Things were going pretty good in 2008 for Chris Morrow and his father, Dwight, of Ultimate Granite Surfaces, in Gibsonia, PA.
Sales were way up (the company had doubled revenues the previous year) and Chris and Dwight had made the decision to buy out their silent partners. At the same time, they decided it was time to buy a bigger building for their stone fabrication business, as well as purchase a new CNC and laser templating system, thereby making the jump to digital fabrication.
“We bought the machine, the laser and the building all at the same time in 2008,” says Dwight. “In fact, we had the CNC delivered to the new building. And that’s when the recession hit.”
Stay The Course
Time to panic? Not the Morrows, who seem to have a genetic disposition for ice water in their veins. ”Our sales increased again by 10%,” relates Chris. “We got into retail. We kept all of our builders, although they did less and less. We started to pick up more high-end designers. We added an outside sales person with experience in the field, who had worked for a supplier for a number of years. She called on designers, architects, dealers.”
Gutsy moves, eh? Well, it gets better. “We had the sales person about a year and we decided to increase productivity,” says Chris. “We went out and bought another CNC machine, this time it was the Cadillac of stone CNCs. We bought the Breton Fab Center. It came with digital rendering where we could take photos of the slabs and show the customer exactly how we were going to lay it out. We hired more employees – staff for the front office, fabricators and another installation crew.”
What’s the secret for not only holding on, but actually prospering as a construction-based business during the Great Recession? “Being honest, I guess,” Chris says quietly. “If we say we are going to do something, that is what we do. There are a lot of shops out there that their prices are awesome, but don’t really come through with what they say. We don’t have the quickest turnaround times but we are right where we think we need to be, which is 2-3 weeks.”
Today Ultimate Granite Surfaces caters mostly to high-end custom residential clients. Roughly 15% of its volume comes from commercial customers, although the Morrows would like to see that percentage increase somewhat. “We feel it is a good mix,” says Chris. “When the residential end is slow it seems like the commercial part is busy. The commercial jobs we had really helped us get through the slower times in residential. We want to keep those relationships going and look for more of those in upcoming years.”
And looking forward? “For the future I don’t think we want to become a huge fabrication shop,” explains Chris. “We want more volume, but we want to stay smaller so we can keep doing custom work. We want to keep trying to get better at what we do. Not necessarily get bigger, but better and more efficient – maintain the customers we have now, gain a few more good ones and keep our employees. Stuff like that.”
Want to know more? At Moraware, we make software for countertop fabricators. CounterGo is countertop drawing and estimating software. JobTracker is scheduling software that helps you eliminate the time you waste looking for job folders. RemnantSwap is a free place to buy and sell granite remnants with fabricators near you.