new Ford trucks, which are used to transport finished products. Each truck is equipped with its own workshop, consisting of all tools necessary for a successful installation - including field adjustments. Every install crew is made up of three workers. “Customers know that their installation dates will never be missed,” said McPhie. “We are a reputable company that can provide a quality product at an affordable price.”

For the most part, the company maintains a market with a 75- to 100-mile radius. “Most of our work is in the Philadelphia Metro area,” said McPhie. “We do a lot of work at the Jersey Shore - south of Atlantic City.”

While it is not typical residential work, one of the company’s contracts is with Viking Yachts of New Gretna, NJ. “We provide all of the granite countertops for their boats,” explained McPhie. “What we have to go through to put stone in the boat is extreme. The stone is the last thing to go in. You have to basically surgically install the granite. It is surrounded by high-polished teak and brass. It really is impressive to see the work that goes on in a yacht.”

On average, MacLaren Fabrication maintains an inventory of about 800 to 1,000 slabs at its facility. Materials are primarily purchased from large distributors in the region such as Gerard Dente Trading Co. of Cedar Grove, NJ.


An Intermac Pro CNC machine is one of three in use at the shop.

Creating a design environment

Only several weeks prior to Stone World’s visit, MacLaren Fabrication held a Grand Opening for its Verona Exotic Stone Gallery. “This is definitely something that is going to set us apart,” said MacLaren.
The showroom is being developed for the design community. “We are geared towards the high-end designer,” said McPhie. “We are really high-end. We rely on clients looking for quality, selection and good lead-time.”

The 8,500-square-foot Verona Exotic Stone Gallery includes a large display area showcasing an assortment of exotic material from around the world. “This is for people who want something unique,” said Neil Roosevelt, Sales Manager. “It is for people who are looking for something that will differentiate them.”

Roosevelt went on to say that even in the short time that the showroom has been open, it is proving successful. “We have already breezed through materials - even now just by appointment,” he said.
In addition to the slab display area, the company has plans to develop an inviting space for planning and discussions. “The idea is to have a couple of tables so [a customer] can come with a designer or builder and lay out their plans and pick any material they want,” said MacLaren. “It’s a matter of figuring out how to get the really high-end customer. Designers seem to really like it.”            

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