Finding a niche in prefabricated countertops
October 12, 2006
Based in Richmond, VA, Bob Rogers of River City Granite has found a specialty within the stone industry that has catapulted his business in only four years. The company, which focuses on selling prefabricated granite countertops, began in February 2002 in the back of a closed grocery store. Today, it operates out of a 55,000-square-foot facility - opened this past July - and plans are to open another location in Mobile, AL, by the end of this year.
â€œI found a niche and saturated that market and created a demand,â€ said Rogers, explaining that all of River City Granite's materials are imported from China. â€œI was working with an architect/developer putting in vinyl, ceramic and carpet. A friend of his said that he had some connections in China, so he asked me if I wanted to look into it. The tile guys were tired of being on their knees, and I was tired of the night work. So, I said 'yes.' â€œ
Rogers went on to say that the initial source in China did not pan out, but he started to search for a new one, and then started his own company. â€œI connected with Mr. Lia and Steve Su of YDJ Stone in China,â€ he said. â€œI am very fond of our Chinese trading partners. They are really great. They helped me propel [my business].â€
To launch River City Granite, YDJ Stone produced 200 prototypes of granite to be installed in loft apartments, which they sent to the Richmond operation. â€œThat's how we got started,â€ said Rogers, adding that the company's co-founders - his wife, Aretina Rogers, and Harry Wood - are also an integral part of the business. â€œNow we do 2,000 kitchens a year, and I don't forget who got me started.â€
The set-upIn total, River City Granite maintains an inventory between 1,000 to 1,500 kitchen countertops in its warehouse at one time as well as more than 600 prefabricated vanity tops. â€œI design 10 pieces of stone to be cut to my dimensions,â€ said Rogers, explaining that those shop drawings are sent to the factory in China. â€œOut of 10 shop drawings, I figure I can cut about 85% of existing kitchens with minimal seams.â€
The new facility in Richmond not only includes a large warehouse, but also a fabrication area for cutting and polishing. Rogers explained that for an average-sized kitchen, 80% of the slabs are already fabricated, but there is still about 20% of finishing work to be done.
To meet these needs, the shop is equipped with two Express 3200 bridge saws and an Abaco Machines water filtration system, which were all supplied by Regent Stone Products of Virginia Beach, VA. There is also a station designated for handwork.
The company employs approx-imately 26 workers, including five installation crews. â€œWe do about 35 to 40 kitchens a week,â€ said Rogers, adding that River City Granite's market is primarily the Richmond area. â€œWe run one shift - sometimes working as much as 60 hours a week.â€
And while the countertops are prefabricated, there are still options for consumers. â€œWe offer 2 cm with another 2 cm laminated on top,â€ said Rogers. â€œIt looks like [the edge] is 1Â½ inches thick. We are always looking for innovative things in the market to introduce.â€
In addition to prefabricated countertops, River City Granite also offers stone statuary. All carved from artisans in China, the pieces range from fireplace surrounds to vases to elaborate decorative sculptures. â€œI travel to China two to three times a year to explore new venues,â€ said Rogers.
Expanding its marketThe new location in Mobile, AL, sits on a 75,000-square-foot piece of property, and the facility will include a 13,000-square-foot fabrication area as well as a 7,000-square-foot storage area with a covered loading dock. â€œWe hope to open by Thanksgiving,â€ said Rogers. â€œWe have already hired a general manager.â€
The Alabama operation is strategically located near a port, which will be convenient for receiving shipments from China. Rogers explained that the federal government recently approved a significant increase in the number of containers that the port can receive per year, calling for a rise from 50,000 to 800,000 - an increase 16 times greater than the previous limit.
According to Rogers, River City Granite intends to cover a market spanning about 70 miles from its new facility in Mobile. â€œWe will go as far west as Buloxi, MS,â€ he said. The owner also mentioned that in the future he hopes to setup other locations along the East Coast to further expand his business.
Type of work: Prefabricated kitchens and vanities
Machinery: two Express 3200 bridge saws and an Abaco Machines water filtration system supplied by Regent Stone Products of Virginia Beach, VA
Number of Employees: 26 workers, including five installation crews
Production: 35 to 40 kitchens per week