In StoneTalk Episode 31, Patrick speaks with Richard Ashoff, Owner of TylerCo.
Listen to this episode to discover:
- SLABlite – a new way of backlighting countertops
- How having a “wow” factor in your showroom helps sales
- How a boring stone color can be transformed with backlighting
- How a vanity can double as a nightlight
If you have stories or insights that you’d like to share with other fabricators, please reach out to Patrick.
Patrick: Welcome to StoneTalk, the podcast for countertop fabricators. Brought to you by Moraware, makers of JobTracker scheduling software and CounterGo estimating software, for countertop fabricators. I’m your host, Patrick Foley. Today, I’m chatting with Richard Ashoff, CEO of TylerCo, makers of a cool backlighting product called SLABlite. Let’s give him a call.
Patrick: Hi, Richard.
Richard: How are you?
Patrick: Good, is this still a good time?
Richard: Good time.
Patrick: All right. Well let’s rock and roll.
Richard: How do we do this? I’ve never done this before.
Patrick: Oh, it’s easy, I just ask you questions, you answer them, we just have a conversation.
Richard: Ah, forget it. I can’t do that.
Patrick: Easy breezy, I’ll make it painless.
Richard: There you go.
Patrick: All right, well let’s start. Why don’t you give me an overview of SLABlite? What is it? What does it do? Who is it for?
Richard: SLABlite. SLABlite is used to light up translucent material from glass to stone to plastics, anything that you want to illuminate. Originally, I’m a glass artist…
Patrick: Oh, really?
Richard: Yeah, I invented this to light up glass. And we’ve been in the custom home market for over 30 years now. And when I went to develop this, we developed the SLABlite back in ’04, 2004 and launched it, and basically sat down, because the industry kind of disappeared. So anyway, in the past three years, it’s just grown out of control. People are lighting up all kinds of stone, all kinds of translucent material. Every month, we get some other product or some other sample, “Hey, can you light this up?” It’s just going crazy, which is great. But the SLABlite, when we looked at it, and the problem we were dealt with was the fact that you could never get to our light again.
Patrick: What do you mean?
Richard: Well, you’re going to put…
Patrick: Oh I see, you’re going to cover it and so it’s got to work once and for all.
Richard: Your client, first of all, in the custom home market, all the clients want all the bells and whistles and the new thing. But, one, they don’t want to spend time learning how to use the product. So when you leave, if it doesn’t work, they’ll just turn it off. They’ll walk away from it. So if our light goes out, they’re not going to go down and try to replace it, they’re just going to turn it off and go on to something else. That’s if you even get to the light. But when you put a slab down on top of it, you can’t come out and lift an onyx slab without breaking it.
And so we were looking at this that, “We’re going to put a light somewhere where you can never get to it.” So how do we solve that problem? And we talked to the trades and we found out, you have to replaster a pool every 20 years. So I figure we’re doing a waterline of a pool, in tile. And I went back to my engineer and I said, “Okay, we got to make this light stay lit for 20 years.” Because if you have to rip out the plaster, you can rip out my lights.
Patrick: Right, good point.
Richard: There you go.
Patrick: Do you use this is swimming pools too?
Richard: Yeah, oh yeah. Yeah, it’s waterproof. You can throw the SLABlite in the water and it’ll just stay lit.
Patrick: So what are they, are they like LED panels?
Richard: They’re LED. What it is, is it’s a light guide that we’ve encapsulated and we’ve made it waterproof. We’ve allowed for the heat, for the LEDs, which is the worst thing for LEDs, and then we deregulated it. I mean nobody in the LED lighting industry is deregulating LEDs. They’re running them at 110%.
Patrick: What does deregulating mean?
Richard: Tune them down. We don’t run them at 100% because I’m not worried about lighting up the room. I only want to light up a half an inch from my light. So we deregulated them and we went from a 5 to a 7-year life, to a 20-year life. And if you put a dimmer on them…and that’s 24/7. So if you put a dimmer on them or you turn them off and on, who knows how long they’re going to go for? They’ll last forever. And it’s not like a light bulb where in 20 years they just click, turn off, they fade out and whether the human eye can even see that happening has yet to be proven.
Patrick: So, a light guide, that’s kind of like in a cell phone display, right?
Richard: It’s the same thing that’s in your cell phone, in your TV and in your monitors.
Patrick: So these are pretty thin?
Richard: Oh yeah. They have to be thin because you don’t want…the way people are lighting up stone and slabs, they’re using LED light strips. Well you have to be four and a half inches away from the product to get rid of the hotspots. That’s going to eat up your cabinet space like you wouldn’t believe. Plus, what do you do from cabinet to cabinet? You know, they have the ridges where the modular cabinets…you can’t light. So now you’re going to have lines in the stones.
Being a glass artist, it has to look like the sun’s coming through it. There can’t be any hotspots, there can’t be any shadowing. It’s got to look as natural as the sun. We’ve done interior walls in homes. And people come and go, “Does that wall go to the outside?” And I’m going, “Maybe not.” Because it looks like the sun’s coming right through it.
Patrick: That’s really cool. And how are they installed? Does it require a specialist, or is this something that fabricators can learn how to do easily enough?
Richard: Being on the job sites for 30 years, we’ve learned a lot. And I would rather spend time in the studio perfecting something that is easy to use than for it to be thought of out in the field. The SLABlite is, as I said, 12 inches by 12 inches and can be custom cut on the job site. So you can drill a hole in it, put a pipe through it, you can cut it to go around curves, you can cut it to go around sinks, you can do it on the job site. So you don’t have to wait for me to make something up for you and then ship it to you. You buy them in…they’re one foot by one foot, you put them all together, you get to the end, you cut them off.
Our first job that we did, we had this crew, they put down 40 lights. They were doing an island inside of a kitchen. And they had 4 rows of 10. And they were six inches too long on the last row. So instead of taking out a fine tooth blade or whatever, they picked up a skill saw with a big blade on it, and they didn’t cut them one at a time, they ripped them all in place. And I’m looking at them and I’m going, “Really? You serious?”
And they look at me and they picked up…and chunks of plastic were just flying off everywhere. And I’m just going, “Really?” And they picked them up, and they silicone them all back together, and they looked at me, and I went, “I wish I had a video of that.” And that’s been burning for seven years now.
Patrick: Wow. Okay, that’s pretty cool.
Richard: So you really have to destroy this product for it not to work. We’re having lot of fun with it. We had one crew, they had an island that was kidney-shaped with a four inch edge on it, right? So they cut the SLABlite to four inches, they put it in a heat blanket and they bent it around the curve and I’m going, “And it’s still lit?” He goes, “Yeah!” I went, “Really?”
Patrick: That’s awesome. And it comes in contact with the countertop, I mean you just put it…
Richard: You have your substrate and you glue it to the substrate. You have to route some channels to hide the wire. So you put them right next to each other, you glue them to the substrate, and you put the stone right on top of it. The hardest thing about our product is people overthink it.
Patrick: What kinds of materials or what thicknesses of materials are translucent? Is any granite translucent if it’s thin enough, or do you have to choose materials that you’re pretty confident light’s going to shine through?
Richard: Yeah, you can’t be…I mean like marbles and stuff like that, light’s not going to come through that stuff. Most slabs are 2cm or 3cm, and if it’s onyx, if it’s quartz, glass, Corian, Caesarstone makes a geode version. It’s a very easy test. You take your cell phone, you put it behind the slab. Can you see it?
Patrick: That’s a good test, cool. Let’s imagine I’m a fabricator. I want to understand the business opportunity for me. Is this something I should be upselling for my more well-to-do customers, or is this more of a special purpose thing just to look for when for when people ask for? How do I turn this into an upsell? How do I use this to make more money for me?
Richard: In the custom home market, or in the restaurant business, or the commercial avenues, it’s…we used to do stained glass back in the day. And I would design stained glass to be observed on the third look through of…you’re looking at your house and it doesn’t jump out at you. It just blends in with everything else you’ve got going, “Oh yeah, you’ve got a stained glass window.” That’s when I know I’ve done a good job. The trouble with this product and lighting up stone, it doesn’t blend. It jumps. People walk in, they go, “Whoa!” It makes that stone three-dimensional.
I mean, we’re used to looking at stone, all you’re seeing is the top layer of stone. Well when you light it, you see into it, you see the crystallization of it, and it just sits there and it glows. When we do…we talk to restaurants, and I tell them flat out, “I hope they’re going to remember your food. Because I guarantee you they will remember your bar.”
Patrick: So for example, first of all, from a design perspective, it should be used on something that you want to stand out a lot more, because it’s not going to stand out a little more, it’s going to stand out a lot more. So it better…
Richard: You’re not going to hide this. You walk in, it’s got the [inaudible 00:11:05]. In fact, I had a client two days ago. He did a $2.5 million remodel. Had all the bells and whistles. He goes, “Dick, there was nothing in this house that stood out more than that stone.”
Patrick: Right. So it should be used accordingly, that if it’s on something of marginal value, probably not a good fit. But if it’s something that…
Richard: People are doing bathroom countertops, the main area they’re doing are their kitchens. We’re doing fireplace walls. We do whole walls. The Toll Brothers? The Toll Brothers…the custom right? Yeah, they’re standard builders. They did a 10 foot by 20 foot wall in a master bathroom. All caesarstone. You walk in, the whole wall is illuminated, and it’s all caesarstone. If they’d just put up the caesarstone, would have been beautiful. But lighting it took it to a whole other dimension.
Patrick: Yeah and you have a great spread in ISFA’s Countertop and Architectural Surfaces magazine. Shows some great examples there and got some really cool examples on your website. One of the things I like about it, from a more livability standpoint, is that you look at the bathroom examples, you mentioned a bar example, or in a kitchen, it also becomes a nightlight then.
Richard: In my house, you’re going to love it. My house, we put them in, god, nine years ago? And we never turn the lights off, they’re 24/7. And in our kitchen, you’re going to love this, we hooked them up to the telephone company.
Patrick: What do you mean?
Richard: Well the telephone company’s got 60 watts of power coming into your house. And I just did some glasswork in it, and it was only like 12 watts of power, so I said, “You know, let’s see what happens.” So we hooked it up to the telephone company, so everybody in the neighborhood loses power, you have a blackout, my house is never out.
Patrick: That’s funny. Dubiously legal, probably.
Richard: I’m paying for the landline, you know? But you walk in and you’ll be able to walk in the room, you’ll see everything in the room. You’re not going to read a book, but like in my son’s bath, we never turn a light on at night.
Patrick: That’s cool. Yeah, you’re not going to bump into stuff, which is…
Richard: No, you’ll see everything you’ll need to see and it’s a nice glow.
Patrick: Yeah. So in some of those examples, even the edges are illuminated. Why would the edges light up?
Richard: Well, we totally planned this, of course. But we call it the “bounce factor”, and what we noticed is that the SLABlite has LEDs on one side. So, of the four sides, we have LEDs on one side of it. If you point that edge at the edge of the stone, it’ll bounce into the edge of the stone the same thickness as the slab. So if your slab is 3cm, it’ll bounce into the edge 6cm, and light it up. All the other solutions out there, they run their LEDs around the edge of the plastic, so your edges are all black.
Patrick: Interesting, because that does make a difference.
Richard: Being a purist and an artist, you want to light the whole thing.
Patrick: Absolutely, absolutely. So let’s talk cost. It looks like, given the cost of the panels and the other pieces, it looks like 70, 75 bucks a square foot approximately, right?
Richard: With your transformer and your tiles, yes, and shipping.
Patrick: And so, in your experience, how should a fabricator think about charging that to their customers? Is that…
Richard: We’re getting reports back that fabricators, installers are charging $125 a square foot, installed. And that’s including the cost of the tile, SLABlite, but they’re getting $125 a square foot.
Patrick: Nice, so there’s a significant value to be retrieved by the fabricator too.
Richard: Yes, and we’re getting a lot of feedback that it’s great when you do a job and the client says, “Thank you,” and they’re just elated, because it’s art. And the other thing, we wrote that article for…
Patrick: For Countertops.
Richard: Yeah, and they came back and they wanted another article. And I said, “Well, I told you everything.” And I said, “There’s not much to tell.” And he goes, “Well, think of something.” And I said, “Great.”
Well the next day, it cracks me up, this fabricator called up, said that they did a back wall of a shower. And they sent us picture and it was this green onyx and it was really ugly. And I’m going, “Wow, that’s nice!” And he goes, “No, look at the next picture.” And the next picture was it lit up. And this piece of stone had like mold spears in it. And you could reach into it. It was just like you could walk into this thing. And I went, “Oh my god.” And you would never have seen that if you didn’t light it up. So, my next article is about when you go to buy your stone, spend a little more time looking for that one slab that you might have a beautiful piece of art.
Patrick: Very true. So that gives me two more ideas for fabricators on how this can help their business. One, you might have some ugly stone that if you put your cell phone behind it and see if it lights up cool, that you might be able to…
Richard: Most definitely. They had this one piece that was a remnant that was just ugly. And they lit it up and it looked like an explosion. And I went, “Where’d you get…we were going to throw that away.” And I went, “Damn.”
Patrick: That’s very interesting. And the other part of that is, in your showroom, again, this has such a wow factor, even for customers who, my wife has the expression, you can’t spell this it’s [inaudible 00:17:32] it’s that sound that…
Richard: Don’t you love women? That’s great.
Patrick: She says it better than I do, but it’s that kind of guitar sound that you hear on old ’70s exploitation shows and things like that. Done poorly, that’s what this can lead to. But, you don’t mind that when people walk into your show room, you want them to say, “Wow!” So, even for customers who don’t want this kind of product, in your showroom, you’ve got to wow people, and it seems like this would certainly provide the opportunity to wow people in a showroom as well.
Richard: This is a very easy…where all you do, is you take these panels and you glue them to the wall. And you just move a four by four or slab in front of it, and there it is. And you can change it our really easy. And we do have a showroom program, where if they buy the SLABlite, they buy it at full price, they install it. And every order after that, we deduct 10% until that showroom is paid for.
Patrick: Very nice. That’s good to know.
Richard: Well it’s a win-win situation. They get it for free and they’re promoting the product and it works. You’re absolutely correct.
Patrick: That’s cool. Again, that SLABlite S-L-A-B-L-I-T-E if you’re Googling that, and go to TylerCo Inc. T-Y-L-E-R-C-O-I-N-C dot com to find the stuff.
Patrick: Well cool. Before we wrap, you’ve got me intrigued about your artistic side. What are you working on artistically these days, separate from lighting up stone, what is tickling your artistic imagination?
Richard: Cameo glass.
Patrick: What’s that?
Richard: What’s that? Cameo glass was…okay, how do I explain cameo glass? Do you remember your grandmother’s pin?
Patrick: Yeah, those profile white rings, that kind of stuff?
Richard: Yeah, well that’s carved out of a shell, basically. And cameo glass, like the British Art Museum has pieces going back to the Greeks. And what it is, is that you have to make everything. You can’t just go out and buy a blank, so you have to melt your glass and you have to make your blank. And you would say, to start off with, you’re going to say your base would be white. Or, let’s say your base is blue. And then you’re going to cover that with a white glass. And then I’m going to carve the white glass to the blue glass. And get my relief and my picture. And they kind of quit doing this back in the ’20s. I got inducted into the [inaudible 00:20:19] Glass Museum in I think ’89?
Patrick: Okay, that’s cool.
Richard: Yeah, like hello? And I went back and I was walking through the museum and they had like a square inch of this cameo glass, and I went, “What is that?” And so, I started researching it, and to make this stuff, they would take a diamond on the end of a stick and start scratching the glass off. So you can imagine how much labor is involved in this. And so today, what artists do, they use an acid, or they use sandblasting to do this. But with acid and sandblasting, you don’t get the sharpness and the crispness of a carving. So I’m developing a process that I can carve it with a diamond.
Patrick: Oh, that’s very cool.
Patrick: What fun.
Richard: Then we have another light that we’re working on as well.
Patrick: What’s that?
Richard: So, this light is a four foot fluorescent replacement. And it uses the existing fixture in a commercial building. And it’s just a bulb replacement, because we’ve entered a lot of green competitions, and to be green, I came up with this because everybody says they’re green, I said, “You’re not green, you have an ROI past seven years, you’ll never be implemented in the marketplace.” “But I’m green!” “Great! Nobody else will ever use it. Good luck.”
Richard: So to be green, there’s four things you have to hit. You have to save energy, you have to have an ROI of under two years. You can’t add to the labor envelope. And you have to use the existing infrastructure. Because if you don’t use the existing infrastructure, where does that infrastructure go, it goes into the landfill. So how green are you? So this light is a simple bulb replacement. We use the existing infrastructure, we have an ROI under two years, there’s not labor involved, you’re just changing out a light and it saves 76% of the lighting in the building.
Patrick: Interesting. So I have…those are the standard four foot fluorescent lights, right?
Patrick: So I have those in my kitchen and I have these interesting, I think they’re kind of interesting, these lenses that kind of hang over some wood lattice work. It’s a little bit dated, it was built in like 1965, but it works okay.
Richard: We all have it, yep.
Patrick: And the only thing that annoys me about it, and I want to be green, that’s good too, but what would really make me pay for it is the annoying hum. Does this…
Richard: Oh yeah, there’s no hum.
Patrick: It completely takes care of the hum?
Richard: Hum’s gone.
Patrick: Wow. So that to me, that’s the big upsell for me.
Richard: It’s driving you crazy, is it?
Patrick: I’ve always hated the damn fluorescent hum.
Richard: Yeah. Well if you take out the fluorescent bulb, the hum’s gone.
Patrick: Well, sign me up.
Richard: Plus, you’re going to love this. I can send you our lamps, you can change them out, and I can turn them off and on from my office here.
Patrick: Ooh, scary.
Richard: Well, welcome to the real world.
Patrick: Yeah, don’t know about that, but definitely send me info on that, I’ll be a beta tester, see if it works in my kitchen.
Patrick: Cool. Hey, Richard, thank you so much for talking with us. Again, obviously you do something that’s beautiful and definitely interesting and useful to homeowners, but particularly our listeners who are countertop fabricators definitely need to know about it, so I appreciate you sharing your time and your info.
Richard: Thank you, thank you for getting the word out.
Patrick: You bet! Hope you continue innovating and creating cool, beautiful stuff.
Richard: There we go.
Patrick: All right. Thanks, Richard. Have a good one.
Richard: Have a great…thank you.
Patrick: Thanks for listening to StoneTalk, the podcast for countertop fabricators. If you liked this episode, be sure to visit StoneTalk.org, or subscribe to StoneTalk in iTunes for more. Visit the StoneTalk Show Facebook page to join in the conversation, and follow @Stonetalkshow on Twitter. StoneTalk is brought to you by Moraware, makers of JobTracker scheduling software and CounterGo estimating software for countertop fabricators. I’m your host, Patrick Foley, and I look forward to spending time with you again on the next episode of StoneTalk.