It’s not often you get the chance to meet someone from the Old South anymore. Jeremy Werthan, of Werthan LLC just happens to be one of those people. His family roots go back to 1868, when Meier Werthan began selling rags from a vendor cart in Nashville.
That evolved into manufacturing burlap bags in what was once the Marathon Motors building. Over the years the Werthans expanded their sphere of influence to include making paper and plastic bags, distributing auto parts and opening a check printing company.
“We were involved in a lot of different businesses,” Jeremy Werthan says rather dismissively, “some of which were more profitable than others.”
Jeremy was an investment banker and helped run a hedge fund around the turn of the 21st century. But the world of high finance wasn’t very satisfying for him. “I was really disenchanted with coming home and not having much to show for what I had done that day,” he remembers. “There were a lot of deals, but very little substance.”
The School Of Hard Knocks
So he decided to buy a business. “At the time, everything was very overvalued – there was just no buying a company at the right price,” he says.
Long story short, Werthan’s interest in granite was piqued when he tried to get quotes for replacing his kitchen countertops. Turns out, there were only two companies in town that offered granite countertops and they were expensive. “I thought the pricing was outrageous,” he says. “I thought maybe there is some margin there. It got me thinking.”
So, he bought a container of blanks from China. Then, while waiting for the blanks to arrive he bought a shop full of equipment while attending Coverings 2002 in Orlando. The next order of business was to find a shop to put it in, which he did.
“I never got the container of blanks,” he recalls. “The guy took my money and it never showed up. That was a lesson learned. I haven’t had any dealings with China since.”
Finding Customers – And Employees
But Werthan had acquired a shop and there was all this equipment on its way, so he felt it was time to get to know the folks who would be supplying him with granite. “I hung out at those places,” he says. “I got to know the managers, got to know the people and got to know the customers who were walking in.”
And he began chatting up those customers. “I would walk around with them and say, ‘Do you have a fabricator? We do it. Let’s go talk.’ I was poaching customers.”
Through networking Werthan found experienced fabricators and hired them. Fortunately, he hired well. In the summer of 2002, Werthan LLC had five employees. Today it has 35.
“We have automated a lot,” he says. “In 2006 I bought a robot saw/water jet and I bought a couple of line polishers. We extended the shop by two-thirds – from 10,000 to 30,000 sq ft.”
Werthan LLC mostly fabricates custom granite for high-end retail residential customers, but also does some work for tract builders and last year began going after commercial work. The commercial connection prompted the company to add solid surface to the product offering.
“Solid surface is beautiful,” Werthan says. “It’s a whole new division, a whole new area of the shop, a whole different schedule, and it’s a whole different set of people, equipment, everything. The production solid surface gets us into the commercial market and acts as a feeder for the quartz. Let’s say most of what the project uses is solid surface, but they have needs for stone or quartz, then we get the bleed off from that. Our goal is to get to about 40% more commercial. Everything else will be high-end residential custom.”
Want to know more? At Moraware, we make software for countertop fabricators. CounterGo is countertop drawing, layout, 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.