Blog: Stone Fabrication Software and Business Articles

The 5 Most Common Countertop Shop Problems We Hear

When countertop shops come to us, it’s because they’re looking for a reliable solution to a business problem. They may not know what that solution looks like yet or they may know exactly what it is. Either way, that’s relatable for anyone who’s ever worked for a small business. So, we can definitely empathize.

During our countertop software demos and the span of our customer relationships, we have conversations to understand what it is that’s keeping the customer’s shop from being as successful as possible and how to remedy it. Here are the most common pain points we hear on a daily basis.

“Miscommunication is leading to too many costly mistakes”

Ever have a post-it note drop off the customer’s file folder and it resulted in a huge mistake? So many countertop shops have experienced similar situations, whether it’s not knowing the status of a job or missing an important detail that was miscommunicated.

When things fall through the cracks, it’s time to reassess the way you track your jobs. When you do this successfully, you’ll have happy customers and as we always preach – happy customers lead to more countertop sales! You’ll have peace of mind AND more business. That’s what I’d call a win-win!

“We’re losing potential customers to competitors”

You’ve met with a couple looking to redo all their countertops in their house. Would be a nice job! All is great and you let them know you’ll draw up their countertops and get them a quote in a few days. You call and sad news – they’ve gone with a competitor who was able to provide them a professional looking quote…immediately. Their quote is clean, informational, and fast. Did your quote look as good?

Everyone shops around before committing to a big purchase. They trust a professional looking quote more than a hand drawn quote or one they can’t fully understand. Get ahead of your competitors by getting them a professional quote in-person or even, by emailing them along with a thank you message. Our customers do this straight from our estimating program, CounterGo!

“We’re getting more jobs and our current way of scheduling isn’t efficient anymore”

Is it getting more challenging to coordinate your shop schedule to ensure that you’re ready to install? Or maybe you’re wasting time sending your templater across town when the homeowner is out or the cabinets aren’t ready. A lot of growing shops have been in those same situations. Using software like Google Sheets, Outlook, and Excel are great options for sharing your schedule with other people in a small shop, but when business volume increases, you quickly outgrow these methods.

Having a streamlined process is essential to a countertop shop’s success. When a customer comes to us with bottlenecks in their workflow, we help them find a way to schedule and organize their jobs with our scheduling software, Systemize.

“More people are doing quotes and there is no consistency”

Generally, when we hear this it’s because a shop is growing – which is fantastic! A great way of avoiding growing pains is to implement a process that keeps everyone on the same page moving forward. This allows for consistency in pricing, quote appearance, and measurements. Your customers will know that you are organized and trustworthy by receiving a quick quote that is accurate and professional.

Another benefit? CounterGo is super easy to learn – you can start creating quotes immediately! And, it’ll be easy to train all those new salespeople you’ll be hiring…

“Drawing and estimating by hand isn’t fast enough”

Another growing pain, we typically hear this when a shop is trying to keep up with demand. Higher demand means more jobs which means a higher profit – and that should be a great feeling! The downfall to not being able to quote these customers in a timely manner is that you may lose a portion of them. Really, you want to keep increasing your quotes and as a result, increase your jobs. Our customers skip the manual work and can produce a good looking quote in a matter of minutes. This allows them to focus on more customers and grow their shop.

Interested in learning how our software can help your shop’s scheduling or estimating needs? Sign up for a demo!


StoneTalk Episode 44 – Evan Kruger

In StoneTalk Episode 44, Patrick speaks with Evan Kruger of Solid Tops.

Listen to this episode to learn more about:

  • The importance of differentiating your business
  • The difference between big box stores and selling direct to customers
  • The value of focusing your business
  • Why it’s useful to be part of a buying group – and the origin of the Artisan logo

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.

Download mp3 directly

Transcript

Patrick: Welcome to “Stonetalk,” the podcast for countertop fabricators. Brought to you by Moraware, makers of job tracker scheduling software, and CounterGo estimating software for countertop fabricators. I’m your host, Patrick Foley.

Today I’m speaking with Evan Kruger from Solidtops, in Maryland. Let’s give him a call.

Evan: Hello, Evan speaking.

Patrick: Hi Evan. Patrick from Moraware, how are you?

Evan: Oh hey, Patrick.

Patrick: I am going to jump in, and let me start with the basic question. I know you have a variety of businesses related to stone and countertops, how did you get your start in this industry as a whole?

Evan: Well, I started out in wooden boat building, traditional wooden boat building, and…

Patrick: Really?

Evan: …that, yeah, and that led me into interior joinery work, led me into millwork and cabinetry, which led me into well, laminate and Corian countertops. And which eventually, on the third request for a stone top led me into granite and quartz, and you know, hard surfaces, yeah.

Patrick: Wow. And how long have you been fabricating countertops then?

Evan: Well, countertops, since I guess, 1988.

Patrick: Oh, so…

Evan: Yeah, but granite since ’98.

Patrick: Okay. And I’ve seen your name pop up in other places. Do you have family in the industry as well, or is it just you or did you lead other people into this?

Evan: Well, no. I mean, well, my brother-in-law lives there in Grand Rapids and he’s got a shop.

Patrick: Oh, okay. Now I get the connection, I’m in Grand Rapids. We were just talking about that. So okay, yeah okay. Is it Signature Tops? Is that correct?

Evan: Yeah.

Patrick: There you go. Oh, small world. Very nice. Well, let’s dive into the fabrication business itself for a second. What’s unique about solid tops? How do you position yourself to be different from other companies in your market?

Evan: Well, I don’t know if it’s unique, I mean, it’s all kind of old news to me, but some of the things that we do I think that others don’t would be we guarantee a six-day turnaround, from template to install. We have a lifetime guarantee on just about everything, maybe not marble, per se, but you know, granite and quartz and so forth. We do some custom builders and we do some dealers, but mostly we do retail. I mean, by dollar volume we definitely are a majority retail.

Patrick: Interesting.

Evan: Yeah, and we didn’t start off that way, and again, I’m sorry if it’s old news or whatever, but [inaudible 00:03:04] we did Home Depot, we did Lowe’s, we did Ryan Homes, Toll Brothers, all these big builders and so forth and the company grew and grew and grew. But you know, just before the recession in ’06, I remember builders coming to me and saying, “Hey, we’re gonna pay you X amount of dollars for these six colors or whatever.” And luckily, I was, you know, I was in a good financial position and I said, “Really? No, actually you’re not. I’m not doin’ it for that, you know.” And I felt the same way. I ended up dumpin’ Home Depot first, and then Lowe’s after that, and I remember, talking to my wife about it, and it’s a big change or whatever, but I said, “Let’s look at the numbers here. Let’s look at what’s the bottom line dollars that we make on a given Home Depot job, or given Lowe’s job, or a given builder job at the rates they now want to pay us. And what is the bottom line we’d make if we, basically, charged the same retail as Home Depot or Lowe’s for the, well, at least for the crummy colors they sold?”

And I don’t know if it’s the same nowadays, it doesn’t matter to me anymore, but it was three to one. It was three to one. But do you really think that we’re gonna, you know, even if our business went down by two-thirds, we’d still be making the same money? And think about how much less we’d be workin’. How many less fewer people we’d have to manage, how much exposure to those who would readily throw you under the bus if any problem happened. Right?

Patrick: Yeah. It makes perfect sense to me.

Evan: I mean we’ve added some products. You know, when you do do something like that, and you say to yourself, “Well, I am gonna have fewer total numbers of sales.” You know, you look at it and you want to increase the sale, each individual sale, so we started selling tile and that just grew and grew. I mean, it’s become a good part of our business. And we even stocked grout and thinset, you know, items that any tile setter would carry. He would be buying from the same people as us, but that’s just really helped us. So each sale was bigger, and you know, you kinda become a one-stop shop, you know, offering tile in addition to stone and countertops, wall cladding, you know, that kinda thing.

Patrick: I heard from one fabricator a while back that said the company that owns the relationship with the customer is ultimately the one that’s gonna make the most money. And so before, Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc., they had the relationship with the customer, you were serving them. And by, you know, developing a relationship with your customer directly, clearly, you’re in a better position, all those positives that you mentioned.

Evan: Yeah, absolutely. Countertops are a really personal kinda thing, and, I don’t know, most of our clients when you’re in a retail situation are women, and most of ’em, they know exactly what they want. And you know, I’m a guy, I don’t get it all the time, but, you know, if there’s a specific thing that would be right and then something else that would be wrong. And if they explain that to a non-commissioned person at Home Depot or Lowe’s, and if somehow that little thing doesn’t get transferred, that knowledge, you know, that request, whatever it may be, to me, to my staff, or whatever, then we make a mistake. Okay? And then you know what happens. And so, you’re right, if you own that relationship with the customer.

Same thing is true with, you know, maybe a lesser quality kitchen and bath deal. The good dealers get it and they’re professionals and everything, but still, you know, it’s like the game of telephone. If you’re not speaking directly with the, you know, specifier who is the homeowner in the case of retail, then you’re gonna miss a detail. And you’re gonna have somebody upset. And it’s costly.

Patrick: Absolutely. So what led you to the six-day turnaround? I assume you didn’t do that randomly. Was that something that your customers asked for or…

Evan: Well, I mean, yeah, customers wanted a faster turnaround, but the six-day came…we decided on doing that because well, we could do it in three days, but we didn’t want to do it in…we wanted a buffer. You know, we wanted a little extra room or whatever in case things do go wrong. And, you know, back in the day Dupont sponsored a lot of us Dupont, you know, Corian fabricators to go through that “Synchronous Flow.” Actually, not just Corian, but Zodiac was in play at the time too. Was to go through the manufacturing process called “Synchronous Flow,” you know, based on the theory of constraints. And, you know, I went through it and we ended up, actually, the guy who led the effort at our place ended up being an employee for about a year or so.

Patrick: Very cool.

Evan: And so we really, you know, there was a lot of parts to that manufacturing process that helped us. It gave us structure, and so forth. We don’t follow all the credos anymore, you know, but nonetheless, there are certain things that you learn that you can totally do. And if you follow the rules, you know, it’s not that hard to get that delivery time down.

Patrick: Interesting. My…

Evan: And I know so many other people tell me, “Oh, three weeks out, four weeks out, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh…” And I’m just like thinking, “Well, I think it’s been 12, 13 years maybe even 14 years now.” And I probably, you know, whatever, that we’ve held to that rule, you know?

Patrick: Interesting. And again, if it makes your customers happier, then that’s another competitive advantage. It’s interesting that you say you don’t follow every little credo of Synchronous Flow. Now, I was reminded of a baseball coach of my son who always had the expression, “Branches and leaves, branches and leaves.” And when someone would ask a question, he’d say “Yeah, that’s relevant but it’s a leaf. Focus on the branches.” And, I think, getting your six-day turnaround was definitely a branches issue. Maybe there were minor things that could be improved, but once you get the big thing, that here’s our overall process, I think that’s the most important thing to get.

Evan: Yes. Yeah, that was super helpful.

Patrick: Awesome. So I noticed on your website, you displayed an MIA affiliation, and that you’re part of Artisan Group. How have those two things helped your business?

Evan: Oh, well, let’s see. MIA, for MIA you know, like I said earlier, I was a woodworker and millwright and, you know, that kind of thing. I didn’t have a lot of experience with stone, so in the beginning, I joined the MIA hoping to, you know, learn things. And then, you know, just like any association of people, you meet people, you know, you brainstorm with ’em, you share anecdotes, you share best practices, those kind of things, so MIA became, you know, important for me. And then at a certain point, they started this thing, this accreditation process, where it’s not just being a member and paying the dues, but you had to follow certain quality criteria and practices. And one of which is a stumbling block, I guess, might be people being afraid of is voluntarily allowing OSHA to come in and check you out.

You know, yeah, I was intimidated at first, but when I went through that process, it just really helped us. Again, it just helped us build structure and firm up structure in our business. And I think, actually, on my business card it says, “MIA number three.”

Patrick: No way.

Evan: Under that accreditation. Yeah, number one is no longer in business. I don’t know who number two was, I may be the oldest accredited shop in the country. I don’t know, hopefully, number two is still around, I just know number one isn’t. But anyways.

Patrick: Interesting.

Evan: So, and now here’s something funny. So I get the accreditation thing done, and, you know, that’s more and more people who are also looking to become accredited. One of the things you have to do is have a site inspection. And the folks at MIA asked me, “Hey, would you mind, you know, we’ll pay you, whatever, but would you mind visiting fabricators and do their site inspection?” You know, check everything off and make sure, you know, everything they sell is on the up and up. And I thought to myself, “My God, this is amazing.” You know, I get [inaudible 00:12:30] for the day, it’s a pain in the neck, you know, you fly somewhere and you fly right back the next day or whatever. It takes you away from the business, but you get to see your peers all around the country doing the same exact thing you do. I learned so much from that. I’ll bet you I’ve been in 40 shops. And that’s not just- visiting hello, let me pick up a remnant, but let’s see how you do your payroll. Let’s see how you do your safety checks, let’s see how you clean your water, let’s see how you, you know, blah, blah, blah, everything. You know, the whole kit and caboodle. And that, to me, just was a great education. You know, we all figure out the way we’re gonna do things, but everybody does it a little bit differently, right?

Patrick: Yeah.

Evan: And then, and what else do you… Oh, and then the Artisan Group, okay, the Artisan Group, I really like this story too because there was a distributor out of Texas HCNM [SP], and they had a group called The Buyer’s Group I think it was. And I knew a lot of these Buyer’s Group shop owners around the country, and they…I knew ’em through like Corian connections, and from MIA connections, that kinda thing, and you know, somebody said, “Hey, you gotta join this group, we have a lot of fun and we share best practices, and you know, it’s excellent networking,” so forth and so on.

So I joined and when I joined, you know, everybody tells a little bit about what you do and what you’ve got going. Well, I had this brand of granite called Artisan Granite. And matter of fact, the Artisan logo is the one and only logo I’ve ever created.

Patrick: No way.

Evan: Yeah. And yeah, I’m not much of an artist in drawing or graphics or whatever, but, you know, anyways. And I said, “Well, you know, this is how I distinguish myself in my local area.” I do mostly retail, blah, blah, blah. So I wanted to have a brand name because, you know, well for obvious reasons. And another one of the guys there he said, “You know, that’s a great idea to have a brand name and perhaps we should brand ourselves as, you know, a network of fabricators.” And I’m thinking that exactly that’s what it should be, it should be like a, what’s the real estate…like there’s ReMax, for instance. You know, independently owned and operated. But everywhere you go in the country you’ll find a ReMax, right? And the thought was, hey, everywhere you would go you would find an independently owned Artisan stone fabricator kind of thing. And that’s how that all got started.

Anyway, so back to Artisan Group itself, there’s been some changes recently, but it’s a group of fabricators, and we were the first to come out with the lifetime warranty and we get together, we used to go fishing more, but we’re supposedly we’re still going fishing together as a group. I know, you can laugh at it, and I’m kinda laughing when I say it, but networking is what it’s all about, you know? You’ve got all this information available, but oftentimes you need to be in front of each other to share it. And so anyway, yeah, that’s what the Artisan Group’s all about.

Patrick: That makes perfect sense to me, yeah. That’s a great story, I didn’t know you were that…when you said “founding member,” it sounds like you, in fact, helped germinate the idea, to make it happen.

Evan: The name came from myself. It’s funny because I knew you were going to call me today, and I was looking at my old 2001 Chevy Silverado, and on it is a peeling away logo of an Artisan Granite logo and it’s just about 16 years old, and what does a 16-year-old truck look like, right? You know, it’s…

Patrick: That’s fantastic.

Evan: The logo’s peeling away and it just reminded me of that.

Patrick: That’s great.

Evan: You know, yeah.

Patrick: And so that must be…then the relationship you talked about, you mentioned earlier by email, that you also manufacture and import quartz. Now, so you’re still doing that and is that…

Evan: Oh yeah.

Patrick: …the Artisan branded quartz or do you have a different line as well? Tell me about that business.

Evan: Oh, it’s funny because Artisan has something to do with that, in a sense. So I’m with this group for years. I mean, I was on the board for five years, I drew the short straw and spent quite a five years on the board and everything. And, you know, it’s a little like herding cats. You know, everybody does the same thing, and everybody sees the value of doing things together, but still, each business is different, right? And I thought to myself, there’s a couple of points. So each person does things differently and wants to market and position themselves differently. That’s one reason I make my own quartz.

And the other reason was, is that I had gotten burned by a big manufacturer that I had a great relationship with, exceeded every sales, paid early, got my 10%, whatever. Did everything I was supposed to do, got like tremendous awards from these guys, but they were failing in other areas and they decided, “Hey, you know that exclusive territory that, you know, you’ve got? Well, you know, we’re gonna take that away from you now and we’re gonna sell to everybody.” You know, that happened to me a long, long time ago, and it felt like you know, your girlfriend left you. If felt like you got kicked in the stomach, you know?

Patrick: Sure.

Evan: And I remember that feeling. Anyways, some years later, and I’m in the midst of building this group with all these other guys, The Artisan Group, and doing things alike because brand awareness you have to keep the brand the same, so forth and so on. And, you know, in some avenues, some ways there was difficulty there. And I thought to myself, “You know what? What you really need to do is you need to be in control of your own destiny. You need to have your own brand.” Okay. Right at this time, other friends that I know in the business were selling a well-known big brand, you know, we’re carrying hugs amounts of inventories, whatever, and this particular company just decided, hey, we’ll start up our own shop down the street. Hey, we’ll you know, sorry you can’t use the name to sell it. No, we’re not gonna take back your $800,000 of inventory, we required you to keep, including all the dead colors and so forth. And I just thought to myself, “It’s so wrong.” And the thing is, is that, I thought to myself, “Yeah, I can make quartz, I can make any color on earth. It’s not that hard to do.” I actually learned some of these techniques in a pottery class, believe it or not. And…

Patrick: So wait a minute, wait a minute. Are you, I mean, are you making these in the U.S.? Are you making these…

Evan: No, there’s no way. I can’t…I couldn’t…I don’t have the money to get started with that and make it in the States. Actually, most of the plants in the States, those companies, they’re making it overseas too. But they may have a plant in Georgia or wherever they may be but you know yes, they’re making some here, but by and large, it’s not made here. Even if it was made here, the quartz is coming from God knows where and all that other stuff. But anyways, my idea was, as a fabricator, thinking…keeping this going back to like, how does a fabricator protect himself, control his own destiny, and build a stable platform to provide for himself and his employees and all that stuff, would be to own his own brand. One of the first things you…and I talked about was, owning the, you know…

Patrick: The customer.

Evan: …communications. So people may come to your shop for whatever reason, you know, they saw a granite color, or they heard about this or that kind of quartz, or whatever. But they really want to talk to you. They want to know what’s available, and what would work for them, and they, you know, we’d spend some time because these are expensive things. And I thought to myself, provide fabricators quartz in whatever colors that they like and they want and they think will move in their market. But let them own the name of their own quartz. They concoct their own names, they can get a whatever, you know. You know, Mountain Valley Hill cloud whatever .com quartz. You know, whatever they wanna call it. Whatever works in their area. You know, I have my local brand I call Chesapeake Quartz because I’m on the Chesapeake Bay.

Patrick: Got it.

Evan: Right? Got clients all around the country and they name it either, you know, the road they’re on, the, you know, some physical features, you know, in their state, God knows what, just whatever they want to call it. And I thought that that was the real way to go, because then you’re dealing…each individual markets it his or her own way.

Patrick: So your white labeling it. It’s being manufactured somewhere overseas and then you’re branding it here. Is that correct?

Evan: Yes. Yeah, they’re branding it here.

Patrick: Got it.

Evan: Yeah. So I’m selling…mostly what I’m doing is I’m selling containers…

Patrick: Got it.

Evan: That could be a rainbow container, or it could be just a single color. It doesn’t matter to me, and they brand it as, you know, whatever name that they care to brand it as. And I have had some really successful clients. It’s not for everybody. You have to know your market and not everybody can just buy, you know, containers at a time. It’s a matter of cash flow but the thing is it’s funny just watching people and getting these orders and reorders and reorders and then developing new colors for them as the trends change, you know? And it’s just been…it’s very gratifying because…

Patrick: That’s cool.

Evan: I do it on my own, I can make good money at it, and I have customers that really are utilizing it, you know, and making good money themselves. And, gaining a little bit of independence, so…

Patrick: Sure. So I assume you’re taking new customers. If someone’s listening to this and says, “Hey, I wanna do that.” Can they contact you and talk more?

Evan: Yeah, absolutely. I don’t do a lot of real marketing, I mean I, you know, I’ve got a really crummy website which my son is about to fix up.

Patrick: Okay. It’s not bad.

Evan: [inaudible 00:23:17] together, but mostly it’s just been from contacts and, you know, being in the industry for whatever, 20-something years or, you know, and meeting people and showing ’em what I’m doing. It’s a lot of times it’ll be word of mouth like I’ll say, “Hey look, this is what I’m doing, I’ll send you some samples, I can tell you whatever you ask me, but if you want to, why don’t you ask this guy, this guy and this guy the questions, and then they’ll tell you if I’m full of you know what or not?” And you’ll get the straighter answer that way. And so anyways, that’s the way that’s been going.

I do have some distributor customers, you know, but by and large, it’s for the fabricators and this is an adjunct to my other business, it’s just me, you know, and I don’t need to grow it into a huge thing. I’m not, you know, I’m not trying to take over the world, you know, with quartz sales, it’s just for certain customers, boy oh boy, this just…it can really work for ’em.

Patrick: Well, I wanna dig in just one step further to understand if I were a fabricator, I wanna understand what the benefits would be. And I understand that it’s not for everybody. But is it…

Evan: Can I give you a for instance?

Patrick: Yeah, yeah, go ahead.

Evan: Okay, so it’s Calcutta-looking quartz colors. Ones that look like natural marble with the veining in it. Typically, people are paying $30, $35, $40 a square foot for that stuff. Right? I’ve got it at least half of that.

Patrick: Wow, okay.

Evan: Okay. So that alone, when you think about that, so you’ve got 56 square feet in a slab, and you got a…let’s say you got two slabs in a job, right? And you’re thinking, “Gee whiz,” I’m just using my own numbers, these aren’t you know, let’s just say you’re only saving $15 a square foot times 56 times 2, 112. Okay? So what is that, $1500-$1600? So before you cut anything and you have this identical order…a very marketable high end, same factory that’s making all the well-known brands colors, in most instances, many instances, think about how far ahead you are already. Right?

So maybe this is simplistic, and anybody listening to this will know I’m no accountant or whatever, but you know, I think to myself if I’m a fabricator and I’m $1600 ahead, and I’ve got…and I can take $700-$800 of that, and my dealer can take $300-$400 of that, and the customers were $500 ahead, or whatever. My math isn’t exactly right, but you know? [inaudible 00:26:09] this may be. I mean just think about that and then you…it just starts adding up from there. There’s a huge advantage price-wise. I remember doing these peer studies with Dupont and then I think Silestone ran ’em and now lately, MIA’s been sponsoring them, these peer group studies. And they’re always talking about, “Hey, if you raised your price 1%, your bottom line would look like this.” Well a lot of people have a lot of trouble raising their price 1%. Okay? And a lot of people fear that if they raise their price they’re gonna lose business and so forth.

And I remember the diagram. I remember what the professor who ran this, years ago, said. He said, “Well, to get the same effect that 1% price increase, you’d need to reduce your cost of goods sold 10%.” Well, most people looking around think that that would be impossible, you know. Go to any distributor, “Hey look, man. I gotta go down…” Well, I’m talking about 50% less on certain colors, you know? It is such a brainless thing, and, you know, unlike some of these, you know, companies that they make you carry the duds and the good ones [inaudible 00:27:23], I don’t care if they’re all pure white, it doesn’t matter to me. I don’t care if you bought a container a year. I’m not gonna sell you half a container, but you know, it’s not worth your while, it’s not worth my while. But that’s what I’m offering. It’s just…and here’s something fundamentally that I find, the hardest thing for me to translate is like, “Hey, Evan, sell me all your colors. Do you have this color? Do you have…?” I keep saying, what color do you want? I will make you a sample, I’ll send it to you in two weeks, and the minimum order is 16 slabs. Okay? So a rainbow container is 56 slabs typically, in a 3cm container. I was like, “Dude, just don’t worry about what color I’ve got. Tell me what color you want. Tell me what kind of color you’d like to create, and we’ll make it for you. And that, I really enjoy. I enjoy that part of it.

And I’ve been studying Chinese for about four years now, I mean I’m pretty mediocre but, you know, I go there all the time and I’ve got relationships going back since 2002 when I was making a…I’m a co-founder of that EOS product and GEOS and all that. And you know, the [inaudible 00:28:28] GEOS thing. All that kinda stuff. And so I’ve got like, you know, 15 years of relationships with people like that, and I’ve just got a nice little system for customizing and being flexible and getting people what they want.

Patrick: That’s super interesting. Now in order to save that 10%, you can’t give it all away to your customer. I notice on your website you also sell Silestone and Caesarstone, do you charge less, more or the same for Chesapeake Quartz?

Evan: Chesapeake is definitely less. Definitely.

Patrick: But I mean, do you give away that whole margin? Or, I mean…

Evan: Oh no, definitely not. I don’t need to. You know, I don’t need to. Hey, and you know, you know I gotta sell it to Solidtops, you know my company is the quartz source but, you know, Solidtops gets a real good price.

Patrick: Fair enough. Okay.

Evan: So anyways. But you know, it’s just seriously I can give some up. It’s pretty significant. I know you’re not supposed to talk about numbers too much and, you know, actual dollars or whatever, but it’s significant enough that we can make a better margin and the customers can save money. All the specs, the quality everything is the same, it’s the same, you know?

I can show you pictures of big brands right next to my orders, side by side, you know. I’ve bought, you know, because somebody…you know and some people, they’re stuck on brands, you know? And that’s okay, man. Go for it. But I have literally drawn in slabs from the same factory I’m working with under somebody else’s brand name and paid so much more and it just kills me. But, you know, the customer, if Mrs. Homeowner wants that, that’s what Mrs. Homeowner gets, you know? I don’t try to change people’s…you know, if they walked in and they said, “I want brand X.” And I’m saying, “Hey, well I’ve got brand S here that’s cheaper.” You know, we don’t do that. It’s just like if you’re gonna make a sale, just carry on from that point forward, right? You don’t need to.

Patrick: Now, is it too much of a leap? You said you were learning Chinese. Does that mean your materials being manufactured in China? Did I make a reasonable connection there?

Evan: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, no hiding anything.

Patrick: Cool. That’s really interesting. Just one more question before we wrap up here, and again, super interesting. I could talk with you about this stuff all day. You know, over the last year or so, have you seen anything change in any of your businesses, and where do you see things continuing to change? You know, it seems like all the time we’re always evolving in some direction. Are you able to know where you are evolving right now, or no?

Evan: I mean, for me, other than just colors changing a little bit on the retail, you know, I see a little bit there, but on the quartz side of things I’m seeing a lot more…I’m doing a lot more cut to order jobs, where people say hey, I’ve got apartment building they want you know, this color you know. And I say, “Hey, you know, I can get that cut and shipped right to you, you know, to your specs,” blah, blah, blah. Those cut to order jobs I’m getting more and more of that. And I’m also getting…

Patrick: Hey, hold on a second. So cut to order, does that mean you’re not doing the template? That the customer is doing that part of it?

Evan: That would mean like if you had an apartment building with, you know, whatever, 300, 500 units, they would send the, you know, the AutoCAD for the, you know. And then I would make those tops overseas, I would personally inspect them, and then I would label them by the room, you know, organize it like so to make it as easy as possible because the real… And it’s insanely cheap, man because think about it you have no waste factor either. It’s insanely cheap.

And then also, you know, where you really lose on those kind of jobs because I’ve done those jobs, is being disorganized and not doing the installs properly, you know. Storing them in a weird place and then you know, just making it so it’s organized so you can, as soon as those cabinets are set, bang, your top is in, you know. And your invoice for getting paid is in, you know, that kind of thing.

And then the other thing, this is interesting too is that I’m getting more and more, like let’s say you have a fast food chain or you have hotel lobbies, or some kind of…something like a repeatable style that somebody’s putting in in storefronts or something like that. I’m getting more orders from folks who will order the slabs and want to fabricate ’em here, but who have relationships with their customers. And what they’ll do is like, say a fabricator…this is very interesting. So a fabricator will say okay, they want something along these lines and they show me examples of what they’re looking for. And they’ll ask me, “Hey man, can you customize it just a little bit, I’ll get approval from the owner, and then promise me not to sell that exact color to anybody else.” So a guy, with a shop in X state, could secure his, you know, all the franchises, all around the country, far far from where you would see them or have somebody go to their local fabricator. So it’s a kinda added thing to secure a job. And, you know, it’s like interesting…little custom things like that, and yeah, so… That’s kind of something new that I’ve been seeing the last couple of years.

Patrick: That’s interesting. And I think that goes together with, obviously, your quartz business. You know, a big company like Burger King, of course, they would do that. But it sounds like, you know, I could have a franchise with 10 stores, and get the same result.

Evan: Right. Oh yeah, absolutely. Absolutely, yep. Like, you know, all of my capital is in my hand. It’s my phone that I’m talking to you with, you know? That’s the whole thing here, you know? It’s the phone and me. Right? So it doesn’t matter, like I said, if they have, sure you want some vanities and it barely fills a container, okay, great, whatever I’ll do it, you know? I like to do it. I like doing it, so it’s fun.

Patrick: Well, Evan, this was super interesting. You have a lot of interesting irons in the fire. Any last thoughts for other people in our industry?

Evan: Well, I mean, I don’t know, I don’t have any other thoughts, really. I have one thing I must say that you said, “Hey, I could talk to you all day.” Don’t open that door because I’ll talk your ear off, okay? You gotta be careful about what you ask for, okay?

Patrick: All right. Well, I’m gonna make a note and in a year I’m gonna get you back on the phone and we’ll keep going. We’ll just make it an annual interview, how’s that?

Evan: Very good. All right. Nice to [inaudible 00:35:49].

Patrick: Thanks, Evan, I really appreciate it and I’ll talk to you more soon.

Evan: All right, take care. Bye-bye.

Patrick: Take care. Bye.

Patrick: Thanks for listening to StoneTalk, the podcast for countertop fabricators. If you liked this episode, be sure to visit stonetalk.org or subscribe to StoneTalk in iTunes for more. Visit the StoneTalk Show Facebook page to join in the conversation, and follow @stonetalkshow on Twitter.

StoneTalk is brought to you by Moraware, makers of Systemize 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.

Why Moraware is the best place to work: Part 1

At the beginning of 2018, we added three more folks to the Moraware team. And, we’re planning to grow the company more this year.

“Moraware is the kind of company I always knew I wanted to work for but everyone told me didn’t exist.

Luckily, now I’m here – looking forward to sitting at my computer every morning. I’m able to learn, help people discover how Moraware can help them, and I work with amazing people who encourage having a healthy, full life outside of work. Hooray!”

Katherine, Marketing

As one of the owners of Moraware, this is incredibly emotionally satisfying. When Ted and I started the company in 2003, we never imagined the level of growth and success that’s come to pass. I’m also humbled by the responsibility to our customers and our team.

It feels like it’s worth a series of blogs posts to reflect on what we do well and the kind of people that are thriving here. One of those things is matching jobs at Moraware with each person’s “sweet spot”.

The sweet spot of work

One way we make sure each person is doing the right job is that we strive to have them at the intersection of what they love, what they’re good at, and what’s valuable to the company.

You’re good at it

If you’re doing a job you’re not good at, you’re probably going to get sub-standard results. For example, if you asked me to do any kind of artistic work, I’ve got lots of opinions and I think my taste is pretty good… but my skills are poor in this area.

In cases like that, we’ve decided to outsource projects. For any of the tasks that are really valuable to Moraware and we don’t have in-house skills, we can hire the best consultants and contractors. For things that we need long-term, we’re looking to beef up our internal skills. Sometimes that means we’ll do a job we’re not good at with the specific goal of learning how to do it.

Value to the company

Anything that’s not valuable to Moraware is a hobby. Sometimes we make the intentional choice to do something that might not have well-defined value, but it’s pretty rare. When we’re doing experiments with a new process or system part of how we get value is deciding ahead of time how to determine success or failure. And sometimes learning what not to do is really valuable to the company.

Our lives and our business is constrained by time, so we need to be really specific about doing things that are valuable. If you’re doing work that’s really valuable, there’s reward – both intrinsic because you’re doing something important, and extrinsic because as a company we share our success across the whole team.

You love it

And, if you’re not doing a job you love, it’s going to weigh on you in lots of dimensions. Most likely, the work will feel like a grind. That means that you’re ultimately not as productive, effective, or happy as you could be. And, because we only grow slowly, the job you’re doing today is probably very similar to the one you’ll be doing in a year or two. That’s a long time to be less than fulfilled by the work.

Love is a strong word, but I think it’s appropriate. We spend most of our waking hours engaged in work activity. Why would you spend that time doing something you don’t love?

Sound interesting? Check out our careers page to learn more about the culture, goals, and open positions at Moraware.

Why it’s important to have a system to run your countertop shop

Moraware has a goal of helping countertop fabricators run their businesses better. Hopefully, some shops will use our software, but we really believe that having a systematic approach of any kind will help you avoid expensive mistakes, make your customers happier, and ultimately, be more profitable.

We’ve worked with thousands of countertop fabricators, and seen the impact of not having a system in the office. Here’s some of what we’ve seen.

Information accessible when you need it

These days, homeowners expect to you to know who they are and what’s happening with their countertop job – as soon as they email or call you. If you need to put them on hold or (hiss!) call them back, you’re making their experience worse and they’re not going to be as happy with the process of template and install.

And, having that access to information is important for your team, too. Do you really want to interrupt your shop manager every time a customer asks about the status of their job? If the up-to-date information is available in a centralized system, you’re going to be more effective, efficient, and happier.

Changes are expensive, make it easy to do right

100% of countertop jobs change at some point between the initial estimate and the customer is happy with the installation in their kitchen. If you’re sloppy about how you make changes to a job, or if you need to update information in more than one place, it’s going to be expensive.

One way that the cost creeps in is that you, your office manager, and production manager are spending lots of time double and triple-checking the details of the job. But if you’re doing that checking at every stage of the fabrication, it’s a drain on your profit that might be invisible until you realize how much time that’s taking.

Don’t lose the folder

If you’re using file-folders to keep track of the job, at some point you’re going to lose the folder. It might be that your template forgot it in his truck, or that your scheduler put it on the wrong corner of her desk, but it’s going to happen.

Then, there’s the mad rush of trying to find it when the customer calls and is curious about what’s happening on their job.

Every mistake is a big deal

In a countertop fabrication business, mistakes have huge consequences. If your installation crew shows up at a house on the wrong time or day, and the homeowner isn’t there, that’s expensive. Not only do you need to reschedule that one installation, but it can wreak havoc on your whole schedule.

It could be even worse, though. If you fabricate a countertop out of the wrong material or with the wrong edge, you’ll be out the cost of that material, plus the impact to your shop. If you’re running near the edge of your shop’s capacity, it could mean paying your team overtime to re-do a job. That means that a re-do could almost triple the cost of the job.

Communication means happier customers

If you want your business to grow, one of the easiest way is to have great word-of-mouth. In order to generate that word of mouth, you need happy customers who’ll tell their friends about you.

One of the keys to that happiness is communicating clearly, setting expectations, and then doing what you said you were going to do.

If you don’t know your schedule ahead of time, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to tell customers what to expect. Having a system that makes your business predictable is one of the first steps in making the homeowner’s experience great. Ultimately, that makes the job easier for you and them. If you keep making your customers happy, it will make your business more sustainable and profitable.

We can help

As you can probably tell from this article, we care deeply about making countertop businesses better. And one of they keys to success is having a great system. Want to know a weird coincidence?

We actually make software for scheduling the template fabrication, and installation of kitchen countertops. If you’re interested in scheduling a demo of Systemize, let us know, by putting your email here:

Better quotes equals more countertop sales

A few years ago, I bought a countertop. Luckily, because I’ve been with Moraware since 2003, I know lots of countertop fabricators. So, I had the luxury of working with a company that I’ve known for over a decade.

Most homeowners don’t have that context or experience – and in fact, getting a new countertop for their kitchen is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Because of that, it’s incredibly important to make every step along their countertop journey great, starting with the initial estimate.

Reducing uncertainty for the homeowner

When a homeowner walks into your countertop fabrication shop, that first visit is a huge part of their purchase decision. I know when I started looking for our new tops, I was overwhelmed by the selection of surfaces, colors, and options… plus, I was trying to agree with my wife and had the help of an interior designer.

The last thing any homeowner wants with a construction project is more uncertainty – especially at the beginning. So, the sooner they understand the price and options of their countertop, the more likely that they’ll move ahead.

Just being professional puts you ahead of the competition

When a new customer is evaluating which countertop fabricator to use, price is just one of the criteria. They’re also deciding “Is this shop going to give me the countertop I wanted, on time, without a hassle?

Part of that decision-making process is speed. If they need to wait a week to hear back from you, chances are that they’re going with the competition. Your ability to prepare a quote quickly doesn’t seem like it has any bearing on how you make tops, but it’s one of the few indicators you’re giving about how you run your entire business.

Because you’re trying to put your best foot forward, you need to put a ton of effort into making your sales process professional, too. If your quote is a handwritten note compared to a professionally prepared document (or email), that’s sending a message about the overall professionalism of your company.

Most homeowners don’t care about your shop

Since most people who buy a countertop will only do it once in their life, as part of a bigger kitchen remodel or new construction project, it turns out they don’t really care about the technical nitty-gritty of how you produced a countertop. But, they do care about your business.

As a countertop professional, you’ve built up expertise about the manufacturing process and you understand the difference between a well-constructed countertop and one that’s poorly made. Your customers won’t, and they need to rely on your overall business acumen and appearance to understand if you’re the best shop in their market.

The way you send that impression is in the showroom. It includes everything that appears there, including the friendliness of your sales team, the cleanliness of the facilities, and attractiveness of your displays. But, the first thing you’re going to deliver to your customers isn’t a countertop, it’s actually the quote.

Make it good.

As you can probably tell from this article, we care deeply about making countertop businesses better. And that starts with a great quote. Want to know a weird coincidence?

We actually make software for drawing, laying-out, and estimating kitchen countertops. If you’re interested in scheduling a demo of CounterGo, let us know, by putting your email here:

Precision Countertops Goes Paperless

When one of our first and longest running customers reached out to us with some great feedback about our shop user function, we started chatting and I realized that his experience and new journey towards going 100% paperless was one we could all find value in. Even though Precision Countertops is successfully doing 25,000 jobs a year, they still strive to discover new ways to enhance their processes and systems -sometimes, like in this case, by discovering a feature that hasn’t been utilized before.

So, on that note – I did what I do best and asked Steve Mast of Precision Countertops a million questions. Here are a few of my favorites that I found relatable for our ever-evolving stone industry!

Precision has been a Moraware user since the early days in 2003 and I’ve seen firsthand how thoroughly embedded into your process our software and other technology is. Do you believe it’s necessary to have a structured system in place that utilizes technology in a countertop shop?

I do. I think this is truer now than ever before. When we started using Moraware, technology in our industry was less common. Now, our employees and customers are much more accustomed to technology being a part of their everyday lives.

I think having a defined process is critical in the stone industry because each job is custom made and thus, mistakes are very expensive. In addition to wanting to reduce the amount of costly mistakes, we were conscientious of the fact that remodeling is a big emotional time for our customers.

We needed a defined process that helped to reduce errors so that our customers had an enjoyable experience from start to finish. We had those processes before technology, but they were just more cumbersome and less connected.

Can you pinpoint any major milestones where technology has enhanced your progress?

For sure, there are a few “tipping points” in our industry. Many shops I have seen seem to have common denominators in the technology tools they use. Digital templating, which makes it faster and easier. Moraware, which acts as the hub for all touch points to the process. Countergo, which makes quoting much easier with far fewer mistakes. SPEEDlabel for barcoding and labeling of the countertop parts in the shop. Fabrication tooling like saw jet combination and cnc routers.

All of these technology pieces used to be different types of competitive advantages, now it seems as though they are common or necessary to compete. What I see today is the differentiation in how the technology is used, rather than simply the existence of it.

Have you encountered limitations with software as a shop that produces a large volume?

Yes, we have. We have always provided feedback to the technology companies that we work with, but not all of our needs were being met. In those cases, we would develop APIs, or ways in which we could supplement the technology so it met our needs specifically. Most technology these days, like Moraware for example, is very easy to talk to. Machines and software often communicate in a common language, then its just about making those things talk.

I think we can all agree that continuously improving your way of doing things is vital to any business. What are some of the ways you and your team find the pain points in your current process and come up with a solution?

From what I have seen in the past 20 years in the industry, there are two ways to improve and its best to use both. One is to look at a process, sit down with the actual people who do it every day, and just ask them what they would change if they could or what doesn’t make sense to them.

The second way, that is really effective, is to visit other shops and talk with them through associations or shop tours. We try to join or attend various groups like Artisan Group, Rockheads, Natural Stone Institute, SFA, ISFA Baca seminars and Park Digital Expos. We try to attend those meetings when possible and always come away with great new ideas. Then we take those ideas back to our team and see if we can implement them.

Going paperless – what spurred this and why now?

The shop user function in JobTracker with SPEEDlabel

Honestly, we were just tired of printing paperwork and the time it took. Plus the information was not real time. When we started using SPEEDlabel in combination with the shop user function, going paperless was simple and natural. We never had a timeline or goal to be paperless, it just kind of happened and we would never go back.

What’s been the most A-HA! moment you’ve had so far in this transition?

The biggest change for us is to get information about our jobs real time at all times. For example, we didn’t know about the shop user function in Moraware, we saw it last year when we visited The Countertop Factory in Chicago. Even though it’s been available for the last eight years, we just hadn’t seen how effective it could be. Now it’s a fully integrated part of our process that we couldn’t live without.

As a business of your size this must be a huge undertaking, what are the biggest challenges so far?

For us, when adopting a new process with technology it can seem like trying to turn the Titanic. It always takes much longer than we would like. We have to get everyone involved in understanding the change we want to make and get some form of buy in. If it’s an idea from another shop, we will send our associates to see it live in the other shop. That has made the implementation of new ideas much, much easier. If the management team is all bought into the changes, the challenges are far fewer.

Do you think the challenges and solutions you are facing in this transition to paperless are applicable to say, a much smaller shop? Is going paperless a good process for shops across the board?

For sure, I have seen many smaller volume shops go real time by using the shop user function. Frankly, it’s probably easier to set up and implement than for the larger shops. Whether its laser templating, cncs, or labels, I see technology being utilized at every level. With companies like Amazon and Uber being a part of our everyday lives, expectations for countertops and the technology we use to meet those expectations will be the same. Our customers and employees will require it.