StoneTalk Episode 12 – Roderick Bley

Dec 2, 2014 | Business

In episode 12, Patrick speaks with Roderick Bley of Fabricator’s Choice – a consulting company that helps fabricators with all aspects of their businesses.


Listen to this episode to learn:

  • The types of services Fabricator’s Choice provides for countertop fabricators
  • How they’ve connected JobTracker and SlabSmith
  • Fabricators Choice’s solution for inventory and how it works
  • How producers can minimize their waste factor

Be sure to subscribe to the podcast in iTunes… and please let us know what you think! You can leave comments for this show on the StoneTalk Facebook page or on this site.

If you have stories or insights that you’d like to share with other fabricators, please reach out to Patrick.


Welcome to StoneTalk, the podcast for countertop fabricators. Brought to you by Moraware, makers of JobTracker scheduling software and CounterGo estimating software for countertop fabricators. I’m your host, Patrick Foley.

Patrick Foley: Today, I’m chatting with Roderick Bley, one of the problem solvers at Fabricator’s Choice. A consulting and systems integration company based in Minnesota. Let’s give him a call.

Roderick Bley: Roderick speaking. Can I help you?

Patrick Foley: Hey Roderick. Patrick. How are you?

Roderick Bley: Good, and yourself?

Patrick Foley: All right. So, let’s dive right in. Tell me what Fabricator’s Choice is, and who are your customers, and what do you do for them?

Roderick Bley: Fabricator’s Choice is a company that consults for the fabrication industry, whether it’s solid surface workflow or stone workflow or laminate workflow. The essence of what we do is turnkey solutions at all levels of customer needs, whether that’s building an entire shop from the foundation up, supplying material handling, CNCs, saws, water treatment system, vacuum systems, and, of course, everything to do with job management, which Moraware is one of the products …

Patrick Foley: Right.

Roderick Bley: That we work with customers on.

Patrick Foley: So, I didn’t realize this. You mentioned build up the whole shop. So, you do, kind of …

Roderick Bley: Correct.

Patrick Foley: A business consulting. Help people decide what’s the best equipment to buy and things like that?

Roderick Bley: Well, they would purchase a building and simply then hire us, consult with us to develop the concepts, the blueprints. We basically become general contractors of the project itself, and then take on the responsibility of equipping it. Not necessarily equipment that Fabricator’s Choice sells directly, but we’ll basically build the shop for them.

Patrick Foley: Well, that’s really cool. That’s why we have these conversations. I knew what you did a little bit in relation to our software, but I didn’t know you had this whole other realm of the business, so that’s really cool.

Roderick Bley: If you take a look at our website,, it’ll give you a sense of the scope of what we do if you just look at the front page, for instance.

Patrick Foley: OK.

Roderick Bley: So, there’s everything from job management systems, Cad to Fab, so we design and build and train CAD departments in companies who are converting from a analog templating workflow to a digital workflow. We sort of, I guess, become experts in converting paper workflows, analog workflows, cardboard workflows, et cetera, to digital workflows. That’s our specialty.

Patrick Foley: Very interesting. That makes sense of something. A mutual customer said to me once that you designed a process for them. You used the word workflow, but deciding how to do specific tasks is a key part of setting up shop, and I didn’t realize that you guys went down to that level. Well, that’s very cool.

Roderick Bley: That gives us, I think, a fairly extensive insight into any or most fabrication workflows. There isn’t really any part of the workflow from whether it’s accounting through to coding and job management, and then scheduling, and then ultimately inventory control right through installation. There isn’t anything that we, ourselves either don’t have first hand knowledge on …

Patrick Foley: Right.

Roderick Bley: Or, assist our customers with implementation of either equipment or ideas, training. So, it’s fairly broad-brush, but we understand the workflows intimately. It doesn’t matter what templating system they’re using. It doesn’t matter what CNC they’re using. It doesn’t matter to me what Cad software, or programming software they’re using. We basically have a good handle on the entire workflow and then have, I think, an edge over most people, that we can advise our clients the best route to follow to implement Moraware, as an example.

Patrick Foley: Well, this is a question I don’t know if you can answer, but this just makes me very curious. At what level are workflows predominately the same across the customers you’ve worked with, and at what level do they start being different from customer to customer? Again, I don’t know if I asked that question well enough, but I’m trying to figure out where’s the commonality and where’s the difference from customer to customer then?

Roderick Bley: The commonality is we all have a product that we have to quote. We all have a job that we have to build, and we have to detail the scope of work that is required. We all have paperwork of some sort, and then we all have scheduling parameters, and we all have inventory to manage. The commonality is it doesn’t matter if you’re making mousetraps or you’re making a counter-top, or you’re producing cabinets, the commonality between all those workflows is pretty much the same. Where they tend to be different is how they communicate with their clients. What type of market that they’re in. What type of business policies they have in place. Of course, a smaller customer would tend to be a little bit more of a family operation, and not tend to require as much paperwork or waivers or things of that nature.

Patrick Foley: Right.

Roderick Bley: But, as they get bigger and they find themselves either in dispute with a customer or they find themselves facing an awkward situation that has cost them a lot in some either remakes, reworks, or re-dos, then they find themselves deciding how can they protect themselves as they get larger because obviously, the larger they are, the larger the mistakes are because they become somewhat disconnected from the small family environment, or the small business that they were and now they get into middle management and potentially multiple shifts, and multiple install crews and that brings with it its own set of challenges. I think the differences are more inline with the size of the operation and how the company is structured.

Patrick Foley: That makes sense because as more people are doing the same general tasks, but doing them in a more specialized way, it’s easier for each person to lose sight of the whole, and you have to acknowledge different checks and balances at each step of a workflow in order to account for the fact that the person doing the work might not be seeing the whole process anymore.

Roderick Bley: Sure.

Patrick Foley: Yeah. Pretty cool.

Roderick Bley: Sure.
Patrick Foley: Well, I know we have several mutual customers, and I know that you’ve built software that kind of works on top of JobTracker, our software. I’ve seen that in action at a couple of customers, but describe just at a high level, what have you built that goes on top of JobTracker? How have you extended it? Who is it for and what is missing from JobTracker that you’re trying to fill a need for?

Roderick Bley: Well not so much what’s missing as in more or less what the system was designed to do, and what customers are expecting in today’s market for the software to be able to do for them.

Patrick Foley: OK.

Roderick Bley: One of the first needs we identified was you needed a better tool for reporting and the reporting functions, many of them can’t and aren’t available directly from JobTracker.

Patrick Foley: Right.

Roderick Bley: With being able to initially being able to, of course, it was spreadsheets, and then there was basically using the Excel export tool, which got us around some of the things. We were able to build some basic pivot tables. And, then we needed a little bit more complexity, and then we started to see the volume of reports that we were generating from Excel and starting to realize that we just didn’t have the resources or manpower that we could muster to manage all of that, and not everybody is comfortable with Excel, or exactly what it is. How they would go about extracting the information. At that point in time, I think we were one of the early adopters of the Moraware API functionality. We do have programmers on staff in our company that we’ve always retained for various products that we sell, our PhotoTop digital templating, and then we also have programmers on staff for our CNCs and shop equipment. We reached out to them and we had a person that eventually became dedicated to our Moraware project, and we started exploring the API tools, and started extracting data from multiple areas of the application, which then gave us a much broader scope and reporting that we could correlate, for instance, the quote information with the job information with the materials allocated and consumed, and so we could then, we a much broader brush with running multiple tables in our database, and the extracted information, we could then reassemble the client’s information into a more comprehensive interface, and our product of choice for that was Zoho Reports.

Patrick Foley: Got it. OK.

Roderick Bley: So within there, each client then has their own unique login.

Patrick Foley: OK

Roderick Bley: That they only get to their reports. Then, we can … from there who could see the accounting reports. Who could see the inventory reports. Who can see the Cost of Goods reports, and from that then each user can identify their favorite ones that they wish to have in a dashboard environment. Whether those reports are emailed to them daily, or they simply log on and just look at their primary dashboard to get a quick glimpse of what they’re doing.

For instance, owner of a company might be interested in the WIP reports, knowing exactly what work in progress is at that template stage. What is in the shop. What is finished in the shop. What is out on install and ultimately, what’s waiting to be invoiced. This gives them some cash flow tools outside of their accounting package, which they typically wouldn’t even touch to the very end of the process.

Patrick Foley: Right.

Roderick Bley: Then, we have our inventory control. We have our month-end inventory information. We also give them the opportunity for a purchaser to have a much cleaner, easier dashboard to read as to what inventory is required at a particular time frame, or a date, or a particular month. As to what inventory they’re going to require, so a bit of forward projection, and then your typical reports you have as to how many square feet that you produced. How many slabs and things of that nature. The reports, again, there’s a standard set, but we do a lot of customization based upon how we customize each database for each customer’s needs.

Patrick Foley: That was my next question. Every customer isn’t exactly the same, but it sounds like there are common set of questions they’re all trying to ask of the data, so you have a good starting point for saying, well, we need at this, and then what else do we need for your situation? Is that about right?

Roderick Bley: Right. Our premise is pretty straight forward. In the years we’ve been building databases, which is now going on 30 plus years …

Patrick Foley: Nice.

Roderick Bley: The data always starts from the backend and it goes to the front. You always have to determine what your reporting needs are before you can build the data. If we take a blank Moraware database, or we take a database that’s maybe been used for a period of time, but not very well implemented, or they’ve had their challenges and can’t get the data, the first thing we do is we take an in-depth study, and document what their output needs are. We’ll talk to their accountant. We’ll talk to the owners. We’ll talk to each of the managers at different levels. We can get a pretty good sense of what they’re looking for, and then if they’re still open-minded, then we’re willing to share with them what we believe to be industry standard reports and information that would help them get to the next level in their business.

Our model has always been, let us assist and manage your systems for you, your database system, and you work on growing the business. We’ll maintain your database because that’s what we’re good at and we do that all the time. We are fairly expert in that arena and we have a good pulse on the industry. At the same time, through the relationship we become industry consultants with them as well as database administrators.

Patrick Foley: In approximately how many customers in the fabrication industry do you have?

Roderick Bley: We have quite a few.

Patrick Foley: OK. Are your customers typically on the larger side then? I mean, it seems like with Moraware, we have some pretty big customers, we have some pretty small customers, but our new customers, the sweet spot tends to be companies who are growing beyond what will work with a whiteboard and paper file folders. A fairly small company, but one that is growing beyond manual processes. Based on what you’ve told me, I’m getting … These kinds of customers don’t generally ask for sophisticated reports out of the gate. They kind of discover them over time. As they continue to grow, they want more and more data, so we have an evolutionary approach to implementation. Sometimes, too evolutionary. I think sometimes people wish we would be a bit more prescriptive in how we did things.

Roderick Bley: Sure.

Patrick Foley: But, if you’re asking people about specific reports and having that conversation, I would get the sense that this is a fairly large customer. Can you give me an idea of the sweet spot of customer for you.

Roderick Bley: No. That’s not the case …

Patrick Foley: Really?

Roderick Bley: Because we touch customers at many different points.

Patrick Foley: OK.

Roderick Bley: We have customers that have been working with us only from the standpoint of owning PhotoTop digital templating. We might have another customer that purchased a vinyl plotter from us that had another templating system. Might have another customer that has a … for CNC that maybe we didn’t originally sell them, but they’re sourcing parts, and some service, and consultation.

Patrick Foley: Interesting.

Roderick Bley: So through these opportunities, we meet quite a broad range of customers who at different points in time, whether they’re of a customer who’s only five people strong that we were working with them with a product, and then they eventually decided that they would like to get away from spreadsheets and go into Moraware.

Patrick Foley: Nice.

Roderick Bley: And, today it’s a five-man company, but we started off on day one with the correct reports, so actually they have a tremendous amount of depth of information. Although they’re a young company, and have only had Moraware for less than a couple of years. We have some small ones. We have, obviously, quite a few of the middles ones. Most of those were customers who were struggling …

Patrick Foley: OK.

Roderick Bley: Trying to figure out how to take Moraware to the next level. That’s kind of been our forte with Moraware, and now we have a very complete understanding of the system. I would hesitate to guess that I don’t think we reach out to Moraware very often for support.

Patrick Foley: No. Whenever you do it’s on oddball corner cases.

Roderick Bley: Correct. It’s areas that either we’re struggling with that we can’t find a solution …

Patrick Foley: Right.

Roderick Bley: Or, we’ve got ourselves in the situation that we need a little bit of database backside help.

Patrick Foley: Right.

Roderick Bley: But, for the most part, with the 30 plus customers that we deal with, we basically self-contain so we have a very good broad and detailed understanding of the product …

Patrick Foley: OK.

Roderick Bley: And then we can match what they’re currently doing and we can realign their usage of Moraware and make it perform as either it was designed or as we believe it can do a better job for them.

Patrick Foley: That’s very cool.

Roderick Bley: Of course, we have customers that are quite large that are maximizing … I always say, if they’re doing all the functions that Moraware delivers plus they do all the add-ons that we add-on, whether it’s the SlabSmith integration or whether it’s the Zoho Reports. Now we have our bar-coding inventory, which we just introduced. We’re doing total bar-coding and reconciliation with Moraware. Then I would say those customers using Moraware to 115 to 120 percent of its capability.

Patrick Foley: Very nice. Again, we don’t have the luxury of spending a lot of time in our customers shops. We’re a software company. We’re a SASS based software company, so we spend time in our offices predominately. We love it when we get out to see customers, but that’s not our main interaction. Most of our interaction is over the phone. You definitely have a different perspective than we do when you’re starting to helping to decide CNCs. Starting from an empty building is a very, very, very different perspective than we have.

Roderick Bley: Sure.

Patrick Foley: That’s very interesting to me.
Well, tell me about that inventory reconciliation tool. You said it’s new? Tell me about it. What does it do?

Roderick Bley: When all your inventory gets bar-coded with all your slabs and inventory and your sinks are labeled, and very quickly you can go and do your inventory counts. So, we get all of our customers into what we call cycle counts. Rather than doing a year-end blast or a monthly blast, we get them into a habit of what I would call a controlled inventory workflow where they map out their entire inventory and then they approach it on a weekly basis. Every three months, they cycle through their entire inventory once.

Patrick Foley: Interesting.

Roderick Bley: With the Bluetooth bar-coding and iPads, we’re very quickly able to gather that information and then update Moraware accordingly with the counts. Then, material handlers each one of them will have a pad and a scanner on their forklift as they’re moving inventory around the shop or relocating inventory from one location to the other without pen and paper; without having to interpret a forklift operator’s handwriting in the middle of winter. We can basically, every four hours after they move the inventory, keep Moraware current and updated so that the whole Moraware workflow will then become a lot more reliable for the sales staff and anybody managing inventory can quickly look up all the information and know exactly where the inventory is located.

Patrick Foley: Well, that sounds need. I didn’t realize you guys had an inventory solution, so again, we don’t sell bar-code readers and things like that. We don’t inherently support them. There’s a little bit more that needs to be done and it’s nice to know that you have another option we can recommend. That’s very good to hear.

Let’s talk about some other integrations and things like that. SlabSmith, another thing we get a lot of customers ask about. What do you do with SlabSmith? How do you make it work better with JobTracker or just tell me anything interesting about that you want to tell?

Roderick Bley: We have built a plug-in that makes the inventory seamless between the two systems.

Patrick Foley: OK.

Roderick Bley: There’s no separate database of inventory in the SlabSmith database. It’s unified with the Moraware. Moraware becomes the lead database because of the purchasing and the remnant control. The SlabSmith database is enslaved to and automatically synchronized with the Moraware database.

Patrick Foley: Interesting. But then the calibrated picture are still taken inside of Slabsmith, correct?

Roderick Bley: Correct, but you can view them directly from within the Moraware interface.

Patrick Foley: Very nice.

Roderick Bley: There’s a link from the Moraware serial number where you can view online the images taken in SlabSmith.

Patrick Foley: Very nice. Again, that’s great to hear. That’s something that a lot of our customers are asking for, so again, when they do, anyone listening. If you’re trying to make SlabSmith and JobTracker work better together, give Fabricator’s Choice a call. That’s just great to hear. For my own technical curiosity, are you running some sort of synchronization program? I assume you have to be running it locally, right? You’re running it close to the SlabSmith implementation?

Roderick Bley: It’s on the SlabSmith computer, correct.

Patrick Foley: OK. Yeah. That’s what I figured. Pretty cool. Well, some other things. Again, going from a couple of the emails you sent me about all the different kinds of things you do, exciting to hear about. You mentioned Cost of Goods Sold. Occasionally, we get customers who ask, “How do I do job costing with JobTracker?” We say, well, we don’t really support that out of the box. You might be able to graph something on, but that’s not something we do. Is that something you guys have an add-on for?

Roderick Bley: It’s not an add-on, it’s part of the reporting module in conjunction with fairly accurate precise inventory control. The two work hand in hand. If you have your inventory management, you’re doing your purchasing using the Moraware purchasing module, and then you allocate the materials to the job, then through our API extraction functionality and our database assembly we can then generate Cost of Goods reports.

Patrick Foley: Very cool. Again, for my sake, it hasn’t been a focus, although we have customers asking for it, explain to me why I should care about that? Why would a customer care about job costing and Cost of Goods sold?

Roderick Bley: Margins aren’t what they used to be. I think more and more people are very keen on knowing, on average, what the material costs are on a given job. We also have an ability then to take that a step further where we can compare materials consumed on the job against what we projected the job would consume, and then we subtract our industry standard waste factor and the difference then would be either excess use of material or in this case it could be a remake or a rework of some sort that is causing that extra material consumption. Again, just mostly red flags. The system … The report tools will generate for you the opportunity to see where there’s spikes and allow you to delve into it and look a little deeper to see what’s going on.

Patrick Foley: That makes sense. I didn’t realize there was an industry standard waste factor.

Is that commonly known and I just don’t know it? What is it?

Roderick Bley: Depends on the materials. Depends on the type of equipment. Typically, each shop has in their mind what that waste factor is and everybody strives to be below that value or exceed that value and some companies have compensation programs for their employees if they fall within or below those numbers, so again there’s through Fabricator’s network and through these organizations. One can look and see what the industry standards are and look at their own operations and decide if they’re at the same or below, or exceed that or whatever the case is.

Patrick Foley: In your observations is that something … Again, I would have a little bit of an assumption that bigger companies would tend to do better with advantages of scale. Is that your observation or is that not true? Can a company of any size exceed that?

Roderick Bley: Not necessarily.

Patrick Foley: Very cool.

Roderick Bley: Not necessarily. It has more to do with the perspective of where the management or ownership … What their background is. How they view their business, and how they manage their business.

Patrick Foley: Do you see a correlation? You mentioned compensation plans presumably rewarding a lower waste factor. Does that typically work or are there other approaches other than incentivizing …

Roderick Bley: It only works if you can report on it in a black and white situation. If there’s any gray area, of course, then it’s difficult to manage that, but we have some users who have felt that the confidence factor of the reporting is solid enough that they can do that.

Patrick Foley: Yeah. Interesting. Then, you mentioned repairs as well. Obviously, repairs and mistakes are important to avoid. The more repairs you have the less profit you’re making as you said. Margins go down. What do you do … Tell me about your reporting process around mistakes and repairs. Where do you get that from; just a specific activity? Or, like repair activity existing …

Roderick Bley: We have a workflow that manages that through a method on the job to record that information. We extract that. Compare that against the original quoted value versus the original quoted square footage, and then we make those comparisons, and we’re able to identify and affix a monetary value to those remakes, reworks, repairs, service calls, et cetera.

Patrick Foley: No, that makes sense. This was just super interesting to me. I hope other people found it interesting as well, and I hope you get some calls from this. Just one more, kind of, chin-stroking exercise here. Based on your perspective in the industry, how have you seen, at a very high level, how have you seen things change over the last five or 10 years, and how do you think things are going to be changing over the next five to 10 years?

Roderick Bley: Predominately, the change has been to an analog, paper workflow to a digital workflow. and more and more emphasis on what happens in the field, digitally, whether it’s installers or templaters.

Patrick Foley: OK.

Roderick Bley: Getting away from paperwork. Having a little bit more continuity between a field system and the office environment. Still a … You’re producing a product from a raw material of some sort, so we’re just seeing more automation in the shops. Seeing more digital communications. Everybody’s interested in tracking more costs related to producing the job, so whether it’s a method to scan inventory or it’s a method to scan a human behavior, these are all the things that are trending now than before.

Patrick Foley: I’ve seen some people predict that there’s going to be a fair amount of consolidation. Do you agree with that prediction or do you think that’s not necessarily the case, that they’re still going to be a lot of room for niche providers.

Roderick Bley: I think we’ve seen a lot already in the last five, six years. I think we’ve seen a lot of that. The marketplace, individual players, what the box stores are doing, what the suppliers with the box stores are doing, and all these play into the survival of the fittest.

Patrick Foley: That makes sense. Well, on that note, we are trying to promote survival of the fittest in this industry as well on the software side, and I’ve been using the word ecosystem, that it’s not one solution provider who has all the answers that there’s a group of companies in the solution space for fabricators and Fabricator’s Choice is obviously one of them. So, we want to make sure people know who you are, and reach out to you and ask questions, and see if there’s a fit there.

Roderick Bley: Perfect. Thanks for the opportunity.

Patrick Foley: Thank you. This was really fun. Thanks, Robert.

Roderick Bley: All right. Perfect. Thanks.

Patrick Foley: Talk to you soon. Bye.

Thanks for listening to StoneTalk, the podcast for countertop fabricators. If you liked this episode, be sure to visit or subscribe to StoneTalk on iTunes for more. Visit the StoneTalk show Facebook to join in the conversation and follow @stonetalkshow on twitter.
StoneTalk is brought to you by Moraware, makers of JobTracker scheduling software and CounterGo estimating software for countertop fabricators.
I’m your host Patrick Foley and I look forward to spending time with you again on the next episode of StoneTalk.