Tacoma fabricator relies on aggressive marketing and automation
Forever Granite & Marble, LLC, a leading supplier of natural stone products for residential applications in the Tacoma, WA, region, has been experiencing meteoric sales growth in recent years thanks to aggressive marketing, competitively priced high-quality products and automated processes that enable production to keep up with demand.
Instituted about three years ago, the marketing strategy has included enlarging the sales staff to six highly trained, full-time salespeople -- who aggressively seek new business from area contractors and homeowners -- rather than simply manning the company showroom. The company also advertises extensively and has instituted various sales promotions, including discount coupons and other incentives.
This strategy has been a solid success, with sales doubling annually ever since. The company went from fabricating and installing an average of five kitchens per week in 2005 to about 10 per week in 2006. Today, the company fabricates 20 to 25 kitchens per week, according to Shelby Powell, sales manager.
Machinery investmentsThis surge in sales taxed the output capacity of Forever Granite & Marble's shop, which relied heavily on hand fabrication. The company had only one basic bridge saw for cutting, and it relied on hand polishing and routing almost exclusively for edging and finishing.
To meet the growing demand for finished and installed products in a timely manner, several automated machines from Marmo Machinery USA of Southfield, MI, were added. They included a Marmo Meccanica C-TEC3 numerically controlled, three-axis CNC machine, which operates based on the traditional moving bridge architecture. "That machine almost immediately doubled our production," said Powell. "The CNC software allowed us to quickly run precise edges, sink cutouts and other more intricate designs in a fraction of the time it took previously and with a high degree of accuracy."
According to Powell, investing in the CNC machine reduced the time to execute a sink cutout from several hours to 40 to 45 minutes. "The CNC machine proved so effective that we added a pair of fully automatic [Marmo Meccanica] LCT-522 vertical polishing machines [in late 2006]. Those two machines helped even more in upping our production," he said. "The amount of finished edging we can accomplish in one day alone is phenomenal."
Powell added that the investments did more than simply add to the company's output. "In addition to increased productivity thanks to these new machines, we have also experienced a marked improvement in the quality and accuracy of our products, since they also sped the entire timing of new product delivery and installation," said Powell.
"Previously, a customer might have to wait months from the time of an order until project completion. Now, with the exception of extremely large and complicated jobs, we try to keep delivery time between four to six weeks from order to completion," he added. "And as sales keep increasing, we're thinking of adding another CNC machine so we can continue to maintain timely delivery schedules."
Reorganizing the companyWhile Forever Granite & Marble can trace its experience in the sales and processing of natural stone to the early 1990s, it emerged as an industry powerhouse after CEO/Owner Les Rovo reorganized the firm in late 2004 and launched the aggressive marketing campaign. Until that time, Forever Granite & Marble was basically one of a number of natural stone sales outlets supplying the Tacoma area.
The reorganization created a full-fledged, one-stop granite and natural stone importer, supplier and fabricator serving Washington, Oregon and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The company has a total of 35 employees, including the showroom and external sales staff and four trained operators for the five fabricating machines. One specialist does all the programming for the CNC machine, two operators are dedicated to the bridge saws and one operator runs both edging machines.
Marmo Meccanica machines were selected following some comparative shopping and based on the recommendations of other fabricators who were contacted during the search, said Powell. "Les [Rovo] compared a lot of machines and he decided to go with Marmo for a number of reasons, notably Marmo's reputation for customer service, quality of the machine, competitive pricing and training provided for each of the machines. The machines also have proven to be low maintenance and have provided a return on investment of only a year to a year and a half."
Powell said the shop is set up basically in an efficient "horseshoe arrangement," with two bridge saws at one end of the shop, then the CNC to the side of one of the bridge saws and the edging machines at the other end of the U, facing the bridge saws. Since the edge polishing machines are vertical, they take up a minimum of space. There also is a hand fabrication section for smaller or more labor-intensive jobs, or to perform any re-fix operations.
In addition to the fabricating machines, Forever Granite & Marble also has installed a Marmo DEP-250 Water Reclamation System and a Marmo MB-30SV Dust Intake Unit. The water reclamation unit is saving the company as much as $500 or more a month in water bills, while the dust catcher, which is installed near the hand fabrication section, provides a much cleaner, healthier environment for workers. In addition, the company is looking at purchasing an automatic Marmo Meccanica HTO-1B S6 bridge saw for further productivity improvements.
The company's headquarters, showroom and slab yard are centrally located. The fabrication shop, which originally was part of the Center St. complex, outgrew those quarters shortly after the marketing campaign was launched. It was moved to another location, but outgrew that in less than one year, so it was moved again to the current 8,000-square-foot facility.
Today, the firm is the area's leading supplier and installer of natural stone in residential applications, with some 85% of its sales to that market. Those sales are roughly split between new construction and remodeling. The balance is for various commercial projects, primarily restaurant and hotel applications.
In addition to granite, the firm also offers marble, slate, travertine, onyx and limestone. It imports these natural stone products directly from quarries all over the world, primarily Brazil and India.
The company also keeps a wide selection of stone on hand; at any given time there may be a selection of as many as 1,000 slabs in stock, most of which (about 97%) are 3 cm thick. These slabs include a number of exotic stones, such as Brazilian Espuma Marina, which features a unique gold and black color combination. Additionally, three of the most popular granites are traditional materials -- Ubatuba, Santa Cecilia and Tropical Brown.
Forever Granite & Marble offers an array of eight to 10 edge selections, including some of the more intricate ones that can only be produced on the CNC machine. The most common edges favored by Tacoma area homeowners are half or full bullnose, ogee and triple pencil styles.
Forever Granite & Marble
Type of work: kitchen countertops for new construction and renovation projects
Machinery: Marmo Meccanica C-TEC 3 CNC stoneworking center, two LCT-522 vertical polishing machines; Marmo DEP-250 Water Reclamation System; Marmo MB-30SV Dust Intake Unit, all from Marmo Machinery USA of Southfield, MI; two bridge saws
Number of Employees: 35
Production Rate: 20 to 25 kitchens per week