Solid Surfaces, Inc. – fabricator profile

Jul 16, 2013 | Customer Profile

You’ve heard it before but it bears repeating: As a countertop fabricator it really pays to have a clear understanding of who you are and what market niche you serve.

Take Solid Surfaces, Inc. in Rochester, NY for example. If not the largest fabricator in Upstate New York, it certainly qualifies as one of the top five in volume. SSI identifies its target market as primarily kitchen and bath dealers, and it has a well-defined code of ethics relative to that business which is non-negotiable.

Routing solid surfaceWe cater to the dealers,” says Mitch Makowski, owner of Solid Surfaces, Inc.

Even though the trend across the country has been to chase after retail, we are all about the dealers. We make it perfectly clear that we are not interested in retail. The net effect is the dealers in our market have come to trust us and nobody else, because they know we will not compete against them.

Makowski is a firm believer in establishing systems for all activities of the company, which helps streamline operations and adds an air of predictability to the business. “In our shop we have a system for doing kitchen tops,” he explains.

It doesn’t matter what color or what dimension, the steps are always the same. If you start a job on Monday morning by Tuesday afternoon you know that job will be done. We can schedule kitchens two months out, 20 kitchens a day, with absolute predictability. We’ve been doing that for years.

Custom Vanity Tops

Speaking of systems, consider how SSI automated the ordering process for custom vanity tops, an activity that previously returned very low margins due to all the obstacles to gathering information.

Solid Surfaces reception deskWe would get an order for a vanity top and it wouldn’t have a bowl center, or it wouldn’t have the faucet drawings,” Makowski recalls. “There were always all these questions and we would have to keep calling the dealers back. Sometimes we would make a mistake by assuming something and when it was wrong we had to make a whole new one.

To address the problem Makowski worked with a software developer to create an online program, known as CVT (Custom Vanity Tops), that took all of the guesswork out of the ordering process.

It’s for the kitchen and bath dealers,” he explains. “They go to the website and log in. Once they are in it is a blank screen with just one question. They have to answer that question before they can go on to the next thing. If information is missing they can’t go any further until it is supplied. The whole thing is basically built so that it is idiot proof. You can’t make a mistake with it.

SSI implemented the CVT portal 15 years ago and it is still in use with very few changes to the format. “It was ahead of its time then and, as far as I’m concerned, it still is,” Makowski says. “I haven’t seen anything like it that can do everything this program can.

Give It To The Corian Guy

Makowski started SSI 30 years ago after getting laid off from his job as a janitor for Kodak. It was difficult to find a job at the time because Kodak was THE major employer in Rochester and it had fallen on hard times. Makowski was just one of 10,000 employees who lost their jobs in one day – and he had already survived several rounds of force reductions.

Solid Surfaces bathI was collecting unemployment and working on the side carrying lumber for a framing company,” he says. “The framer was a sub-contractor for a kitchen and bath dealer. I was just a helper, I didn’t know anything. Corian was brand new and they had this vanity top that needed to be cut down. None of their carpenters or craftsmen knew how to cut it. They saw me as I was running an errand and asked if I could cut the vanity. I said, ‘Sure!’”

Makowski went out to his truck and found a circular saw that, coincidentally, had a 40 tooth triple chip blade installed. He didn’t know anything about saw blades or that this was exactly the blade he needed. “I grabbed my saw and cut the piece like it was nothing,” he says. “Two or three weeks later they had another one they needed cut down and the same thing happened. Well, that was it. I was now the Corian expert. Eventually all the kitchen and bath dealers started selling Corian and they had heard about me, so they started calling me.

And the rest – as they say – is history.

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