Collaborating to develop a custom limestone shop
September 2, 2009
French Mill Stone in Athens, AL, is the result of a collaboration between Mike Grisham and Clay Garrett. While the two men came from different backgrounds, it was each of their specialized expertise that is responsible for the creation of a successful stone fabrication business. Grisham opened the company in January of 2001, and found a niche in creating finished limestone products.
“Clay, who is the General Manager of French Mill Stone, had been in the stone quarrying and fabrication business for many years in Texas, and later managed several quarrying operations in northwest Alabama,” said Grisham. “I was in the real estate and fast-food restaurant business in north Alabama. We decided that the growing north Alabama area needed a modern fabrication shop, so we chose a site near I-65 in Athens, which would provide easy access to the immediate market as well as Nashville, Birmingham, Chattanooga and other southeastern cities.”
French Mill Stone’s 12,000-square-foot facility sits on 10 acres, allowing plenty of space for storage of materials and for future growth, according to Grisham. The company produces a broad spectrum of limestone products, including fireplaces, balusters, columns, veneer, window and door surrounds and garden ornaments.
“We use a lot of Indiana limestone as well as a beautiful Oolitic limestone quarried in northwest Alabama,” said Grisham. “We also use a variety of West Texas limestone, particularly for interiors.”
The fabrication facility is equipped with two GMM Axia bridge saws with lathe attachments - purchased from Salem Stone of Winston-Salem, NC - and an Infinity CNC stoneworking center for three-dimensional work from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN. “We have pretty much moved to CAD machinery, although we still use our old planer and lathe, and our other saw which is not CAD,” said Grisham. “The gradual upgrade to more modern machinery has given us a much quicker and more efficient way to profile. The Infinity has made our radius work much easier. Of course, the learning curve on moving to this technology was considerable.”
Typically, French Mill Stone runs one shift and employs a staff of about eight. “Due to the current economic situation, we have reduced that number,” said Grisham.
Among recent projects, the company completed signage for Alabama State University, which included nine columns that were grouped into sets of three and spaced closely together in a triangle shape, with anchored signage attached between to create a multi-sided display of the University logo. Additionally, work is currently being done on a residential project that includes a sandstone veneer exterior, with Indiana limestone window and door surrounds and a medieval-style stone spiral staircase. It also utilizes three types of Texas limestone for the treads and veneers. The stairway has already been fabricated, and installation is underway, according to Grisham.
“We have been around long enough now to have begun to have a reputation for producing a wide variety of high-quality work at a consistently reasonable price,” said Grisham. “We believe that as the country comes out of its economic problems, and more particularly, when the housing market substantially improves, we will be able to expand our revenue base and continue the growth that was interrupted by the economic mess.”