While remodeling his home in spring 2001, Leonard Hooks' interest in stone sparked when he researched the process of fabricating granite for his kitchen countertops. Coupled with the realization that the building of new homes in his area was drastically increasing, Hooks decided to get into the stone fabrication industry by opening his own shop in Waco, TX.

Armed with some previous construction knowledge and the desire to take advantage of an obviously good opportunity, Hooks began to look into several industry magazines with ads from equipment vendors.

After reading about equipment for cutting and polishing for over a month, Hooks began to understand the complexity of the different machinery and material needs to fabricate a countertop. During that time, he also found that Regent Stone Products of Virginia Beach, VA, holds training seminar classes for people new in the stone fabrication business, and decided to attend one.

Over the course of two days at the seminar, Hooks learned about the details necessary to begin fabricating stone at his shop, which is now called Authentic Granite and Marble. "At the seminar, attendees learned a lot about stone, such as what types of stone work best where and polishing techniques," said Hooks. "For the first day, we spent a half-day learning in a classroom. From then on, it was hands-on training."

The learning experience was valuable for Hooks and also gave him the chance to decide which machines to purchase for his new shop. "The seminar obviously uses the equipment that Regent sells, but the general business and equipment knowledge is the same," Hooks said. "So I found the seminars to be one of the critical elements that propelled me into the stone business. Even though the seminar was only two days, it saved me several months and many thousands of dollars in trying to teach myself the business."

Originally, he had bought a small rail saw for cutting, but his company quickly outgrew the tool's capabilities. After reviewing the benefits of various machines, Hooks selected the Marmoelettromeccanica America 3600 bridge saw and Master 3500 edge polisher for his company. "I looked at other machines and compared prices with advantages of the machines," said Hooks. "The America had more features [appropriate to the fabrication work].

"Other benefits of the machine are that it is rugged in construction and has a dual beam for the saw to ride on, rather than one, which most machines have. It is more durable and stronger than the other machines I looked at."

Hooks researched the Master 3500 as well before purchasing it. "It had a complete set of bits, where you don't have to do a lot of handwork," said Hooks. "The Master seemed superior, and we are very pleased with it."

Since the purchase of the machines, Hooks has been able to produce about two kitchens a week, his production mainstay. "We mainly fabricate granite countertops for kitchens, though we also work with marble and do some baths," said Hooks. "I would say we do about 95% residential work, which is split about 60% new homes and 40% remodels."

Hooks currently has four workers in his shop, and his customers are generally the central Texas region, but he believes that with the boom in home building, his business will continue to expand. "I would like to get to a steady level of fabricating three kitchens a week," said Hooks. "I am already in need of more personnel, and in about a year and a half I will most likely need to purchase an in-line polishing machine."