Fabricator Case Study: Producing countertops for the masses
Since its conception in 1998, Hallmark Stone of Fenton, MO, has focused on running as a high-volume stone fabrication shop. Strictly a wholesaler, 60% of the company’s production is Silestone, while natural stone comprises the remaining 40%. On average, it outputs between 150 to 175 kitchens per week - meeting the demand of its market, which includes kitchen and bath dealers, homebuilders, Big Box stores and commercial outlets.
“We are a pure wholesaler,” said Fred Christen, owner of Hallmark Stone. “We don’t sell to the public at all. We started with the idea of becoming a high-volume stone fabricator. It’s grown pretty significantly through the years. We started with seven employees and have grown to 110.”
With intentions of making a change, Christen spoke with Home Depot about supplying its countertop program. “They were very interested,” said Christen. “They had just started selling Silestone in Texas, and they asked us to go down there to look at it. We thought it was a good idea, so we almost simultaneously began doing both. We were about the 14th nationwide who started fabricating Silestone.”
The operationHallmark Stone operates out of a 21,000-square-foot building, of which 18,000 square feet has been designated for the fabrication area. “We run two shifts,” said Christen. “Our shop has 42 people, 38 installers and 12 customer service representatives.”
The shop is equipped with a lineup of machinery from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN, including a Prodigy 1000 two-tabled gantry saw, a Pro Edge II computer-controlled edge shaping and finishing machine and a Yukon gantry saw with hydraulic tilt. Additionally, there is a Marmo Meccanica LCV 711 flat edge polisher and a LCT 522 vertical polishing machine - both supplied by Marmo Machinery of Southfield, MI.
Among the other equipment used for fabrication are Stinger routers from Hard Rock Tool of Anaheim, CA, and Ghines Sector routers, two Stone Pro sink saws from Pyramid Marble of Effingham, IL, two vacuum lifters, which were purchased from Marmo Machinery USA and GranQuartz of Tucker, GA, a 260 cfm Sullair compressor, a 200 cfm IR compressor, a Gorbel overhead workstation crane system with a two-bridge set up and a 12-inch Felker table saw, which is primarily used to cut backsplashes.
“We fabricate about 26,000 square feet a month of finished product,” said Christen, adding that the company maintains about 1,200 slabs of Silestone in stock at all times. “About two containers of Silestone are delivered each week. With granite, we are on a just-in-time system. There are four local distributors that make a delivery every day between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. Our sales reps work with customers to hand select their stone. It is tagged at the distributor, and then each day we send a pull ticket saying which specific slabs we need, and we cut those that day.”
Customer-service orientedAccording to Christen, customer service is crucial to Hallmark Stone’s operation. “Customer service is the key to the whole thing,” he said. “The business has very specific requirements that we decided that we want to provide to our customers. We haven’t missed an installation date in three and a half years.”
When the company first receives a call, it takes no more than three days to schedule a date for templating, explained Christen. “When templating a job, we give an installation date,” he said. “That date is typically seven business days ahead. We do have some builders on a five-day lead-time, which means if we template on a Tuesday, we come back the following Tuesday to install. The entire schedule is based on that. It is a requirement. The guys here know that they don’t leave until all their jobs for the day are done - each step has to be done on the day that it has to be. If we make a promise to someone, we keep it.”
Three days before the installation date, the customer receives a call from a Hallmark Stone customer service representative. The company uses a Job Order Tracking (JOT) system, which was developed in-house.
“It is a proactive database,” explained Don Lewis, Director of Sales for Hallmark Stone. “When an office person comes in, it tells them what needs to be done with each job they are working with. It’s a way for all the departments to communicate with each other.”
Hallmark Stone’s market encompasses southern Illinois, the eastern half of Kansas and all of Missouri. While most of the installation crews are based out of St. Louis, the company also has a warehouse in Kansas City. “We ship five nights a week from St. Louis to Kansas City,” said Christen, explaining that the two locations are about 250 miles apart. “We also have contractors and installers in some of the outlying areas.”
Since customer service is a top priority for the company, it sends out surveys to all of its customers as well as making a follow-up call after the job is finished. “I noticed some consistent comments that we wouldn’t get back until the survey is returned,” said Christen. “So, we decided to make a phone call three days after installation is completed. We make sure that the customer doesn’t have any questions. Sometimes they may see something that they didn’t at first or they may still be thrilled with it.
Hallmark Stone’s high production rate and top-quality level of customer service has made the company emerge as a leader in the industry. In 2003, the company was named “Silestone Distributor of the Year,” and at Cosentino’s recent 2006 distributor meeting, Hallmark Stone received the “Kitchen and Bath Excellence” award - recognizing the company’s achievements in working with this segment of its market. Also, Lewis received the “Conquistador” award - recognizing individual excellence in growing and promoting the Silestone brand.
Christen explained that he learns a lot from other Silestone distributors nationwide. “We have a support group to connect with,” he said. “There is a network of 85 of some of the biggest fabricators in the country. We talk openly. I think that is the best thing as far as business goes.”
In addition to placing an emphasis on customer service, Hallmark Stone also concentrates on outside sales - with eight employees focusing on this aspect of the business. “There is a broadness to our sales approach,” said Christen. “That’s what really makes our company healthy. Our outside sales force is very instrumental in growing all aspects of this business simultaneously. We don’t have all our eggs in one basket.”
Charitable effortsWanting to give back to its community, Hallmark Stone is involved with several charitable activities on a regular basis. For the past three years, it has held an annual countertop remnant sale to benefit local charities, Annie’s Hope and Carney’s Kids, as well as this year providing countertops for three charity-based home building/remodeling projects and hosting two countertop auctions to benefit Lutheran Family and Children’s Services of Missouri and the Council for Extended Care.
Additionally, this year, the company teamed up with the senior class at DeSmet High School for a special homebuilding project. Each year, the high school’s seniors build a house for a less fortunate family in the area as part of their senior class project. Christen learned about the project from his neighbor - a teacher and coach at the school. This spring, Hallmark Stone supplied and installed Silestone countertops in the kitchen of the new home, which was completed in May.
“Hallmark Stone’s success as a company has put us in a wonderful position, which enables us to support a wide variety of charitable initiatives,” explained Christen. “There are so many worthwhile charities out there, and it’s great to be able to give something back to so many of them and see what amazing things they can accomplish with the help we provide.”
Future endeavorsWith intentions of continuing to build a flourishing business, Hallmark Stone has a number of projects in the works. Among the more prominent ones is the opportunity to supply Silestone countertops for Tyson Foods Discovery Center in Springdale, AK. Another large project for the company is a contract to fabricate and install all of the granite countertops and surfaces for the Parkway Residences phase of the upscale Maryland Walk high-rise residential development in Clayton, MO. In some of the homes, Hallmark Stone will also provide granite for customized features such as wet bars and fireplace surrounds.
“We’re pleased to have been selected by Conrad Properties to provide our product and services for this unique project,” said Lewis. “The Parkway Residences combine superb architecture with the finest amenities, and our beautiful and functional granite surfaces are a perfect complement to these sophisticated living spaces.”
Hallmark StoneType of work: mass production of granite and Silestone countertops for residential and commercial projects
Machinery: a Prodigy 1000 two-tabled gantry saw, a Pro Edge II computer-controlled edge shaping and finishing machine and a Yukon gantry saw with hydraulic tilt - all from Park Industries, a Marmo Meccanica LCV 711 flat edge polisher and a LCT 522 vertical polishing machine - both supplied by Marmo Machinery USA; Stinger routers from Hard Rock Tool and Ghines Sector routers, two Stone Pro sink saws from Pyramid Marble, two vacuum lifters purchased from Marmo Machinery USA and GranQuartz of Tucker, GA, a 260 cfm Sullair compressor, a 200 cfm IR compressor, a Gorbel overhead workstation crane system with a two-bridge set up, a 12-inch Felker table saw, various hand tools - all air/water fed to maintain a dust-free environment - from Global Pneumatics and core bits, polishing pads and saw blades from Husqvarna
Number of Employees: 110
Production Rate: 150 to 175 kitchens per week