While high school best friends Geoffrey Gran and Bill Heuer went their separate ways for college and followed different career paths afterwards, they reunited in July of 2015 to open The Countertop Factory Midwest in Addison, IL. Heuer came with a marketing background and Gran was in the healthcare field. They both brought the experiences they gained from working in a corporate environment to develop a strong countertop business, which makes it a priority to place the needs of its customers at the forefront.
“Bill went to Georgetown and was living in Washington, DC, for a while, but he and his wife wanted to come back to Chicago,” explained Gran. “His brother-in-law had a [stone fabrication shop called] The Countertop Factory in Raleigh, NC. We spent a year doing research and discovered Chicago was the third biggest market with a lot of fabricators. On July 1, 2005, we started The Countertop Factory Midwest with a different departure from what a lot of others are doing.”
According to Gran, he and his partner view their business as a sales and marketing company that offers countertops. “We are the only fabricator in Chicago to manufacture all four surfaces — natural stone, quartz, solid surface and laminate. We go after big production builders and Big Box stores,” he said. “Our mantra is ‘the customer is boss.’ We like to focus on truly providing world-class customer service. We want to try to give our customers a great experience.”
To uphold a high standard of customer service, The Countertop Factory Midwest relies on its staff of 140 employees. “We have an amazing team,” said Gran. “What is unique about this company is we have an incredibly dedicated staff. Our philosophy is our employees are our number one asset.”
The company’s staff must support the concept that a customer’s happiness is important. Manager meetings are held every Tuesday to talk about metrics and corporate culture. “We give them all the resources, and the managers and staff run with it,” said Gran. “We know how to make countertops. We want to provide the experience.”
Expanding upon its concept of serving the customer, The Countertop Factory Midwest added plumbers and tile setters to its staff to offer total assistance for kitchen and bathroom installations. “It has really helped,” said Gran. “For every sink, you need to have a plumber to hook it up. We can control the price and we are providing a service for our customers.” The company also has a cabinet division for general contractors.
Gran explained that while the company’s first investment is in its employees, it also has made a commitment to technology. “If you really want to take your business to the next level, you have to infuse technology,” he said. “We want to make it a part of our fabric.
“We added more machinery two years ago,” Gran went on to say. “It has given us 40% more capacity and we only added two people.”
At the time of Stone World’s visit, The Countertop Factory Midwest was operating out of a 48,000-square-foot facility, but was in the process of purchasing a building which was located a few miles down the road. The new location will be between 75,000 to 80,000 square feet and the company has intentions in investing in more CNC machinery.
The current facility is equipped with two dual-table Fusion CNC saw/waterjets, three Titan CNC stoneworking centers and a Fastback edge polisher — all from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN. Additionally, a mitering machine from Franesi is in place.
Another investment Gran speaks highly of is Slabsmith software from Northwood Designs, Inc. of Antwerp, NY. “Talk about the ability to give customers the best product and voice in it — Slabsmith is the only option,” he said. “It helped us with our material yield. Material cost is number one and labor cost is number two. Slabsmith helped with both.”
For templating, the company has eight LT-55 Templators from Laser Products Industries of Romeoville, IL. “It allows for accurate measurements,” said Gran.
To further bring efficiency to their shop, Gran and Heuer developed a program called Speeddraw, which is now available through GranQuartz. “We originally built it for ourselves, but since January we have been selling the software through GranQuartz,” explained Gran. “It sits on top of AutoCad and can reduce the time of producing a shop ticket by 90%.
“It was a game changer for us,” continued Gran. “Our whole theory is if we can help the industry overall, it maintains standards. We will continue to try to invent and figure out how to be more integrated.”
A JobTracker system from Moraware of Reno, NV, also plays an essential role in the company’s management. In particular, the software is utilized to track the company’s remnants. Gran explained there are three workers assigned to remnants. “We have eight to 10 people looking at our remnants daily,” he said. “This has value. We are trying to run it like a business. We have other fabricators come in to look at them.”
A total of 80% of The Countertop Factory Midwest’s business is granite and quartz, with 55% of that being quartz in 2016. The facility is stocked with roughly 33 colors of the materials, which is primarily supplied by M S International (MSI) and Daltile.
Staying on the cutting edge, the company also has become a certified Dekton by Cosentino fabricator. “We were one of the first in Chicago to cut Dekton,” said Gran. “It’s very innovative. We do a lot in Dekton — about five kitchens a week.”
The Countertop Factory Midwest services the Chicago area, southern Wisconsin and northern Indiana. It fabricates 2,000 square feet of countertops per day.
Continuing to progress
Gran stresses safety is always put first in the fabrication shop. The company meets with an OSHA consultant once a quarter and invites an OSHA inspector into the facility once a year.
A few years ago, Gran and Heuer became members of The Rockhead Group. “It has been amazing for us,” explained Gran. “Bill and I are very active. It has manifested in to us being a much better company.
“We are moving full steam ahead,” Gran continued. “Bill and I are committed to take profits and continue to grow. We don’t plan to take our foot off the gas. We want controlled explosive growth. We have gotten to the point if a customer can dream it, we can make it.”
The Countertop Factory Midwest
Type of Work: residential and commercial in natural stone, quartz, solid surface and laminate