Thinking “outside the box” to grow a fabrication business
“I was in high school and belonged to the marketing team,” said Figueiredo. “I did a whole project about bringing in slabs and wholesaling them. I have some family that is in the granite quarrying business down in Brazil.”
Figueiredo explained that with the assistance of his father and sister, he first opened a small warehouse in Danbury, CT, in 2002 — importing small containers of stone slabs. “Little by little, we were bringing more in, but we were still small,” he said. “It was hard to compete with the big guys.”
Eventually, Figueiredo aligned himself with a local fabricator, with the hope of building his business. “We didn’t have a lot of control,” he explained. “We had to make a decision — go out of business or start fabricating. We decided to start fabricating. As soon as we made the decision, we got an America bridge saw from Regent [Stone Products of Virginia Beach, VA] and several hand polishers [from Alpha Professional Tools of Oakland, NJ.] We also got a contract right away for four Bennigans’ [chain restaurants].
“We started with me, my father, sister, a cutter and two polishers,” Figueiredo went on to explain. “As soon as the bridge saw was installed, we were doing five to six jobs a week. Within the next three years, the company experienced the boom that the entire industry went through.”
Making an investment
As La Pietra began to grow its fabrication operation, it was time for the company to invest in more machinery. “We were shopping for a CNC, and we found Brembana,” said the fabricator. “It was the best, so we decided to pull the trigger on it.”
The CMS/Brembana Maxima 5 CNC stoneworking center was installed in 2007, which was also the year that La Pietra moved to its current 10,000-square-foot facility. The CNC is equipped with ADI tooling from GranQuartz of Tucker, GA, and vacuum pods from CMS/Brembana of Caledonia, MI. “There is a learning curve with the CNC,” said Figueiredo. “It was frustrating starting off, but now it is totally worth it.” Additionally, La Pietra invested in an EnviroSystem from Water Treatment Technologies of Hampton, NH.
In the near future, Figueiredo plans to upgrade the company’s bridge saw with a new one. Currently, Luan strips are used for templating, but the fabricator intends to invest in a digital templating system once the machinery is updated. The hard templates are processed on a digitizing board and the data is then used to program the Maxima 5 CNC.
Today, La Pietra’s fabrication shop has grown to include 18 workers as well as two install crews, which consist of two installers in each and three for heavier jobs, along with a separate team for templating. “Reputation is everything,” said Figueiredo. “That’s the reason we use two guys. We always keep a second install truck to send out if there is a problem. You don’t keep your customers waiting.”
Customer service — along with quality work — is the key component to a successful business, according to Figueiredo. To ensure high-quality work, the installers use a Gorilla Grip from Monumental Toolworks of Assonet, MA, for seams.
On average, the company completes 20 to 25 kitchens per week, with each measuring approximately 60 square feet. “We have a pretty fast turnaround,” said the fabricator. “We can get it done in five days.” Figueiredo also explained that the company is doing a lot of countertops with a thickness of 2 inches.
Customers can select from an inventory of 400 to 500 slabs that La Pietra maintains inside its shop as well as outdoors. “We import a little and buy from local suppliers such as European Granite and Stone Distributors and EleMar Marble & Granite,” said Figueiredo. “We also buy a lot from MSI.”
In addition to natural stone, La Pietra also carries Q Quartz Surfacing from M S International, Inc. (MSI), which is based in Orange, CA, with warehouses scattered throughout the U.S., and quartz surfacing from Caesarstone of Van Nuys, CA. The company also stocks remnants, which offer a less expensive alternative to its customers.
“We do a lot of really high-end work,” said Figueiredo. “We have a couple of architects in the area that we get jobs from, and we just got a Toll Brothers job for 1,100 homes.”
Among La Pietra’s more recent work is a four-slab job of Calacatta marble that was installed in a $5 million pri vate residence. “For marble jobs, I usually give a year [maintenance] contract,” said the fabricator. “We come in and repolish it or clean it. [Also], for nicer jobs we add a cutting board with a nice knob.”
The company also fabricates quite a few outdoor barbecue areas. “We did a 10-foot-long countertop for outside,” said Figueiredo. And on the day of Stone World’s visit, the company was installing Indiana limestone wall caps at a Cheesecake Factory located in a mall in Danbury, CT.
Exploring alternative avenues
While La Pietra’s countertop fabrication business is remaining steady, Figueiredo expressed the importance of diversification. “The way the economy is going, you don’t want to do just countertops,” he said. “You want to branch out.”
With this philosophy in mind, La Pietra began fabricating soapstone sinks this year. “We decided to go with the 5-axis machine in order to explore new products like carved soapstone sinks,” explained Figueiredo. “We ship our soapstone sinks nationwide to other fabricators. We have even produced a sink for a customer in France. With the soapstone, the possibilities are endless. We can create normal farmhouse sinks as well as more sophisticated styles like the pitched front.”
Typically, the company has been averaging six to seven sinks per month. “One month we actually sold 10,” said the fabricator. The sinks are made from Green Mountain Soapstone of Vermont and Brazilian soapstone. “Sometimes you get some customers that want a lot of veins, and some that don’t,” explained Figueiredo. “In the future, I want to bring in Carrara and Calacatta [marble for sinks].”
In 2007, Figueiredo and his family also started the production of thin stone veneer under the name Northeast Thinstone Veneers in Oxford, CT. “It is strictly wholesale,” he said. “We started by purchasing a Park Industries TXS 5500. We distribute a variety of New England stone veneers to masonry yards around the New England area. Diversifying was a key to surviving the recession and expanding the business.”
Marketing its products
La Pietra primarily caters to the lower Fairfield County market in Southern Connecticut. It does at times also fabricate for projects in New York and New Jersey.
In addition to the showroom that is adjoined to its fabrication facility, the company also has a 3,000-square-foot showroom in Monroe, CT. “We opened our second showroom in Monroe in order to reach out to more residential customers in the Connecticut Gold coast,” explained Figueiredo. “We are proud to say that we do not have one unhappy customer. No matter what the situation is we always find ourselves doing above and beyond the customers expectations. Our reputation for quality and good customer service puts us ahead of any competitor in the area. Our goal is to someday open a showroom maybe in the Westchester, [NY] area. We want to hit a different market.
“Right now, we are doing a ton of marketing,” the fabricator went on to say. “We’re doing a coupon magazine and a jingle on the radio. We are getting people that come in the door and know our jingle. We also did a contest on Facebook and gave out a free kitchen. The purpose was to get ‘likes.’ “
Type of work: high-end residential slabwork and stone sinks
Machinery: a Maxima 5 CNC stoneworking center and vacuum pods from CMS/Brembana of Caledonia, MI, ADI tooling from GranQuartz of Tucker, GA, an America bridge saw from Regent Stone Products of Virginia Beach, VA, an EnviroSystem from Water Treatment Technologies of Hampton, NH, several hand polishers from Alpha Professional Tools of Oakland, NJ, and a Gorilla Grip from Monumental Toolworks of Assonet, MA
Number of Employees: 18 shop workers, as well as two installation crews with two to three workers in each
Production rate: 20 to 25 kitchens per week, with each measuring approximately 60 square feet