With 36 years of experience working in the stone industry, Roberto Contreras, CEO of Moderno Porcelain Works brings extensive knowledge to the company specializing in the fabrication and installation of porcelain slabs. He put together an A-team of longtime industry friends and colleagues, which all bring a different expertise to the business. Currently, Moderno has 16 locations throughout the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Minnesota, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. The company’s goal is to create a national network through its franchising and licensing model. To learn more about Moderno and its porcelain fabrication operation, read what Contreras had to say when talking with Stone World.

SW: Give us a little background on Moderno.

RC: After Cosentino North America, I founded a real estate development company that develops luxury high-rise condominiums, hotels and mixed-use properties. In 2018, while developing the Arts Residences and Thompson San Antonio hotel, I saw an opportunity in Central Texas to open a stone shop. The best person I knew for this was Chester Layne. We partnered to open Stonite Surfaces in San Marcos, TX, to service the San Antonio and Austin markets. Today, Stonite is one of the top, if not the top fabrication shops, in Central Texas working with many custom home and production builders. Stonite works with all surfacing materials, including granite, quartz, quartzite, solid surfaces and now sintered stone materials.

When we were in the early planning stages of setting up the Stonite shop, I went back to a trade show in Italy, which I had not been to in many years. I noticed a big change in the industry. Large-format sintered materials were the main focus. I was amazed by its beauty and how closely it resembled natural stone; and nothing on the market could match its versatility. I knew immediately this was the next evolution of surfacing, but was puzzled why it wasn’t everywhere in the U.S. There were a lot of challenges to introducing it in the U.S. market at that time – namely because traditional stone fabricators were not comfortable working with large-format porcelain.

The real estate development brought it full circle. I wanted to use the material in my development projects, so I set out to eliminate the barrier and put together a team to create Moderno Porcelain Works.

In the beginning, the industry as a whole didn’t really know how to define Moderno. We are not a manufacturer or distributor -- we fabricate and install large-format porcelain and sintered stone materials across numerous brands. We offer direct imported materials, and we also serve as a fabricator and installer to the market. We also work for traditional stone cutters to fabricate the material, as well as tile contractors.

We are the only company in the country that is 100% dedicated to the fabrication and installation of large-format porcelain and sintered stone materials with multiple locations nationwide.

SW: Moderno Porcelain Works has quite a leadership team. How did you all come together?

RC: When I started the business plan for Moderno, I immediately thought of four people: Mike Heylmun, Ben Szell, Doug Dillard and Armin Deutsch. They have all been very instrumental since day one.

I have been working with Mike since my Cosentino days. Mike was a key partner in pioneering the North American quartz surfacing market. He serves as Moderno’s Chief Revenue Officer.

Ben Szell, the founder of ETM Tools, is a globally respected expert who developed the tools and techniques to fabricate and install Moderno’s large-format porcelain and sintered stone slabs. He is a partner and key advisor.

Doug Dillard is our Chief Operating Officer. We have worked together for over 20 years and he has been with me in every business I have started. He has extensive financial knowledge and experience across a variety of industries.

Holding over 25 years of extensive experience in project management, construction, merchandising and purchasing, Armin Deutsch previously worked for Fortune 100 companies, such as Home Depot. Armin is our Executive Vice President of Procurement and Development.

From there, we were able to assemble the very best in the business. In just three years, Moderno is recognized as the national leader in purchasing, fabricating and installing large-format porcelain and sintered stone materials.

Our executive team has been working together in the surfacing industry for more than 30 years.

Julie Kleine serves as our Chief Marketing Officer, Rafa Alvarez, President of Franchising, Amy Manuel, Chief People Officer, and Mike Boucher, Director of Business Development and National Accounts. Our experienced general managers operate each location as its own profit center and are at the center of our success.

SW: I understand you recently opened your newest location in Charlotte, NC. Do all of your locations have a fabrication facility?

RC: We are excited to be in Charlotte and the North Carolina market. This is our first fabrication franchise. All other locations are majority corporately owned, although some have different partnerships. The “Moderno Way” is consistent throughout all locations where we have the same system, process and selections.

All of our corporate locations have fabrication facilities, and we have made a substantial investment in technology and specialized equipment. Our franchise operations offer two different models: a full end-to-end fabrication franchise and a retail franchise that has a showroom and provides measuring, with fabrication and installation done at our hub.

Unlike most fabrication “shops,” Moderno offers innovative design-centered showrooms featuring full slabs and multiple applications from floor-to-ceiling, wall coverings, fireplaces, kitchen and bath surfacing, and furniture, as well as offering our own direct imported material.

SW: What machinery do you have in your shops? What equipment do you use for templating?

RC: The waterjet is the heart of our operation.  We have made significant investments in technology and equipment to perfect the fabrication and installation process, as well as continuous research to develop machines to cut faster and more efficiently.

The machines and processes we use, which are an innovation in the stone world, allow us to cut porcelain 10 times faster than the speed of a traditional CNC or bridge saw.

The Baca Robo Sawjet makes corner cuts and inside corner miters with perfect precision. The Flexijet customized program provides 3D images, which is very important for vein matching and bookmatching.

The installation is just as important as the fabrication because without the correct substrate and adhesive, the material will not perform as it is designed. Our honeycomb fiberglass and aluminum substrate is cut to custom dimensions for an exact fit. We work with all thicknesses, but prefer 6mm and our honeycomb system.

  • Baca Waterjet - Water-jet Cutting System
  • Flexijet 3D Laser Measuring & Template System
  • Lightweight Honeycomb Composite Panel (HCP) Cutting System
  • Speed Cutting System 
  • Clean Miter System

SW: What are some points of consideration when determining the city for your locations?

RC: Our goal is to have a national presence with locations in every major city in the U.S. We are currently in 16 cities, but the best way to meet the demand in the market is to create a national network through our franchising and licensing model. Right now, there is not a national network of fabricators that service the surfacing industry. Moderno is creating that network.

The number one consideration is – people. The general manager is the heart of the hub. We empower our general managers, our franchisees, licensed fabricators with all of the training, tools and support to achieve success and build an expert team. We are very proud that we have the top operators in the industry – and looking for more.

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Part Two of our Q&A with Roberto Contreras.