Like most fabricators in the industry, Chris Garten, president of Signature Countertops, Inc. in Scottsburg, IN, started out using luan strips to template. Once he purchased a Northwood NW-138 CNC router, a digital templating system was long past due. As a result, Garten made the decision to convert to digital technology, which ultimately increased the company's production rate.
"We utilize the Proliner 8 by Prodim for our digital templating solution," said Garten. "We did a lot of extensive research before we decided to go with Prodim. One of my team members and I flew to Florida to meet with John Richerts [of Prodim] and actually demo the Proliner 8 before we purchased it. After meeting with John and experiencing firsthand how user-friendly the Proliner 8 system -- coupled with the simple interface, technical support and overall genuine character of John Richerts -- is, we chose Prodim."
For Signature Countertops, Inc., the Prodim Proliner 8 has had many positive effects for not only the company's production, but installation as well. "When we used wood luan strips to template, one team member could only template two to three jobs in a day," said Garten. "The bigger issue was the fit of the tops at installation. If a wall needed scribed or the job required intricate details, luan was a limiting factor. Since we switched to the Proliner 8 system, our tops at installation are nearly flawless -- no matter the level of difficulty of the job. Furthermore, the efficiency and easy-to-use interface allows a team member to template up to five to six jobs a day. It basically doubled our capacity to what we can template."
According to Garten, the company has its own installation crews. "I know that sub-contracting the installation piece is something that a lot of companies in our industry do, and it works for them," he said. "For us and our market, maintaining the internal control of the installation piece is crucial to the overall success and the level of professionalism that our clientele receive when they choose to do business with us.
"Because we are a small company, I whole heartedly believe in cross-training," he went on to explain. "This ensures flexibility as a company and provides an overall bigger picture to our team members who are fabricating and installing. Ultimately, it enables us to deliver a more thorough experience for our clients because our team has such vast knowledge of the entire production and installation process, start to finish. Approximately half of our team is trained to fabricate and install."
The 8,000-square-foot fabrication shop, which also includes approximately 1,100 square feet of office and showroom space, has the ability to manufacture any type of natural stone, including granite, soapstone, quartzite, marble and onyx, as well as quartz surfacing. It can produce and install approximately 15 to 18 kitchens a week and approximately 10 to 12 vanities, with the average production and installation being approximately 1,000 to 1,200 square feet a week.
Among the equipment in the facility are two jib cranes, one of them a Gorbel and the other one from Thomas Plastics Machinery of Scottsburg, IN; an Americana bridge saw from Regent Stone Products of Virginia Beach, VA; and a Northwood NW-138 CNC router and its newest machine, a Northwood SJ-257 dual table sawjet -- both from Northwood Machine Manufacturing of Louisville, KY.
"The NW-257 is, in my opinion, the most user-friendly, efficient and cost-effective cutting solution available," said Garten. "It has increased our production capacity by more than four times of what we were able to do before we added it. It has also helped to elevate us over our competition in terms of what type of intricate cuts we can produce. If you can dream it, our Northwood SJ-257 dual table Sawjet will make quick work of it."
As far as CNC tooling, Garten has tried numerous brands, but Terminator has become his go to tooling. "Their pricing and tool life, coupled with the best technical tooling support we have ever experienced, is why they have won our business," he said. "We are currently experimenting with Marmo Meccanica's new Extra High Speed line of CNC router tooling."
Garten purchases most of his consumables and other miscellaneous fabrication and installation tools and products from two main distributors, Regent Stone Products and MGM Tooling.
The company is considering expanding its second shift, which currently consists of three team members and is acutely focused on production only. Garten stresses that he has zero employees and doesn't hire employees. In total, Signature Countertops, Inc. has 15 team members.
"We only have team members," he said. "Employees are self-centered and inconsistent, and always want to know what's in it for them. A team member is focused on the greater good of the team -- what's best for the team and how can the team improve, thrive and prosper. These are the people we hire and train, and welcome into our family."
While Garten looks toward the future, he also noted that the Stone Fabricators Alliance has helped him get to where he is today. “The Stone Fabricators Alliance (SFA) has been an integral part of our continued growth and success,” said Garten. “We joined the SFA in July of 2010 and I can’t imagine being a part of this industry and not being a member of such a selfless organization. Since joining we have more than doubled in size in both revenue and physical team members; I have had the opportunity to network and grow relationships with industry leading experts, visit other member’s facilities, explore an array of different business philosophies, demo tooling, and even travel to Italy. In a very competitive industry where sometimes competitors don’t get along, I have found refuge in my SFA family. The SFA is made up of fellow fabricators who are determined to better our industry through education and sharing practically everything thing from difficult techniques, to technical information regarding exotic natural stones, to business planning. I can say with confidence that Signature Countertops, Incorporated would look quite a bit different had it not been for the SFA. I could not imagine competing in this industry with the support of the Stone Fabricators Alliance. My membership is priceless.”
Garten's long-term goals are to continue to focus and improve on the safety and well-being of all team members through the company's Safety Initiative Program, to do $12 million in sales in one year within the next eight years, to donate 10% of all profits annually, to always be striving and looking for ways to improve company culture, to be a completely debt-free company within the next five years, and finally, to open up a second location in the next 10 years.
The company's short-term goal is to continue steady, controlled growth that the company has experienced since its inception in 2007. It plans on doing this by delivering the best countertop buying experience for its clients through education during the selection and planning process, flawless fabrication and installation, and the absolute best customer service after the sale.
"The most rewarding project our team has ever completed was for a mother and a father who lost their son in a tragic car accident," said Garten. "The father brought in a fairly large, jagged piece of dirty, busted up, more than 20-year-old concrete that had their son's hand print in it from when he was a young child. With tears in his eyes, the father asked me if there was anything we could do to clean this priceless memory up for him and his wife. We normally don't handle any type of concrete products, but there was no way we were letting this gentleman leave without helping him out.
My team was as eager and excited to get started on it as anything we have ever worked on. Within a few days, my team had taken what seemed to be this impossible piece of raw concrete and turned it into a piece of hope and a bright memory for a family dealing with one of the greatest losses one could ever experience. I contacted the gentleman and arranged for him to come pick up the gem. Every team member thanked him for them being a part of something so special. He was overwhelmed and began to cry and thanked us to the ends of the earth. His wife had no idea he was having this done, and he was giving it to her as a surprise. This was a very special day in our company's history, and by far, was the most rewarding project we have ever completed."
Signature Countertops, Inc.
Type of work: residential and commercial
Machinery: two jib cranes from Gorbel of Fishers, NY, and Thomas Plastics Machinery of Scottsburg, IN; an Americana bridge saw from Regent Stone Products of Virginia Beach, VA; a Northwood SJ-257 dual table Sawjet and a Northwood NW-138 CNC router — both from Northwood Machine Manufacturing of Louisville, KY; a Prodim Proliner 8 digital templating system from Prodim USA of Fort Pierce, FL, Terminator blades from Continental D.I.A. Diamond Products, Inc. of San Carlos, CA; tooling and accessories from Regent Stone Products and MGM Tooling; vacuum pods from Blick Industries of Laguna Beach, CA
Number of Team members: 15
Production Rate: approximately 15 to 18 kitchens a week and 10 to 12 vanities