Stone Column

Re-emerging: Fostering a love of stone

May 1, 2005
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In the early '80s, Charlie Zgonis was a young economist working for Congressman Paul Tsongas. Then, during a trip to Italy, he “fell in love” with marble and was suitably inspired to come home and establish his own operation near Boston, MA. Today, the company is among the leading firms in the area, with a large showroom and advanced stoneworking equipment.

“When I went to Italy, instead of reaching Rome, I reached Carrara,” Zgonis said. Although Senator Tsongas told Zgonis he would hold his job for awhile, he never looked back after joining the stone industry.

At first, the company was buying stone and having it cut locally, and it later purchased a saw and polisher from Greece to begin fabricating on its own. Ultimately, it moved to Needham, MA, in 1989. “We felt that a marble shop didn't necessarily have to be in an industrial area, and we decided to move to an affluent suburb,” Zgonis said. “Demand was tremendous from the beginning. People saw us moving pieces of marble in, and they walked right up to us looking to buy.”

As the business grew, Zgonis' brother, Evan, and sister, Effie, joined the company. “The two of them are vital to the company, and by having them together, it really creates a family atmosphere, which is an important factor for a small business,” he said. Today, the company has 34 employees and does $7.5 million in business annually. Work consists of residential kitchens, vanities and fireplaces, and the company also does commercial work for projects such as upscale condominiums.

The company fabricates six to eight kitchens per day during the busy summer months, and four to five per day during the winter, plus an additional 10 to 12 pieces for commercial projects. The commercial sector has been particularly fruitful lately, Zgonis explained, as architects are designing new loft spaces and condominiums along the Boston waterfront.

The company's client breakdown is 30% contractors, 30% kitchen and bath dealers and 40% retail. In addition to countertops and fireplaces, Olympia sells stone and ceramic tile, and it is adding a 10,000-square-foot warehouse for this sector of the operation.

The company prides itself on remaining a family-operated business, and at least one member of the family is always on hand to supervise operations.

Fabricating operations

Olympia's showroom and fabrication shop is located in a 10,000-square-foot building, and it features a broad range of machinery. Slabs are cut to size on one of three bridge saws, one from Antonino Mantello and two others from Tecnomac. After being processed on the saws, material moves on to one of two CNC machines. An Intermac Master Stone 4000 from AGM is used for large pieces, and a Breton NC 250 is used for smaller pieces and vanities. Additionally, six workers specialize in hand finishing, and the company also uses Marmoelettromeccanica Master 3500 portable routers from Regent Stone Products as needed.

Slabs are maneuvered with overhead cranes, which are equipped with clamps as well as a Manzanelli vacuum lifter from GranQuartz, which also supplies tooling for the company.

Although most of the work processed by Olympia is granite, Zgonis said he is seeing more requests for marble. In particular, customers are looking for white marble varieties for contemporary designs where the stone is often complemented by stainless steel fixtures and appliances. At the time of Stone World's visit to the shop, Olympia's staff was processing Carrara White marble for a project that specified a total of 150 counters in all. “We are getting great results with sealers for marble,” Zgonis said. “People aren't afraid to use it.”

The company typically uses plywood for its templates, and it has one templater and three installation teams.

Typically, Zgonis said it takes one month for a new employee to get acclimated to working in the shop. For the first two weeks, a new worker will learn proper material handling and shop safety, and they will then start to learn the machinery and tools. A new worker first focuses on smaller workpieces, such as thresholds, and eventually moves on to larger projects. “The whole idea is to have the workers feel like they are working on a piece that they would want in their homes,” Zgonis said.

Emphasis on service

To stand out among the 380 fabrication shops that Zgonis estimates are in the Boston area, Olympia places a great deal of emphasis on customer service. The overall operation is essentially broken into three divisions -- fabrication, slab importing and showroom/sales -- and quality is stressed in all areas.

On the fabrication end, the company conducts monthly staff meetings where they discuss quality control, customer service and craftsmanship.

As far as dealing with contractors is concerned, “scheduling is key,” explained Evan Zgonis, who added that they also strive to develop partnerships with their customers rather than simply sell a product. “We sell granite, but we also sell service and provide education for our customers,” he said. “Service is the link that makes the whole process work.” To help ensure a comfortable, low-pressure environment for its customers, Olympia's salespeople do not work on commission.

On the supply side, the company is careful to keep up with trends in terms of color as well as materials -- from Old World looks to contemporary styles. As testament to the company's ability to keep up with an ever-changing marketplace, Olympia proudly points to the frequent appearances of its completed projects in “Metropolitan Home” magazine, including several cover features.

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