Although still fairly new to the stone industry, Queen City Countertops is quickly on the rise of becoming a successful fabrication company. Located in Monroe, NC, the company has been doubling sales every year since opening in 2002, and has recently outgrown its 1,800-square-foot facility. Owner Mike Licht refers to Queen City Countertops as a simple operation, and added that the company is still at the beginning of the curve on the automation trail.

Licht began working in the stone industry in the early 1980s and decided to go into business for himself. “You do what you know,” he said. “It's a real family business. All three of my sons work here. We got started because we all needed to make a living.”

Currently, Licht attributes much of the company's success to the recent purchase of an ETemplate Digital Templating System from ETemplate System/Tri-Tech Solutions, Inc. of Raleigh, NC, which he said has helped double the rate of production at the shop. “There is no comparison to the amount of field time it saves me, and it's a lot more accurate then gluing sticks together [to measure the countertops],” he said. “An average-sized kitchen is probably done in 40 minutes. A really complicated job might take twice as long.”

The owner went on to explain the process of the digitizing system. “You download photographs into their software and create a set of points in space, which you export to a CAD program,” he said. “The CAD program is used to make seam breaks in the job, designate center lines for sinks, add overhang and to make any other necessary adjustments. Then you export the information to the plotter, which cuts [the template] out in vinyl.”

Licht added that the vinyl templates are also used to protect the stone during edge shaping. The whole process, according to Licht, takes an average of one hour from the photos to the template. “It also depends on the complexity of the job,” he continued. “It could really take anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours, but on average, it only takes about an hour.”

According to Licht, the system was somewhat challenging to master, but definitely worth the investment in the end. “The learning curve was fairly steep,” he said. “After the three days of training I had, it took me probably 60 days to become proficient, but I have to say that the support from ETemplate System was, and still is, out of this world. If you call them on the phone, they are right there for you.”

The most difficult part for Licht was learning to take the photos properly. “Once you master that, the rest is simple,” he said.

In terms of equipment, the shop houses a Park Industries Sierra bridge saw, two Ghines Sector portable routers and various hand polishers, mostly from Alpha Tools. In addition, the company uses Weha transporting racks from Germany - purchased from Braxton-Bragg - for carrying sink pieces into a house.

“Up to this point, we haven't had the need for any other software or equipment,” said the owner. “We are just now reaching the point where we are doing five kitchens a week.”

However, to accommodate the rapidly growing business, Queen City Countertops has recently moved to a 5,000-square-foot facility in Monroe, which is situated a few miles away from its previous location. Licht added that the company has also recently purchased a Park Industries Wizard radial arm polisher.

Queen City Countertops' primary business is new construction, with an emphasis mainly focusing on the residential sector, although some commercial work has been implemented, which includes several condominiums.

“My biggest hurdle is trying to stay organized,” said Licht. “I wear so many hats that some days it's so hard to stay organized.”

To keep the shop running in an orderly fashion, Licht relies on his staff of six. The company's list of employees includes two full-time installers, three full-time workers in the shop and an employee who handles the bookkeeping and marketing aspects of the business.

“We pride ourselves on putting out a high-quality project,” said Licht. “We have been doubling sales every year, which is why we have outgrown our shop. We've been working hard, but life is good as far as the growing of a business is concerned.”