StoneTalk Episode 6 – Nate Charles

Aug 25, 2014 | Business

In our 6th episode, Patrick chats with Nate Charles, head of sales for K&D Countertops in Maine.


Listen to this episode to learn:

  • How social media affects the sales process
  • The importance (and difficulty) of keeping in touch with your customers
  • Current countertop trends – and the influence of television
  • The importance of drawing your client’s kitchen to determine an accurate price

Be sure to subscribe to the podcast in iTunes (and please give the show a review!) or via RSS … and please let us know what you think! You can leave comments for this show at, on the StoneTalk Facebook page, via Twitter, or on this site. And of course, you can always email, too. If you have stories or insights that you’d like to share with other fabricators, please reach out to Patrick.


Patrick: Today, I’m chatting with Nate, head of sales for K&D Countertops in New England. Let’s give him a call. Hey Nate, Patrick, how are you doing?

Nate: Good, yourself?

Patrick: Good. Thanks for spending a little time with me. Sounds like you’re pretty busy this morning.

Nate: Oh yeah.

Patrick: Making sales, huh?

Nate: Oh yes.

Patrick: Good, good, good. Tell me about K&D Countertops. As if I were a customer, what makes K&D Countertops special?

Nate: We have the largest on site slab inventory in the state of Maine. K&D has been in business for close to 30 years in countertops. We have a lot of expertise in dealing with granite, soapstone, marble, really anything to do with kitchen countertop needs.

Our prices are really competitive. The other thing that sets us apart is that you can come in, take your sink, faucet, stone, it’s really one stop shopping for your countertops.

Patrick: Now imagine I’m a fabricator. Let’s say we met at a trade show and I don’t compete with you, I’m in another market, say I’m from Texas. Now tell me about K&D Countertops fabricator to fabricator in that situation. How would you describe K&D to another fabricator?

Nate: I think because I’m in sales, I know some of the fabrication aspect of it. I know we- a lot of fabrication shops opt for the- whatever is trending as far as new technology on CNC, some of the machinery, whereas we rely on the older proven type of equipment.

We get a lot of questions from customers who come in and say, “You’re not using a water jet for cutting.” No, we still use it, just the wetsaw and the laser, same thing as our templating. We still do it the old fashion way, tape measure and gluing. We want to get, where a lot of the new companies are opting to use just the laser.

So I think that adds a little bit to our uniqueness from a fabrication standpoint. I think it makes it a little bit more personalized and intimate in that way. We’re still doing a lot of the things the older way and stick to that. Instead of, like I said a lot of the shops are going with what’s trending and what’s hot. Just basically for a showpiece, hey, we have this $80,000 machine but the quality of work isn’t better.

Patrick: I’m a little surprised that customers even ask about that. How do customers know anything about a water jet?

Nate: I think because when they go to other fabricators that’s like I said, it’s a sales think. Oh, our cutting- we’ll cut your countertops precisely. We use the latest technology. We’re using a water jet and then they get that in their head and then they come here and they are like, wait, where is your water jet. It’s like, you don’t need it. You can do it this way still. Oh, really? I think they hear from other fabricators.

A lot of questions from customers that they see things on television. That is an often thing. That sometimes works for our benefit or sometimes it doesn’t because they see these custom things on HGTV and sometimes we don’t have the tooling to do it. Or it’s something that is such a high cost to fabricate that we don’t even want to get involved with that.

I think that is more so of information for the consumers is television than other fabricators, going to other fabricators. They see things on TV. People get it all the time, they say, oh, well I looked at this online and then I watched this video and it’s overwhelming how much information is out there and then how much the information differs from what actually is an industry standard.

Patrick: That is. It’s a little bit interesting to me. I wonder, do you fight back against that in your brand messaging using things like hand crafted and words like organic. Do you- when you talk to people, do you try to emphasize the positive of a different approach? Everything is a tradeoff.

Nate: It is. We sort of emphasize that machines make mistakes too and that they can’t account for human ingenuity.

Patrick: That’s fun. How big is K&D? Either how many employees you have or how many tops do you do?

Nate: We are rather small as far as employee wise. We have about 60 employees including sales, fabricators installers but we are one of the highest volume fabricators in the state, putting anywhere from 4 to 6 kitchens out a day. Our lead time is also very good. Where worst case scenario people are waiting three weeks from the time of order. Where if you’re going to other places, it’s sometimes waiting 4 to 8 weeks. We pride ourselves on putting out a quality product at a reasonable lead time.

Patrick: How do you think you have achieved that efficiency? Because again, can’t blame it on laser cutting. It’s just experience? Just that you have gotten good at it.

Nate: I think it is the experience. I think the owners, the owners, like I said been in business for 30 years. The general managers been doing this for 14 years. I think a lot of that was trial and error. Now they have finally fine-tuned it, a system where we are able to do that.

Patrick: Let’s talk about sales, since you are the sales guy. Do you have other sales people working for you or you kind of a solo act?

Nate: Sort of a solo act. We have one person in training right now. I’m the senior sales person, been here three years, which isn’t long- seem long but it’s long in this companies aspect for sales people.

Patrick: Is your sales organization particularly goal driven? Do you set out to reach a certain numbers of sales each week, each month, each day or how do you approach sales?

Nate: Each month, there is a goal that I am trying to hit. I really don’t look at it until the end of the month. Whereas most of the time I am the only sales person in the office. Yeah, there is certainly a monthly goal I am trying to make for the company.

Patrick: Where do you get your leads from to be able to do something about that goal. How do you go out to shake the trees to get more sales?

Nate: That’s been a little bit of a difficulty there. Sometimes being inside and trying to reach people on the outside, we did have some advertising but I would say 90% of the business is just word of mouth.

Patrick: Really?

Nate: Yes. We have done somebody’s kitchen and they said, you know, I was told you did so-and-sos kitchen, they said to come in that you guys are the best and to ask for you. It’s nice. It gets overwhelming sometimes because there is just a lot of people coming in and asking for me.

Patrick: That’s cool. What are you focused on today? If in the sense of, what do you want to get better at? Either yourself in the sales process, or K&D as a company? What do you think you need to improve?

Nate: I think in one of the, with a lot of companies, I think it’s communication between all of the employees here from the sales to the end result, the install. I think that is probably a lot of company’s things like communication, especially when we are putting out such a high volume of kitchens. I think that is somewhere where we can improve. Other than that we pretty much take care of everything else.

Patrick: Okay. Let’s talk communication for a little bit. Do you- the nature of communication in general has changed over the last decade and it keeps changing. It used to be phone call was the only way. Then there was email and now there is texting and social media. Has K&D changed the way you communicate with customers or do you feel that is kind of a friction point, you wish there was software to help or something like that. Or how does it work currently and how do you wish it would work or more importantly how do you customers wish it would work?

Nate: Our customers are- most of them are using all the social media, texting, email, there are a handful who still prefer for someone to pick up the phone and call. The majority in- I feel comfortable giving my customers, especially my wholesale contractors and designers, my cell phone number. It makes things a lot easier when I am outside in the yard or in the shop and they can text me some information. I can text them a price and then it’s just- It’s a big help and a time saver.

Patrick: Yeah. One area that I noticed there isn’t a solution that I know of, for at least, targeted to fabricators specifically, is for example the ability to automatically text someone the day of or the day before a template of a measure and say, hey we have you on our calendar for tomorrow. Is that okay? Are you going to be there? Answer yes or no. That sort of thing. Do you use any automated or?

Nate: No. That would be great. That’s- I’m glad you brought that up because that is where we had talked about the volume and the communication. We set up these appointments with customers anywhere from a week to 12 weeks out and we can put it on our- in the Moraware scheduler and quite often customers will call the day of and be like, and try to confirm and it’s like, oh are you guys still coming today? I think something automated- that reminding them would be great because that happens maybe 5-10 times a week. Somebody will call, oh, I just want to make sure we are still on for today. We are schedule for this but I haven’t been in for 4 weeks and of course I’m onto trying to make the next sale and that so it’s- I would forget to confirm with them, but it’s already on the schedule so the paper work is out there- sort of in the back of my head. Something like that would be amazing. Just automatically, if we had the customer’s information and automatically the day before.

Patrick: There are tools out there but we don’t offer it at Moraware and I don’t think anything is easily integrated into our customers processes. It seems like a direction that I’m surprised more people haven’t asked for that. I hear people talk about communication being important but I think it is hard to articulate what would help.

Nate: Right.

Patrick: Since you mentioned social media, another role that social media can play is to help in sales. Do you include social media in your sales process? Do you try to get people to like your Facebook page? Do you try to post things from your page to your- the people who like you- their friends or anything like that? Do you use social media for any of your sales activities?

Nate: We do. That is actually what the other sales rep will take care of. Any kind of sales we have going on, they will put on Facebook and or if there is some new slabs that come in, she will take a picture of that new slab and then post it on the Facebook page. Check out what just arrived at K&D. Or take pictures of kitchens, look what was just installed by K&D today. Then the color, the location and that type.

I think that as- then certainly people have called in and said, oh, I saw you just got this color and sometimes it happens so quick I haven’t even had the receiving on my desk and people say, you have this color. I’ll be like, we do? They go yeah, I just saw it on Facebook. It’s like, okay, yeah, come and look at it. We’ll move it out for you.

Patrick: That’s very interesting to me. I didn’t realize people were so sensitive to the availability of specific slabs. I didn’t realize customers would respond that way.

Nate: Yeah. Especially- we try to capture the unique ones. The ones that we haven’t sold a million times and it’s coming off the truck, still up in the air on the boom and then snap, take a picture of it and that seemed to help us out a lot.

Patrick: Fascinating. I wouldn’t imagine that coming from the slab as a carrot to get a customer in. I guess that makes sense when I think about it. Interesting. Speaking of materials, what is your most popular material? What do you sell the most of?

Nate: Sell the most of granite. We constantly run specials on three particular colors that fly out of here. Uba Tuba, New Caledonias, Azul Platino. They are really just base colors. They are neutral enough. They can go with any cabinet. I mean, some weeks we are going through 14 slabs of each of those colors in doing peoples kitchens. Granite is still the number 1 seller.

Patrick: I think a lot of parts of the country, quartz at least gives it a run for the money. That’s interesting. I noticed you had a little blog post about soapstone on your website. How do these other materials like that, do you see them being cyclical? Do they- is that just a small portion of the market or do you see things like that trending? Or the new ultra compact materials? How are your customers responding to alternatives?

Nate: Soapstone seems come in and go out. It’s still a really classy, traditional look. We do it a lot in people who are renovating farm houses. One month, it will be on fire, then the next month it goes away. That is always coming and going.

Quartz again, and I think the television, HGTV is driving that. Often people come in asking about quartz because they don’t want any of the maintenance. They don’t want to use special cleaners for granite, they don’t want to feel it. After it’s priced, because it’s usually it’s- usually above the price of granite, they reconsider and also just telling them it’s really not that hard the maintenance of granite. Do it once a year, it takes 5 minutes and you can find the cleaners almost anywhere. I think people are still in the- set in the way of thinking that you have to order the special cleaners online, where now, it’s so common, it’s in Walmart and other just local source you can find granite cleaners.

Patrick: I’ve heard some fabricators say that’s FUD, fear, uncertainty and doubt propagated by other surface vendors to try to knock granite down a little bit. Do you think there is something to that? That granite has been unfairly characterized as high maintenance?

Nate: I think it has because sometimes people just hear that, they are like, no, I don’t want to deal with any of the granite issues. But then when you actually ask them and if they have had it before and if they really know what that entails. They are like, oh, no, I thought it was way more than that.

Like I said, I think a lot of the television is driving that, the quartz. Especially, the light, the bright white. The white on white, sterile looking kitchens. We have sold a couple of larger jobs and that is what it was. Making the edge look really thick. Building it, gluing it together. That is another huge trending thing right now.

Patrick: Right. Mitered edges, do you?

Nate: Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Patrick: Interesting. All right, let’s have a little bit of fun before we wrap up here. Since you are a sales guy and I’m in sales a little bit too and we do role playing. I figured I’m going to put you on the spot and lets role play a little bit.

Nate: Okay.

Patrick: I’m going to be a customer that is going to be vaguely based on my own situation. When in doubt, I’m going to go back to my own countertops. I’m going to call in and ask you about my new countertop. Ring, ring, you answer and say, whatever. Okay, K&D. Hey, I’m interested in some new countertops.

Nate: Okay, that’s great. Do you have any idea color or material?

Patrick: Well, I currently have Formica and I don’t want to spend a ton of money but we are redoing our kitchen. My wife wants something classier than that. I’m really nervous about spending a lot of money on this but what is better than Formica? I really don’t know about this stuff. I’m just trying to get an understanding of what this is going to cost me.

Nate: Okay. We have a few entry level granites that I think you will be pleasantly surprised with the pricing. We have a showroom. We have over 150 colors in stock that you can come look at and we can give you pricing as soon as you come in with your drawing.

Patrick: Okay. Granite. Now- that’s not Formica right?

Nate: It is not Formica. It’s a 100% natural product. Most of it is quarried out of Brazil and India. You have some local colors that are quarried right here in the state of Maine. We can look at those as well and try to fit something that meets your color palate and budget needs.

Patrick: Okay. Just to get me some ballpark stuff- I remember I think I spent like 1,200 bucks on my countertops when we did Formica 10 years ago. Can you give me an estimate of what do I have to budget to even consider this before I- my wife doesn’t know I’m calling. She is asked about this, I’ve said, yeah we can’t afford it. We can’t afford it. I’m just trying to find out, can we afford it? How do I know what it’s going to cost me, if I’m even in the ballpark of being able to afford it before I head out there and get my wife all excited about it.

Nate: Well, to give you  a general idea and again, I would need to see a drawing to give you a more accurate price, but generally a granite kitchen goes anywhere from about 18 to 3,500 depending on how much area you have in your kitchen.

Patrick: Really?

Nate: Yes. I think people are pleasantly surprised with the cost comparison to laminate with our entry level granites.

Patrick: All right. If I go there, what do I need to bring? Do I- you said just a drawing? Just kind of sketch out my kitchen and bring it there?

Nate: Yes. A rough drawing. It doesn’t have to be exact. Also, what would be helpful is if you could get your cabinet color sample or actually a lot of people just bring in their cabinet doors so they can hold it up against the slab. Make sure we are color matching properly.

Patrick: Not a bad idea. Just bring in a whole door. All right. Cool. I can do that. Thanks. All right. I guess we will show up and check it out. Is that a call that you would have? Was that at all accurate with how a customer behaves?

Nate: It is. A lot of people want a price, but they don’t have any idea of how much area they have.

Patrick: Right.

Nate: If- It’s very hard in our business, we always want a drawing because we don’t want to misquote somebody. We give this more times than none, people like, oh, I don’t have a lot of area. They will come in and it’s a huge kitchen. In their mind it’s a small kitchen but then we, whoa, no. You need two or maybe three slabs. That is quite large. That’s why we try not to give a square foot number.

Sometimes you have those people who are just pushy and pick, pick, pick and they are like, no, but I just want to see your square foot price on this. Yeah, it’s very hard sometimes in that aspect. A lot of people understanding because they want an accurate price. They don’t want to be misquoted so they are willing to- we have had drawings on napkins. Shingles. Something.

Patrick: One interesting thing, I’m thinking back to when I asked you that, the first thing you really said was you tried to get me into the showroom. I mean, is that ultimately your goal if someone calls and starts asking price, are you ultimately going to say, well, you have got to get in here and talk to me. Is that your goal when someone calls?

Nate: Yeah. That is, because over the phone you can only look at so many pictures online, it really doesn’t accurately give you an idea of the slab. I think once people get in here- in fact, you can get people in here it’s pretty much a sale. I think it’s just getting them in the door. Yes, we have a very high- if people come in the door, it’s usually a sale. It’s just getting that traffic to come through the door, that’s why it’s- because I think we have the largest slab inventory in the state.

Once people come in, they are like, wow, I don’t need to go anywhere else. I can come here, view the slabs, know that that’s going to be my lab, there is not guess work in trying to pick the rest of my colors with a 4×4 sample. This is my actual slab. Then the slab comes in looking different. I think people like that. That is the goal, to get them in here. Let them see what we have and then I- like I said, it’s pretty much a sale from there.

Patrick: Very cool. Looking at your website, you have Maine and New Hampshire or are those two separate showrooms or-?

Nate: Two separate states. We cover all of Maine and New Hampshire and parts of Mass. We have gone down to Rhode Island to do jobs. If the work is there, we will pretty much go anywhere. Maine is definitely- Maine and New Hampshire.

Patrick: Oh, I see. Those are your markets. You just- one location but you cover that area.

Nate: Exactly.

Patrick: All right. Well, Nate, this was cool. Thanks for spending time chatting and any questions you have for me or things you want to add?

Nate: No, I don’t think so.

Patrick: This was cool. This was fun.

Nate: Yeah, it was.

Patrick: It was a new first doing a role play on the podcast but I think it won’t be the last. I want to put more people on the spot and have them try to sell me a countertop.

Nate: Excellent.

Patrick: All right. You have a great rest of the day and I’ll let you know when the show is live.

Nate: All right. Thank you.

Patrick: Cheers.

Nate: All right. Bye bye.