Keith and Betsy Klein, owners of Renaissance Stone in Mills River, NC, have invested in a solid line of machinery that enables them to maintain a custom and creative stone market.

Once a month, Keith and Betsy Klein, owners of Renaissance Stone in Mills River, NC, set aside a day to be creative, where they ask their employees to try something new - regardless of whether or not it will be successful. “I want them to be creative without worrying if we’re making big money, and at the end of the day, something can come up where we’re like, ‘Hey let’s show this to a customer,’” said Keith Klein. That’s just one of the many ways the couple finds new ideas for the stone industry, in addition to making their employees feel like they are part of the bigger picture.

Prior to running a stone fabrication shop - which is now in its eighth year - Keith and Betsy Klein were in the apparel industry for more than 20 years. Although the two retails are in very different sectors, the couple found correlations between both products. “We were looking for something that allowed us to still use our creative merchandising skills,” said Klein. “The colors in stone, although a little heavier than clothing, were very similar in concept. With stone, you have a chance to create one-of-a-kind pieces of art in someone’s home. Stonework is one of the most visible art forms in a home.”

The company focuses on the residential market, where stone projects can encompass an entire home, including areas such as the kitchen, bathroom vanities, wet bars, full shower enclosures, fireplaces and so on. Klein explained that most of its customers come from referral, often by admiring work done in another home. “About 90% of our clients come from referral and are second- and even some third-repeat clients who liked working with us,” he said, adding that an additional company focus is in developing quality and long-term relationships.

“I try to get everyone involved with our clients, so that they just don’t see people come in doing work,” he continued. “They know them.”

Renaissance Stone has a market for upscale homes and condos in Western North Carolina and South Carolina. As for capacity, the owners prefer to keep production at about four to five kitchens a week. “We try to stay a small company,” Klein said. “At the end of the day, I get to go home and see my girls. My goal is to get home everyday.”

Machinery inside the shop

The company owes much of its creative appeal with stone to the machinery that inhabits its 7,000-square-foot shop. Equipment includes an Express bridge saw from Regent Machine Corp. of Virginia Beach, VA, and a Denver Space bridge saw, a Scorpion radial arm polisher and a Diamond Back Splash edging machine - all from VIC International of Knoxville, TN.
The Diamond Back Splash edging machine, invented by Rod York, has been especially helpful with production, according to Klein. “When Rod came out with the backsplash machine, [work on these products] went from 40 hours a week to four hours a week,” he said, adding that the simplicity of the equipment allows the sales representatives to become involved in the shop. “The stuff Rod made is very easy to work. Lynn Probst, [one of the salespeople], spends a lot of time working with the guys, just learning - helping cut bowls and using the backsplash machine. She is as critical to a successful end as anyone, and it moves her from selling countertops to being part of a solutions-focused team.”
Additionally, Renaissance Stone has a Global Vanity Master™ and a Global Easy Edger™ machine, both from Global Granite & Marble of St. Louis, MO, which Klein explained have given the company a significant advantage. “When we walked StonExpo last year, [Global Granite & Marble] had the most innovative stuff we saw,” he said. “[These machines] give us such an edge on custom work. Instead of a regular job, we can do a waterfall at the edge of the bowl or put fossils into granite and so on. Those are things that separate us from being a shop just with countertops.
” For templating, the owners say they’ve stayed the old fashioned way by using Luan plywood strips, mainly because, for them, it’s still used as a type of contract. “When we build templates out of the luan, we always have our clients sign them, so that when we bring them back with the countertops, we’re all in agreement,” explained Klein.
Besides the shop, other areas in the company’s facility include a 1,000-square-foot showroom and 2,000 square feet of storage for sinks and other materials.

Shop workers utilize a Denver Space bridge saw from VIC International of Knoxville, TN, to cut stone pieces

A unique program

Unlike many other shops that consist of separate teams of installers and shop workers, Renaissance Stone executes a program called TBIC, short for Template Build Install and Communicate. Under TBIC, the company divides the shop into two teams - four members in each team - and within each team, there is a designated team leader. “They rotate on the team who gets to be the head,” said Klein. “We work totally different than most shops. What we try to do by working on the team is that everybody gets to see what they’ve built and gets to see it put in the house. Some guys are better at certain things, but everybody gets the opportunity to do different work.”

Although some employees excel more in certain areas, Klein still feels that cross training is important. “Employees take vacations and have personal things that force them to be away from the business, so in their absence we still have to get critical things done that with cross training gives us an advantage - when everyone has shared knowledge and skills,” he said.

At the completion of each project, the team is paid, as opposed to being paid hourly, and the team leader for that job gets to distribute the money to the other members of the team however he or she feels appropriate. “I believe that people really want to be empowered to be successful,” said Klein. “When we implemented TBIC, my labor went down, but everyone’s paycheck went up. People worked more efficiently. They were doing more work and better work, in a shorter amount of time. They were no longer working for the hours, but for the projects.”

In the future, Klein hopes to continue on the same course he’s going with TBIC and eventually convert all the employees in the next three to five years into owners. “I don’t want to be perceived as ‘the rich guy taking advantage,’” he said. “I want everyone to feel like they have a stake in the business.”