Discovering a market for stone tabletops
Since 1969, StoneCrafters of St. Cloud, MN, has worked to develop a strong reputation for itself in the stone industry. The company was started as a floor covering business by Vern Salzl, and it has evolved into a state-of-the-art stone fabrication facility, primarily serving the Twin Cities metropolitan area. And in addition to countertop production, StoneCrafters has created a prosperous niche for itself as a tabletop manufacturer - distributing its products to retailers nationwide.
Salzl explained that prior to opening his own stone business, he spent 12 years working for Cold Spring Granite Co. of Cold Spring, MN. As an employee for one of the largest stone producers in the world, Salzl gained valuable experience that he applied to his own company. Today, Salzl runs StoneCrafters along with his two sons, Kurt and Dean.
“We are kind of unique because we do a lot of tabletops,” said Kurt Salzl. “They are growing by the minute. We can hardly keep up with it.” Vern Salzl explained that he first got the idea to mass produce tabletops after making a table for his daughter’s office in Minneapolis, where she was an attorney. She had received so many compliments on the table that it got the fabricator thinking that there could be a profit in tabletop production.
“I had already had the tabletops contracts when Kurt joined me in 1994,” said Vern Salzl. “It’s a market that is untapped.”
Finding a demand for the stone tabletops was an unexpected surprise for Salzl, and today that market comprises half of StoneCrafters’ business. The company produces between 100 to 150 a week, and the products are sold by retailers that are located throughout the U.S.
A well-equipped shop
StoneCrafters operates out of a 22,000-square-foot shop, which houses a complete line of equipment from Park Industries, also of St. Cloud, MN. This includes a Yukon and a Jaguar II bridge saw, an Excel-Edge polishing line and a Pro Edge III edge polisher, with a second one being installed soon. Additionally, production is accelerated with a Park Discovery CNC machine, complete with two tables, 50 tools and a built-in laser template system.
Tooling for the CNC is supplied by GranQuartz of Tucker, GA, and the company purchases its hand tools and accessories from suppliers such as Braxton Bragg Corp. of Knoxville, TN, and Granite City Tool of Waite Park, MN.
A pond and well in the back of StoneCrafters’ facility is used to recycle water used during the fabrication process. “We have a unique situation,” said Kurt Salzl. “ We are in a granite bowl, so the water is self contained. We worked with the city and state [to set the system up]. It’s the only way that they would let us do our own recycling. We can get up to 300 gallons of water a minute.”
According to Kurt Salzl, StoneCrafters focuses on the residential market. “The individual homeowner is our main target,” he said. “We like working with them. About 95% of our customers pick out their own stone.”
A showroom in the front of the company’s shop provides customers with an opportunity to come in and view stone samples. The majority of its material is purchased through Cold Spring Granite Co., Midwest Granite and Marble, Stone Holding and Terrazzo & Marble Supply Companies of Golden Valley, MN. In addition, StoneCrafters imports its own limestone. “We mainly do natural stone,” said Kurt Salzl. “[Although], we also do some quartz.”
In addition to its tabletop production, StoneCrafters manufactures approximately 10 kitchens a week, with the average size measuring 70 square feet. “We try to keep our turnaround time to two weeks,” said Kurt Salzl, adding that the company’s market is primarily 3 cm material. “We rarely do 2 cm. Only when we are forced to because we can’t find a 3 cm stone.”
The installation process
In total, StoneCrafters maintains a staff of about 20 workers, including two installation crews. Installation and measuring is supervised by Kurt’s brother, Dean Salzl.
“For all of our jobs, we do our own field measurements and installations,” said Kurt Salzl. “We learned that no matter how good the countertop is, if it is not installed properly, it won’t look good.”
With the bulk of its customers being private homeowners, it is important to StoneCrafters that their clients are satisfied with every aspect of the process. “We do very little advertising,” said Kurt Salzl. “It’s word of mouth that generates sales. That has done very well for us.”
Since customer service plays such a critical role in the company’s business, it wants to ensure that each of its customers has a positive overall experience when planning their new kitchen. As a result, StoneCrafters even offers a line of sinks for those having trouble finding their own.