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
A unique program
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.”