Despite its conception during the financial crisis, Premier Granite & Stone (PGS) was built on a solid foundation that grew it into the successful business it is more than a decade later. The Grandville, MI-based company, which is owned by Dave Bleyenberg and Matt VanTil, officially started its granite, quartz and solid surface business as of March 2008, although its founding partners and some of its now key managers had nearly eight years of experience with another company prior to its inception. “Due to the recession and economic downturn starting in 2007, the need to start small and operate with minimal overhead was imperative,” explained Dave VanTil, the company’s production operations manager.
At the start, PGS operated out of a 1,200-square-foot leased shop with only a $35,000 manual bridge saw, $3,000 lifter and $1,500 hi-low. Yet, this was enough to produce $360,000 in sales in 2008. “The process was simple and yet very labor intensive, with many hours and sweat into growing a business,” said VanTil. “The use of ‘stick’ templates and a manual bridge saw took time, and so did the cutting and polishing of sinks by hand. The business was financed by its two partners as of March 2008 with home equity loans, against the direction and advice of many during that time. In 2011, after a few profitable years in business and adding two employees, PGS partnered with West Michigan Credit Union to apply for a small business loan to finance the purchase of a 7,000-square-foot shop. The economy was still down at the time, but through low operating costs and a growing customer base built on exceptional customer service, PGS decided it was time to invest in future growth.”
Over the next several years, the company continued to experience expansion, more contracts and a growing reputation. It became clear that there was a need to add staff and to develop a more efficient fabrication process. “Careful research for nearly a year led to the purchase of a new Denver 5-axis CNC saw, coupled with a LT-2D3D templator and Fab King in 2014,” explained VanTil. “The accuracy and efficiency was far greater than anticipated, and bolstered growth to 30% annually for the next four years. Increasing its sales and customer service was key to providing the necessary square footage to keep up with the capabilities of the new equipment and experienced operators.”
As a result of its continuous growth, in 2015, PGS moved into a 20,000-square-foot shop with almost 5,000 square feet of showroom and slab display space. “It’s one of the top showrooms in the state that services over 150 kitchen and bath dealers and builders,” said VanTil. “Today, PGS is one of the leading granite and quartz fabricators in Michigan because of its 38 dedicated and knowledgeable employees and efficient fabrication and installation process; and is currently operating a single shift five days a week with two Northwood CNC routers, a Denver CNC saw and recently installed Northwood Raptor Sawjet. Our employees consider PGS to be one of the most efficient fabrication shops in the state, [producing] 500 square feet a day in 2018.”
FOCUSING ON EFFICIENCY
At this time, quartz comprises 90% of the company’s business, while the other 10% is natural stone. In total, it fabricates 10,000 square feet a month, including about 50 kitchens per week.
To ensure that PGS was maximizing its tooling to gain the ultimate production, it decided to test the limits of its Diamut tooling. VanTil explained he knew about the recommended feed rates for Diamut tooling, and he knew that he always had to be aware of how many amps the machine was pulling while running. “With those two factors in mind, we decided to try and bump up the speed of the tooling incrementally over time,” he said. “We got to a point that we were running the tooling faster, maintaining really good quality results and keeping the amps about the same. Then we started wondering, ‘Just how fast can we get this tooling to go?’”
VanTil contacted Peter Hauser, brand sales manager for the Stone Division at Diamut. Hauser was also eager to see how far a fabricator could push the limits of their tooling to improve productivity. “We had offered HYS (Hyper Speed Solutions) tooling for large CNC manufacturing companies for years, but we had never worked with a customer to push tooling limits,” he said. PGS began testing and found they could hit a speed of 500 inches/minute, a huge leap given that the industry’s average speed for running tooling was about 100 inches/minute, according to VanTil. “After analyzing the results, I decided that for now our comfort zone is 400/inches per minute,” he said. “I also ran the numbers and figured out that from our original starting point, we were able to run at 132%. We were considering hiring more people, but being able to run our Diamut tooling so much faster let us avoid adding a second shift. That was huge for us.”
In addition to Diamut tooling, PGS uses products from ADI, Nicolai Diamant, Granite City Tool, GMR, Braxton-Bragg and Regent Stone Products. “We are always trying new tools in order to improve, so we are buying from most of the distributors out there,” said VanTil.
When looking to the future, PGS plans to “continue to offer a quality product with the best service from start to finish, while always improving in every aspect of the stone business to better serve our customers,” said VanTil.
Premier Granite & Stone
Type of Work: Primarily residential
Machinery: a Denver 5-axis CNC saw, two Northwood CNC routers and a Northwood Raptor Sawjet – all from Northwood Machine Manufacturing of Louisville, KY; a Fab King Work Center, a LT-2D3D templator from LPI of Romeoville, IL; tooling and accessories from Diamut of Italy, ADI, Nicolai North America of Grand Rapids, MI; Granite City Tool, GMR, Braxton-Bragg of Knoxville, TN; and Regent Stone Products of Virginia Beach, VA
Production Rate: 10,000 square feet per month; 50 kitchens a week, averaging 55 square feet