Growing a fabrication business
Graniterra relies on customer service and the best technology to continue steady expansion
At the age of 12, Alex Elzein accompanied his father on his first stone project. This sparked his interest in the stone world. Elzein went to college where he received his engineering degree and joined the corporate construction world. However, he kept thinking about the stone business. He made a bold move where he started his stone fabrication business and managed it by himself for 20 years, slowly growing his company, Graniterra, located in St. Louis, MO. Then about five years ago, Elzein expanded the business to become a distributor for Prussiani equipment. Recently he brought on John Parish as the vice president and director of operations. “The fabrication and equipment distribution partnership really complements each other well,” said Parish. “It allows Graniterra to work with the latest and greatest technology, to create a great product and also serves an active space to train people on Prussiani machines.”
In the past two years alone, the company has made great strides to upgrade not only its machines, but its processes as well. “We didn’t just upgrade equipment, we upgraded software and the systems we have in place,” said Parish. “We utilize Proliner templating equipment and software called Sekon, a German software, to translate layouts to machines.”
The 6,000- to 7,000-square-foot fabrication area houses a Champion 5 conveyor bridge saw, a CNC Silver 3000 and a Tornado sink cutout — all from Prussiani. “Our facility is also fully craned,” said Parish. “Safety is something that is extremely important to us. Anytime we can minimize danger, that’s something we are definitely going to do.”
The 40,000-square-foot facility houses 20 employees doing a mix of residential and commercial, 60 percent and 40 percent respectively. “One of the things we have focused on in our business is the ability to scale up,” said Parish. “In order to even start the scaling process, you must have robust systems in place capable of handling increased volume and trained people to execute. Then the company is in a better position to scale the operation. It also allows you to handle bottlenecks better or at least recognize where they are pretty quickly.” Graniterra does an equal mix of natural stone and quartz at their facility, with roughly 90% of their edging being an ease. The company also offers mitered and waterfall edges.
Dealing with remnants
While all fabricators have remnants, how a company deals with them is always an interesting discussion. For Graniterra, they take an extremely proactive approach with them. “We will tag the remnant right at the saw once we cut it, and immediately apply the barcode,” said Parish. “So we record the size, barcode the remnant, automatically load to our system with dimensions, and store in designated location. Now it’s in our database and sales people can look it up. When a sales person then sells the remnant, not only do they mark it sold in our system, but they have to physically tag it as sold. It serves as a backup in case something happens to our system, and identifies sold remnants when sales reps show customers.”
The reason for doing this is to give the customer the best experience possible. “Our goal is to make every customer we have as happy with our service as possible,” said Parish. “The customer is one of our best marketing tools and our goal is to do everything we can to make sure they are happy when they leave our facility. The first question a sales rep will ask a potential customer is ‘How did you hear of us?’ We want to know if they heard of us through social media, a friend or whatever else,” said Parish. “If we see that we are getting an influx of customers from our website or from a billboard, then we know where we should be focusing our marketing dollars.”
According to Elzein, becoming an accredited fabricator from the Natural Stone Institute is one of the most important things they have done. “It gives us a lot of credibility as a company,” said Elzein. “Especially within the architectural and design community. The DSM also helps set up expectations for our customers. We don’t try to just meet those standards, but beat them. This allows our customers to see our work even more favorably.”
Moving toward the future, keeping the company’s quality remains a top priority. “Our long term goal is to continue our controlled growth,” said Elzein. “We would like to double the business in five years. At the same time we need to keep our focus and quality and service”.
“Technology is big for us and we will continue to look at the best ways to use it,” Elzein went onto say. “Along with technology we will look into our processes and continue to improve them. Anyone can invest in a CNC machine or a CNC saw and make cuts, but integrating these machines on a known process within the business is a must to run an efficient shop, and be able to deal with daily challenges and bottlenecks”.
Dealing with installation challenges
There are many challenges that fabricators have to deal with on a daily basis, one of the biggest challenges has to do with the installation. Stone World talked with Alex Elzein and John Parish of Graniterra about different issues they have faced.
“Handling large islands is always a major issue we face,” said Parish. “Not only is it a huge physical demand for our employees, but there are so many chances for injury. Now you add steps to the mix, and this gets pretty complicated. We have used pro carts for all our big island jobs, this way the guys only have to lift at the steps, but they make products to overcome that as well and something we are looking into.
“This problem is even greater when you have to do a commercial job and have to deal with elevators,” Parish went onto say. “We now put it in the contract with commercial jobs that they have to use their crane to get it into the facility. It removes the burden from us. I know that it can be a pain to get them to provide that service, but for us it’s extremely important, just for the safety of our guys.”
“Miters can always be a challenge,” said Elzein. “You may have a great templator and does all the right things but when you get to the job site and shim that countertop, it may change your pitch. Now your waterfall is completely off and too long. Now when you have guys who have done it enough, you know how to predict it happening and make the adjustments ahead of time, but if you’re newer or have a newer guy, or haven’t done waterfalls yet, this can really catch you by surprise.”
“Lastly, let’s be honest, customers can be a big issue,” said Parish. “Most of our customers are great and we try really hard to set the expectations ahead of time, but there are sometimes when a customer will not be happy with how a seam turned out or something. Even if you explained it ahead of time where it might be or how it might look, they don’t realize it till they finally see it in their kitchen. Luckily setting the expectation up ahead of time usually solves this problem but it can still happen from time to time after the install.”
St. Louis, MO
Type of work: Residential and Commercial
Machinery: Champion 5 conveyor bridge saw, a CNC Silver 3000 and a Tornado sink cutout, from Prussiani of Albano Sant’Alessandro, Italy; Proliner from Prodim of Ft. Pierce, FL