Buechel Stone has been running as a family business since 1964. Founded by Francis and Alyce Buechel, the North American stone producer has grown its operation exponentially through the decades. First purchasing the assets of Blue Ridge Mountain Stone in Marion, NC, in 2018, the company recently added to its list of quarries with the recent acquisition of Pray Stone Co. in Winfield, KS. Stone World had the opportunity to discuss Buechel Stone’s latest developments with Mike Buechel, the company’s COO and owner.
SW: I understand you recently acquired the assets of Pray Stone Co. in Winfield, KS. What were some reasons for this purchase?
MB: There were quite a few reasons this acquisition happened. The first, obviously, was the Prays were looking to retire and wanted a buyer that would help them not only make that a reality, but also someone their current employees could trust. When they approached us, we were considering another location in the near future — maybe not this quickly, but it fit that as well.
A big consideration was our need for Aged Parchment. It’s a cut stone exclusive to Pray, and we have had success utilizing it for a variety of natural stone (full and thin veneer, as well as cut stone) applications. It is not nearly as monolithic as other cut stone options, but it has a nice range of color that’s unique. Buechel Stone has several large Aged Parchment projects coming up and we needed to make sure the stone was available.
Pray Stone was a smaller business, so the asset purchase was a little easier to manage. It made the purchase less risky and we spread the investment over a longer timeframe. Recently, we put a lot of money into our shop in North Carolina, with new equipment and a 28,000-square-foot production building. We also had plans for two new showrooms, so it was a lot to take on in a short amount of time.
SW: How will this investment further Buechel Stone’s expansion?
MB: It’s just one of several initiatives we have. We plan years out and know where we want to go with the business long term, and realize we have to take some risks to get there. Our management team is not interested in the status quo. We make it a top priority to help our customers get an exceptional experience; and the more we can control the process, the more we can guarantee that.
SW: Were there any concerns making this purchase during the COVID-19 pandemic?
MB: It definitely made the details harder to finalize, but a lot of this was already in the works before COVID hit. We have a good relationship with the Prays, so between our lawyers they were able to work out the final details with our management team. As far as traveling, it worked out okay because we were able to travel when flights started going on a regular basis. This allowed us to meet with the employees, do all of the environmental work and hire a manager. Although it was not ideal, it really was not that bad.
SW: Has the pandemic affected the quarry’s operation at all?
MB: I think anyone that would say it hasn’t would be lying. But I can say that considering how bad it could be, we really can’t complain. We’ve worked through a lot and made adjustments to help keep things as normal as possible – addressing things like changing break times per department to keep a limited number of people in break rooms, limiting seating to one person per lunch table, and understandably, cleaning with a lot more attention than in the past.
SW: Is Silverdale limestone the primary material produced from the Pray Stone quarry?
MB: That’s a great question. Although Silverdale is the most widely known stone from that area, it was just part of the equation for us. We have purchased Silverdale blocks from other quarries over the years and found the quality of Silverdale from the Pray’s quarry to be excellent. Two additional quarries provide unique stone as well.
The first is our Aged Parchment. This is another block quarry. Buechel Stone has been promoting this stone for a few years, and we feel it will continue to grow in demand as more people see it. The other quarry is a sedimentary limestone we call Jute Cloth. It’s a new product for Buechel Stone, and the stone is something that fits well with our current building stone veneers — giving us the ability to add new ashlar, castle rock and dimensional stone to our offering. The stone has a nice consistency, with a light buff color that works well with many color options.
SW: How much does the quarry produce on a monthly or annual basis?
MB: Not much yet. We’re operational, but the acquisition is still fairly recent and we knew we’d need to make changes to increase the capacity. We’re working quickly to get everything in place to make the quarries and facilities as productive as possible in the very near future.
SW: For what type of applications is the limestone used?
MB: The main use of the Silverdale and Aged Parchment is cut stone, including cut panels. We are also offering them in full and thin dimensional veneer options. The large limestone blocks are mainly used in cut-to-size applications.
SW: What markets do you primarily serve?
MB: Buechel Stone is diverse in the masonry and landscape industries, both commercially and residentially. We focus our sales through dealers and contractors, and understand our responsibility and commitment to assist through the entire sales process. That’s why we also put a lot of focus into the architecture and design community. We have territory sales specialists covering several key markets, and are actively hiring several more.
SW: What short- and long-term plans do you have for the Pray Stone quarry?
MB: Short term we need to set the land up for more production. The Prays were content with the level of production to serve a smaller customer base, so they kept it pretty basic; and there’s nothing wrong with that. The Prays had a slabbing saw and a couple of splitters. A lot of the work was done manually, so we knew we would have to invest some additional capital to get the production levels we need. We have a large customer base and need to get the products from Kansas out to a much larger area. So far, we are adding a couple more quarry saws, a splitter, a thin veneer saw, a 988k loader and a drill to increase our production output. The way we see it in the short term is continuing with the current production of blocks and slabs to sell to other cut stone shops; while the detailed work will continue to be done at our shop in Chilton, WI.
Since we purchased Pray Stone, we added 10 new “rock star” employees, in Winfield, and expect 40 to 50 more within the next five years. Long term, we need to add on to the main production facility in Winfield because the shop is only 8,000 square feet.
SW: What would you say next is on the horizon for Buechel Stone?
MB: Let’s just say we know what we want, where we want to go and how we want to get there.