In 2012, several fabricators came together to establish the Rockheads Group USA, LLC (RGU), which was founded with the vision to bring a high level of business intelligence into its international network of fabricators; resulting in greater levels of consumer satisfaction, and subsequently, more profitability for its members. The group’s intention is to raise the industry bar -- from better products and employees, to better processes.
Co-founders of RGU include Nick Began of Stoneworks in Cleveland, OH; Larry Crowley of Stoneworks-Cutting Edge in Florida; Jon Kaplan, who had been a partner with Began at Stoneworks; Paul Menninger of Capitol Granite in Virginia; and Eric Tryon, who was owner of Premier Surfaces at the time of RGU’s inception and is currently CEO of Clio Holdings, as well as the 2015 Stone World Fabricator of the Year.
“RockHeads was created for the serious business executive in the stone fabrication industry that is seeking to maximize his or her ROI,” explained Tryon. “The RockHeads Group is an ‘invite-only’ membership uniquely designed for a [specific] group of stone fabricators. Shortly after I entered the stone fabrication industry, I saw the opportunity to raise the bar in several key areas. I was amazed how immature this industry was compared to other manufacturing and installation industries. I believe one of the biggest reasons was due to how fragmented the stone fabrication industry is compared to other industries. The industry is dominated by smaller mom-and-pop companies and a few regional players. There were not a lot of shared resources available for an entrepreneur or business owner that was seeking to grow their companies and maximize their ROI.
“I can clearly remember attending an industry event, and while on a shuttle bus I started speaking with the guy sitting next to me and the conversation was much different compared to most other conversations I had with fellow stone fabricators,” Tryon went on to say. “The topics we were discussing and the questions we were firing back and forth created a healthy list of takeaways for both of us. We exchanged our contact information and agreed to speak further. The person sitting next to me on that shuttle bus was Larry Crowley, one of my RockHeads founding partners. Shortly after meeting Larry and a few others, I set up a standing monthly conference call for us to exchange ideas and see what we could learn from one another. None of us were originally from the stone fabrication industry, so we all saw the opportunities for this industry based on our experience in other industries. We were not ‘stone’ people. Two meetings into our monthly conference calls, I presented the ‘RockHeads’ name to my fellow partners. The name was so goofy and ridiculous. It worked and resonated
According to Tryon, the original objective for the new group was centered around a few key areas:
- Professional development through learning and sharing
- Share best practices
- Create buying leverage
“We share best practices from our industry and use our P&L metrics to establish benchmarking for members to compare, learn, educate and grow,” said Tryon. “The stone is the stone, and it’s the people, processes and equipment that create the competitive advantages that will determine if a stone fabrication company is successful or not.”
RGU has grown to include more than 85 members in North America and represents $800 million in countertop sales. The group considers itself a council of “Best in Class”stone fabricator executives in diverse markets. It raises the industry bar and member ROI through Natural Stone Institute (NSI) accreditation requirements, best practices, benchmarking and financial transparency. The group’s primary offering is business intelligence for stone fabricator executives, along with partnerships with industry vendors via a RGU stone-certified program.
The group hosts three to four quarterly in-person retreats to truly delve into the issues facing the serious stone fabricator. In addition, RGU conducts member site visits to stretch the thinking space and to assist each other in being better.
Karen Roe, NS Motif in Sanford, FL, was a charter member. “I believe I was the 7th member to join after the five owners,” she said. “One of the owners and I were speaking and after that he invited me to become a member. I accepted because of the high standard that the Rockheads are held to. The benchmarking, best practices, Natural Stone Institute Accreditation and voluntary OSHA inspection requirements hold us to a higher level as a fabricator. It really separates the best of the best. To add, the bonus of the vendor program and the discounts or special pricing as a Rockhead are also beneficial.
“Setting standards higher than before and implementing best practices has improved our business overall,” Roe continued. “Our employees are more organized and have the same vision as I do, as an owner. The networking and comradery that we share is unparalleled. We are all here to help each other as much as we can. One of the nice things is that there are all different-sized companies that are members so there is always someone that has been through what you are going through and can learn from before you make the same mistakes they may have.”
Roe said she would encourage any fabricator who receives an invitation to jump in and do it. “This membership is an investment,” she said. “It will only make you a better fabricator and business person.”
G.K. Naquin, co-owner of Stone Interiors North America, a large fabrication company with three locations in the Southeast, and the recipient of the 2005 Stone World Magazine “Fabricator of the Year” Award, as well as the 2011 president of the Marble Institute of America and Board of Directors, also sees the benefit of being part of RGU. “We joined the Rockheads to share matrix cost and better communicate with companies committed to excellence in the natural stone industry,” he said. “They require all their members to become an Accredited Natural Stone Fabricator with the Natural Stone Institute. With their commitment to excellence and differentiation, they make it worthwhile for all three of our Stone Interiors locations to be part of the Rockheads.”
Talking with co-founder Jon Kaplan, RGU has plans to continue to grow. “As for the future, we still see a tremendous amount of opportunity to continue to raise the bar and standards for our industry,” said Tryon. “There are some very innovative and creative initiatives that will help evolve our industry forward. The next three to five years will be very exciting as technology finally makes its way into our world. We feel as though our membership is robust with some of the brightest minds in the business. The group brings exposure to the game changers that are coming our way, and we will learn from each other the most efficient and practical ways to implement and execute.”