Merging interior design with fabrication

October 1, 2004
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Marble Designs Inc. is a natural stone fabricator that conducts its business from a 7,000-square-foot building in Oklahoma City, OK. Owner Denise Kerstine started her career as an interior designer, which included working with granite and other natural stones, and transitioned into a natural stone fabricator. “Through that interior design business about four years ago, I hooked up with a guy who imported granite,” said Kerstine. “The prices [for stone] were still high here in Oklahoma because it was still a relatively new product, and there were only a few shops in the area. I started to do some research, and found a way to make it a little lower in price. I knew [stone] was going to tidal wave here, and become more popular. People were going to learn more, and become more knowledgeable about it, and not as afraid to use it.”

Marble Designs Inc. primarily targets residential projects, but also does a small percentage of commercial work. The shop fabricates stone into a range of finished products, including countertops, fireplace surrounds, vanity tops and conference tables. “We probably do 70% new construction and 30% remodeling,” explained the owner. “We average about two kitchens a day.” During the busy time of the year, the schedule is booked up for about four or five weeks, according to Kerstine.

Marble Designs Inc. has 17 workers on staff, with seven of them in the fabrication shop, including the shop foreman. “The majority of our workers have been highly recommended, with a good reputation in work ethic, even if they are not from the stone industry,” said Kerstine. “The training is done to the specifications of the shop, and the fabricators are trained in any aspect of the process, like edging and grinding.”

During the production process, slabs are first cut to size on a Sebring gantry saw from Matrix Stone Products of Upland, CA. From there, the edges are typically completed on the Daytona Edge Profile System, also from Matrix Stone Products. To learn how to

use the Sebring gantry saw, a representative from Matrix Stone Products went to Marble Designs Inc. for a three-day training session. “He trained one person, our shop manager, and then our shop manager trained the other shop workers that we wanted to run the saw,” explained Kerstine. “We always have at least two guys who know how to run it -- the shop manager and at least two other guys. In case someone isn't here, there is someone who can run it.”

For ogee edges, the company uses the Stinger portable edge profiler from Hard Rock Tool, and there the workers also do a lot of work by hand. “The guys do a lot of polishing by hand,” Kerstine said. “For the sinkholes, we do a lot of the cutting and drilling on the job. A lot of times, people don't know what they really want until the workers get out there, so we do have tools that we take out to the job sites. Sometimes when you have a stove cutout, you can't cut it out until after it is installed, or it could end up breaking.”

The company purchases their slabs from a variety of companies, but the majority of their slabs are from Bedrock International of Olathe, KS, and Midwest Tile & Marble of Lincoln, NE.

Typically Kerstine learns about new material from the stone suppliers. “They're the ones out there in the field, and know what the newest stones are,” she explained. “I also rely on them to tell me what the hottest stone is selling in our part of the country right now. They obviously know what they are selling the most.”

One of the most challenging aspects of the business for Marble Designs Inc. is scheduling. “You schedule a job six weeks out, and two days before you are ready, they call you and tell you the painters aren't out [on the job],” said Kerstine. “You now have this huge hole in your schedule -- every day is like juggling balls,” said Kerstine. To help avoid these inevitable discrepancies, Kerstine has one person who does the scheduling, and works closely with the shop manager, making constant phone calls. For Marble Designs Inc., the key to keeping the process running smoothly is “proper pre-planning” for each job. “We call every job ahead to foresee any problems,” explained Kerstine. “We make sure we have all the sink information. We try real hard to stay ahead of the game.

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Marble Designs Inc.
Oklahoma City, OK
Type of work: Countertops, fireplace surrounds, furniture tabletops, conference tables
Machinery: Matrix Stone Products Sebring gantry saw, Matrix Stone Products Daytona Edge Profile System, Hard Rock Tool Stinger portable router
Number of employees: 17
Production rate: 2 kitchens per day

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