Try to think of the least likely path to co-ownership of a stone fabrication business and, chances are, Tracey Beck can top it.
Originally trained as a Mobile Services Rep specializing in routing 800 numbers for large companies, Beck quit her job several years ago to be a stay-at-home mom. “That was the intention,” she says. “But I started going crazy.”
Then the family business, KB Laminates, was purchased by Baer Supply. “Everyone in the family derived their income from KB Laminates,” she explains. “We were all wondering what we were going to do. Fortunately, my husband, Brian, signed a five-year contract with Baer, which meant we had a few years to plan our future. So, we decided to open the first medical spa in Rhode Island.”
It turns out the Becks had encountered the concept of the medical spa while visiting the West Coast, and they thought it a great idea for their neck of the woods. So, it seems, did others – once the business was up and running, that is. At about the five year mark a local physician purchased the company.
Into The Fire
“On the day I sold the spa my husband called and said, ‘Don’t panic. I’m at an auction,’” Tracey recalls. “He called later and said, ‘Panic. I just bought a stone company.’”
By this time Brian’s contract with Baer had been renewed, which meant the responsibility for running the day-to-day operations of the new company (which was in receivership when they bought it, by the way) fell on Tracey’s shoulders.
“At first I was just going to do Sales and Marketing,” she says, “but since they kept renewing my husband’s contract, there I was – running the business. But the reality is, all businesses are the same. That said, we don’t run this like a typical stone fabrication shop: it is a sales and marketing organization. We pay a lot of attention to the financials. And, above all, Customer Service is our most important activity.”
Which means everyone in the company is trained to think like the customer. Sharing product information is essential. Maintaining quality, and delivering on time, critical. And, if there is a problem, you find a way to fix it. “That’s when you find out how important your attitude for customer service really is,” Tracey explains. “Our customers know when there is a problem we take care of it. When you build a long term relationship there is an understanding. They know we’ll make it right. If it’s their fault, we’ll work it out over several jobs. But, we have to know who we are dealing with. That’s why we choose our customers very carefully.”
About 60% of KB Surface’s business comes from wholesale customers – kitchen & bath dealers, contractors and designers. The other 40% is commercial. They don’t sell any retail. The company has 10 employees and installs the equivalent of around 20 kitchens per week, plus commercial.
Located in the same building is Atlas Fabrication, a solid surface fabrication shop, owned by Ken Beck, Brian’s brother and co-owner of KB Surfaces. Between the two companies, KB Surfaces offers virtually every kind of countertop solution to its customers. As the only certified Cambria fabricator in Rhode Island, the company goes out of its way to partner with suppliers who are family-oriented and who believe in Green practices.
“We really don’t promote ourselves,” Tracey says. “We don’t even have a sign on the building. Most of the business is word-of-mouth. We like to say we are the best kept secret in Rhode Island.”
But, that is about to change. Consistent with their goal to step away from day-to-day running of the business, the Becks are systematically building an infrastructure upon which the company can run itself. That includes hiring outside sales reps, empowering their employees to take ownership of the business, keeping a strong focus on the financials and always looking for good people.
“Just about any skill can be taught, but you can’t teach good work ethic, good follow-up skills and good customer skills,” Tracey says.
So what is it like to be a female is a traditionally male-dominated industry? “Well, my nickname is The Stone Queen,” she responds. “I’m not sure if it is a compliment or not. Other than that, I haven’t noticed it affecting the business at all. If anything, I think people like the idea.”