With numerous luxury stone projects under its belt, GI Stone of Chicago, IL, has compiled an impressive portfolio in the 26 years it has been in business. Equipped with state-of-the-art fabrication equipment, the company works tirelessly to produce high-quality custom products to meet all of its customers’ needs. Second-generation owner, Sandya Dandamudi, builds upon her mother’s success and maintains a work culture that promotes teamwork and nurtures creativity. Dandamudi, who was recently named Stone World’s 2020 Fabricator of the Year, took some time to talk with us about GI Stone and its work.
SW: I understand your mother, Rani, founded GI Stone. Explain how you first got involved with the company and what led you to take over when your mother retired.
SD: My mother is an interior designer, and she ran a successful design firm for 20 years before she started GI Stone. Immediately, the marketplace wanted to work with GI Stone because my mother understood stone aesthetics. I joined the company two years after its founding. My interest and involvement in the stone industry grew into a passion, and that passion has yet to abate! Approximately 20 years ago, I took over sales and project management, and my mother managed production. I believe she was the only woman running a stone production facility. A few years ago, I took over all aspects, but she has always been very involved. Last year she completely retired, but I still get phone calls!
SW: Has GI Stone changed at all since it was founded in 1995? If so, in what ways?
SD: Our company looks very different since its founding. For starters, we moved to a larger facility in 2001. Also, we have become much more digital. When we started, we were using drafting tables and blueprints. We no longer use either of those, but the amount of paperwork we do has skyrocketed. We used to just see drawing issuances that pertained to our scope; now we review all the drawings to see if it affects our scope, which has required us to expand our knowledge base further into other trades. For example, we consider how far out a mantel shelf can extend to deflect/redirect the heat flow from the fireplace while also protecting the flat screen television mounted above it.
SW: How large is your shop? What specific machinery do you have?
SD: We have a 25,000-square-foot facility in the West Town neighborhood of Chicago, of which 10,000 square feet is dedicated to the shop. It includes a CMS bridge saw, a Prussiani waterjet and a Northwood CNC. In June, we will be welcoming a Fastback II [edge polisher] from Park Industries.
SW: Working primarily in the commercial sector must come with its own set of challenges. What are some standards you have put in place to ensure that each project is a success?
SD: Keep focused, don’t let the project get away from you, control communication and remember, your success hinges on the smallest of details! A missing or wrong detail on one drawing can create so many problems. You must stay vigilant and check your work especially during the submittal and approval process. We always look at what can go wrong as opposed to what can go right!
SW: What are some recent projects you have completed or have in the works? Please give a little detail on each.
Some recently completed projects include:
- Four Seasons Hotel Chicago renovation: Matched existing stone in the lobby while installing new portals, reception desks and a lounge bar.
- The Ritz-Carlton, a luxury hotel in downtown Chicago: A five-year renovation of all guest rooms, amenity spaces and the lobby.
- One Bennett Park: Installed stone in all the units, as well as the building’s two lobbies, which required implementing the vision of legendary architect A.M. Stern Architects.
Our current major projects include:
- Tribune Tower conversion: Worked with the design team to specify stone for 165 condo units and amenity spaces.
- One Chicago: Stone consultant for approximately 700 units that has 70 luxury condos using porcelain countertops. For this project, we aided in the specification of all the stone and integrated other design elements to be consistent.
- St. Regis Hotel: About to begin stonework for the lobby and amenity spaces for the St. Regis Hotel within the St. Regis Chicago, a 101-story mixed-use skyscraper that completed construction in 2020.
SW: Working during the pandemic must have presented some obstacles. Please explain some of the challenges you dealt with and how you overcame them.
SD: During the pandemic, we were fortunate to be able to continue with projects we had under contract. However, a major challenge was that the project schedules became erratic as jobsites would need to shut down for several days to sort out positive cases. This created a cascade where our shop would run low on work because of our projects’ unexpected delays. We treated this downtime in the shop as an opportunity to upgrade the warehouse. We threw out some old material and replaced the slab racks, so we gained space for more material in the process.
Moving forward, our projects may be different in the near term. We recently completed several luxury hotels, restaurants and high-end residential towers. This type of work has slowed down, so we are aggressively pursuing new renovation work and affordable housing projects because that’s where we see the most opportunities right now.
SW: I know that you hold your employees in high regard. How do you go about hiring workers and what do you do to maintain a loyal staff?
SD: Success can only depend on a great team. We work closely together and sometimes the work can get stressful, so we look at how all members work with each other. You may have a very high-producing individual, but if they do not work well with others, then they can potentially create a toxic environment. I am constantly working to create a company culture that is focused on the overall team and not on individuals. We have been fortunate in having many of our people stay for a long period. However, I also recognize that sometimes people move on to new opportunities, and I wish them well and feel good about knowing that we were instrumental in their growth. I am happy to say that most people who have left remain friends and sometimes they have become our clients!
SW: Is there anything else you would like to share about GI Stone?
SD: I am proud of the company that my mother started, and I get to run. When people hire GI Stone, they are getting the “whole package.” We carry our team concept to include our clients. We do not just cut and install stone. We proactively manage and tweak the entire project so that our results are always the best they can possibly be. We constantly look for ways to innovate and to educate ourselves. We are never complacent.