RealStone Rallys after Tragedy
"RealStone is a company who has seen its fair share of hurdles over the years, and of all the words that could be used to describe this business, failure is not one of them,” said Mike McManimon, the company’s president. Since its founding in 2002, the original owner, Steve Crandall, has passed away, as well as John Zacher, who was with Unlimited Peak, the investment/management group who partnered with RealStone after Crandall’s death. But despite these tragedies, the company has managed to persevere and is optimistic about its future.
“After Steve’s passing, those in charge made a decision to team up with an investment/management group to help stabilize things and move forward during the unexpected transition,” explained McManimon. This move proved to be worth it, as the company continued experiencing growth and stability until things took another drastic and unexpected turn.
“One of RealStone’s key stakeholders, and the owner of Unlimited Peak, John Zacher tragically passed away in a helicopter accident on Thanksgiving Day 2011,” McManimon continued. “This shocking event sent a tidal wave through the organization and left the estate representatives with a key decision to make: ‘What will become of this company?’ There were options, but none of them would be easy.”
According to McManimon, the first step was to ensure the Bagley, MN-based company fulfilled its supply commitments to customers and keep the doors open during the transitional phase. The second step was to determine what to do with the business. McManimon explained there were three basic options: One. Sell the company and all its assets, Two. Close the doors and cease operations, or Three. Purchase the company and move forward the way Zacher would have wished.
“For John’s estate representative and brother, Gary Zacher, the decision was easy,” said McManimon. “Even amidst dealing with all the pain and uncertainty after losing his brother, best friend and business partner, Gary fell in love with the product and decided to purchase the company.
“There was plenty to clean up,” McManimon went on to say. Dealers and distribution partners had been hearing rumors that RealStone was no longer in business, had sold all its equipment, etc., but that couldn’t have been further than the truth. After Zacher finalized the deal and took over ownership, he immediately went to work by assembling a team that could help him get through the transitional phase and put the company back in a position for success. During this time, the company completely rebranded and freshened up its look in the marketplace. With a new team, new logo, website and new marketing materials, RealStone hit the pavement and scheduled meetings with its entire dealer network. Through that process, it gained valuable firsthand knowledge of the ‘good and bad’ and fully engaged its dealer network to set the table for the future.
Making an investment
Stone World had first written about RealStone in 2009. In addition to the hardships the company has faced since that time, it has also devoted time and money to improve its overall business model. During its evolution as a company, RealStone has never lost sight of its core goal of being a premier supplier of all natural stone products by continually striving for manufacturing efficiencies, being environmentally responsible and putting customer service as its bedrock for success, according to McManimon. “This is evident in the implementation of a fully functional water reclamation process in the plant that filters the water used in production and cycles it back through the system,” he said. “In addition to the water filtration system, RealStone continued that investment into noise dampening panels, new splitters and saws — along with changing the configuration of its manufacturing layout to be more efficient. As a result, production capacity increased considerably. We were able to increase our production capabilities along with reducing waste and our lead time, which makes us a much more attractive option to customers who rely on getting product on time and when they need it.” After experiencing this drastic change and re-stabilizing the company, RealStone has set its sights on the future once again.
Broadening product selection and production capabilities
The primary product line for RealStone is thin veneer. The factory is equipped with a Thin Veneer TXS-3000 from Park Industries, which was purchased in 2017. Additional investments last year included a custom steel rock table to feed the splitter and a Bobcat S650 Skid Loader. The company also bought a 12-foot 250-ton stone splitter in 2016 and a Hytrol 30-foot conveyor three years ago. Currently, the company has 13 employees on staff, but it typically runs between 15 to 20 production workers during its busy season. “Of course, that tends to fluctuate given the time of year, and we are certainly running leaner this time of year than any other,” explained McManimon. “We have become more productive with the same labor inputs given our investments in new equipment/technology. Our production rate is based on demand/inventory levels, but can exceed 16,000+ square feet a month, running one shift.”
The RealStone signature stone — Glacial Till granite — is quarried locally out of Clearwater County, which is close to the headwaters of the Mississippi River. According to the company, geologists have noted that the granite boulders quarried in the Minnesota region are some of the most colorful found anywhere in the world. It features 290 colors — blended in interesting veins and speckles. They also have unique/patented saw to process this material and produce custom jobs other suppliers can’t. “We’ve supplied material to some marquee projects based on the fact that we were the only company capable of producing what the customer wanted.” said McManimon. “We will entertain jobs that may not be part of our core product offerings and have even taken stone provided by customers that had sentimental value, crafting it into products they can incorporate into their home/landscape.”
While the signature stone is an important product for RealStone, the company is looking to branch out to offer other stone varieties to its customers. It has even expanded its warehouse since the time Stone World first wrote about the company, with the intention of holding more inventory.
“Our key growth factors now revolve around bringing in new natural stone products that the market is demanding and giving our customer base more options to choose from,” explained McManimon. “We will always stay true to our core of beautiful Glacial Till granite products, but we have to recognize that the market preferences for stone change over time and we need to make sure our product offerings reflect that.”
The second phase of that growth strategy is expanding its footprint by working closer with architect/design firms and finding key partners in target markets nationwide. All necessary steps in order to balance out production over the course of the year as construction in the Midwest is a seasonal business and things can slow down during the harsh winter months — especially in Northern Minnesota.
“Through all of this, there are important life and business lessons to be learned,” said McManimon. “Never take a day for granted and don’t underestimate the commitment needed to push forward through adversity during challenging times”
Type of Work: residential and commercial