What started 11 years ago as The Granite Buyer’s Club with a few top-tier fabricators that shared a collective enthusiasm of the outdoors has since evolved into the Artisan Group. Fishing trips were the ideal way to connect, relax, and share information and best practices. The group has now grown to include 36 stone fabricators that exceed $500 million in yearly sales, and continues the tradition with an annual meeting, shop tour and fishing trip, but the brotherhood is far more than fishing.
Artisan Group was the brainchild of the leadership at Architectural Granite & Marble (AG&M), now part of Architectural Surfaces Group (ASG), who founded the group in 2007. They recognized the value of the solid surface fabricator early on and knew that they could be the fastest growing segment in the exploding stone industry. The initial members included: Jon Lancto, Surface Products; Mike Job, Quality Surfaces; Don Hinkley, NBC Solid Surfaces; Evan Kruger, Solid Tops; and Chad Seiders, AG&M. The group now covers 50+ markets across the U.S. and Canada, averaging more than 20 years experience across members. They were the first stone group in the world to achieve 100% Marble Institute of America (currently the Natural Stone Institute) Accreditation, and its members have held top offices in every stone industry association.
The Artisan Group is unique in both their industry buying techniques and best practices. Each Artisan member is an equal owner of the group’s assets and intellectual property. For a typical member, this value is a significant benefit for balance sheet and company valuation purposes.
“We applaud the Artisan Group members for their commitment to the highest level of standards, safety and craftsmanship,” said Jim Hieb, CEO of the Natural Stone Institute. “Artisan members have contributed their time and talents to help the Natural Stone Institute launch cutting edge programming to benefit the industry and design community. My hat’s off to each Artisan Group member for becoming ‘Accredited’ through the Natural Stone Institute, which is the highest credential available to fabricators for quality and craftsmanship.”
Not only are Artisan Group members accredited by the Natural Stone Institute and other associations, but they have been instrumental in creating standards for the industry. Current Artisan Group president Jon Lancto, was the founding president of the International Solid Stone Fabricators Association (ISSFA) and, along with member Scott Lardner of Rocky Mountain Stone, was on the MIA’s Accreditation Committee.
Most Artisan Group members are also ISSFA members, and some have even served as officers. There are four former ISSFA presidents involved in the group (Jon Lancto, Don Hinckley, Sid Mackay and Vanessa Bates). Artisan also boasts two former MIA/Natural Stone Institute presidents: Scott Lardner and Jon Lancto. Other association leaders include: Layton Day, Scott Lardner, Billy Shaw, Mike Job, Sid McKay and Gus Blume. All had a huge part in the success of ISSFA, Natural Stone Institute and the Artisan Group.
“Artisan Group wanted to initiate a grass roots program of quality countertop fabricators where our members own the brands we choose, choose the products that work in our areas and build equity in our own surfacing brands,” said Lancto, Artisan Group president. “The fabricators hearts are in this business because they have ownership and control the brands and marketing. We can bring the products that kitchen and bath shops, and consumers want to market based on desire and not on what we are dictated by manufacturers.”
The group first went to market with the Artisan Stone Collection, which carried the industry’s first comprehensive lifetime warranty on granite countertops. It has since added several exclusive products to its offering, including Aventine quartz, Saratoga soapstone, Firstline (cleaners and sealers), Heritage Wood countertops and a tile program that is now in the works.
In addition to selling their own brands, the group spends a significant amount of time sharing best practices, metrics and working together to improve all facets of business.
“There is a lot of industry talk of sharing best practices, but we were kind of the incubator for this,” said Lancto. “Artisan Group was one of the only fabricator groups to have protected territories for our members, so they feel free to share information without worry. Our metrics program provides our members with a real time dashboard to help them manage their business.”
Another incredibly valuable component are the semi-annual meetings that are held with the entire group. Each meeting gives members an opportunity to share best practices, see each other’s operations and discuss market trends, new fabrication methods and best practice business policies, as well as hear from top-notch consultants who specialize in various business divisions.
“I’m so lucky to have been part of that roundtable that was hosted by AG&M in a Vegas hotel that started the Granite Buyers Club and then Artisan Group,” said Day, owner of Bangor Wholesale Laminates. “The group has enriched my business and my life because of the relationships we have formed and the information we have shared.”
“Our growth has not been explosive by design,” added Lancto. “We have a vetting process for members based on industry reputation, protected territories, financial responsibility and the company’s ability to fit our culture of helping other members for the good of our brands. We are continuing to add North American members as we see holes in our network, but we want to make the right choice, not the fast choice. Our camaraderie is a very important part of our group, and we make sure that all members fit with our culture.”
An important component of the group’s success is the partnerships it has built between suppliers and member businesses. By leveraging its purchasing volume, the group has developed programs with Kohler, Elkay, GranQuartz, Braxton-Bragg, GMA Garnet, Arthur Gallagher Insurance, Park Industries, BACA, Craft-Art and many others.
AG&M is the key material supplier and partner to the group. Through this relationship, Artisan members have access to the highest quality natural stone and quartz products available in the world. “We value the relationship we have with the Artisan group and will continue to give support with world class products and the resources necessary for the group’s success,” said ASG president Sunil Palakodati.