In 37 years as countertop fabricators, Jim and Georgann Garver have learned the value of keeping their fingers on the pulse of the business. Equally important, when they recognize changes are needed, being able to act swiftly.
“For example, in the 90s we had a facility in San Diego County. We saw our work was going away because the builder market was shutting down. Within about a six week period we closed the shop, moved all the supplies and equipment and brought our key people back to our main facility. We decided to move on rather than hold onto a hope that something was going to come back soon.”
Changing With The Times
An engineer by training, Jim worked for a couple of large firms in that field before deciding the corporate world wasn’t his cup of tea. In 1976 he began fabricating Corian in Santa Barbara. Over the years the business has expanded into natural and engineered stone.
The company also manufactures solid surface toilet partitions for commercial projects under the Shower Shapes name, and ships product all over the country. Now located in Ventura, California, GW Surfaces employs about 55 people operating out of two facilities totaling 66,000 sq. ft.
“Six years ago we were heavily into production builder work but, due to the current economy, we are not actively pursuing that market,” explains Jim. “We are doing more commercial work now and still do residential, as well as custom work.”
Communication Is The Key
The company places a lot of emphasis on providing exceptional customer service, which Jim says includes two very important elements:
Delivering quality, and keeping promises.
“One of the things we live by is we never promise a customer something just because we know that is what he wants to hear,” Jim says.
“The customer may want his countertops on Tuesday, for example, but we know we can’t deliver until Thursday. We tell them upfront that we can’t make their deadline. That gives our customer the opportunity to make a decision based on fact. Communication is really the key to the business.”
When you’ve been in business as long as the Garvers you learn many important lessons, some of them the hard way. Jim and Georgann are very good at analyzing the business, forecasting problems/opportunities and fine-tuning production. They grew the business into a profitable operation.
Unfortunately, they didn’t put into place a system of checks and balances on the financial side of the business. In 2009 – at the beginning of the recession, no less – they learned their accounting manager had embezzled nearly $600,000 from the business by manipulating payroll over a four year period.
“She was running separate payrolls for herself,” Georgann explains. “She handled the bank statements and our financial reports that she was also manipulating. We only found out when we discovered our large line of credit at the bank was completely maxed out.”
What could have been a devastating blow to the business was mitigated by the relationships the Garvers had cultivated with their bank and their suppliers over the years. “They were understanding and helped where they could,” Jim says. “We made commitments to them, which we upheld. Our bank was extremely helpful in resolving the problem.”
Georgann cautions small business owners that it is imperative to be personally involved in the financial side of the business, especially the mundane day-to-day activities. “Go over the bank statements, look at the payroll journals and regularly open the mail,” she says.
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