Technology fuels company growth
In only four years, Stone Services, LLC of Chattanooga, TN, has expanded far beyond its owners’ expectations. The company, which was founded in June 2004 by Tony Allen and Keith Porter, has grown from four employees to its current staff of 26, and it has also significantly increased the size of its fabrication area as well as opening a showroom in Knoxville, TN. Moreover, recent investments in state-of-the-art equipment, including digital templating technology, have further contributed to the overall success of the business.
“There were only four of us in the very beginning, and we worked out of a leased area with 6,400 square feet of space,” said Allen. “We were trying to keep it small at the time. We only wanted to do a few kitchens a week.”
But although the owners’ initial intentions were to operate a small-scale business, the company began to rapidly expand. “Word just started to spread that we do good work and can turn it around fairly quickly,” explained Allen, adding that Stone Services now produces between 18 to 20 kitchens per week.
Moving to digital templating“When we first started this company, our first measuring system was Mylar®,” said the fabricator, explaining that Mylar is a thin plastic used in a similar way as Luan plywood for templating. “We were accustomed to using it. I did all the measuring in the very beginning.”
Allen’s expertise is in construction, as he was a construction manager for a general contractor for 22 years. “In 2001, a buddy talked me into working with him in his granite shop,” he said. “That’s how I got into this business.” The fabricator went on to say that it was at this job where he learned to template with Mylar.
“When we knew that we were going to relocate and go to a larger building, we knew that we were going to have to upgrade our equipment,” said Allen, adding that Stone Services recently purchased a new 28,000-square-foot facility for its operation. “We bought two [LT-55 Precision Laser Templators from Laser Products of Romeoville, IL] knowing that we were going to integrate them with a new MasterJetSaw from AIM [Advanced Industrial Machinery]. This is taking us to the next level. It’s all going to work very well together.”
According to Allen, the company purchased the two LT-55s in October 2007. “The measuring system has truly helped,” he said. “It sped things up considerably - not only in the field, but also in the shop.”
Allen explained that the digital templating system has shortened the overall timing of the measuring process by a day and a half. “Now all the data from the field is E-mailed to the shop in 15 minutes,” he said.
Currently, Stone Services employs two installation crews in Chattanooga and one at its Knoxville location. According to Allen, there was a small learning curve when first using the Laser Templators, but overall, the system is user friendly.
“[Our installer] in Chattanooga was hesitant at first,” said Allen. “It took a couple of training sessions, but now he wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Expanding its workspaceTo meet the demands of its growing business, Allen and Porter bought a new building in January of this year. Since that time, they have been completing renovations to transform the space into an efficient fabrication area.
“We totally gutted it,” said Allen, adding that the company had just settled into its new home several months ago. “We are trying to do things the right way and conserve as much as we can. We are in the process of building a system out back to catch all roof water, so we don’t have to rely on the city’s water. We took the next step with our compressor. It only pumps as much air as we need. [Also], our lighting system in the new shop and showroom area is energy efficient.”
The heart of the company’s production is centered around a new Master Series 3200 stone-cutting system from AIM. Additional equipment includes a water treatment and filtration system from Water Treatment Technologies of Hampton, NH, and a Den Ray dust collection system. Tools and accessories are purchased from distributors such as Braxton-Bragg Corp. of Knoxville, TN, and the shop is also equipped with several overhead cranes and Anver vacuum lifters to maneuver slabs.
Stone Services maintains an inventory of about 90 different bundles of slabs, which it purchases from local distributors such as G&L Marble and Classic Granite & Marble in Elberton, GA. “We have six or seven distributors that we work with on a regular basis,” said Allen. “They work with me closely. All of our slabs are set up inside. It looks more like a distribution center.”
Marketing its productStone Services opened its 1,500-square-foot showroom in Knoxville in October of 2006. The facility is run by two employees, and it is open Monday through Saturday. There is also an outside salesperson.
“A contractor called one day and said that we had a mutual friend in the construction industry,” said Allen, when explaining how the showroom came about. “He said that his granite contractor had strung him out, and he was in a bind. He said he heard that we do good work and have a quick turnaround. I measured his work the next day, which was a Tuesday, and installed the job on a Thursday. Word spread to a few other contractors, and the rest is history.”
Primarily, the company’s market spans about 150 miles north of Knoxville and 150 miles south of Chattanooga, according to Allen. “Sometimes we do work in the Carolinas, but not that often,” he said.
At this time, the company produces approximately 1,300 square feet a week, but hopes to bump that up to 1,800 to 2,000 square feet. Allen explained that he and his partner just started to market their company. They have plans to start advertising on television and radio in Chattanooga and Knoxville.
“The bread and butter [of our business] is residential,” said the fabricator. “With the new saw system, we will start doing some commercial work. Coming from a commercial background, I will start chasing that type of work. This will make us go out a bit further than we normally do.”