After nearly a decade of stone fabrication, Pinnacle Stone & Tileof Fairfield, CA, made a full investment in digital technology for all aspects of stone processing — from templating and layout to cutting and edging. Currently in the middle of a bounce-back year in terms of new construction work, the company is poised for increased production in the future.
“We do tile installation in addition to natural stone fabrication and installation,” explained Scott Cheeseman, President and CEO of Pinnacle Stone & Tile. “The company was started in 1991 by Corey Phillips, who was a tile installer primarily focused on remodels and local commercial projects. He was asked to do granite fabrication in 2001, and he opened a shop just in time to catch the residential boom of Northern California. When he sold the company to a group of investors in 2006, and the company was predominantly doing tract work.”
When the economy slowed, Pinnacle Stone & Tile expanded its sales base, but it also maintained its interests in its core business. “We diversified, but we still have a very strong presence in new home construction,” Cheeseman said. “About 75% of business is new home construction. The other 25% is commercial, remodel and Big Box work.”
In addition to countertops and vanities, the company also does slabwork on vertical surfaces, such as shower surrounds. For this work, the company often utilizes Venetian Marble from MSI, which is an alternative product to cultured marble that is processed using the same methods as natural stone.
A digital operation
Two years ago, Pinnacle Stone & Tile’s equipment was updated to digital technology. “We used to template all jobs with Luan, and we fabricated jobs with three bridge saws, two Park Pro-Edge polishers, and a lot of hand work.”
Today, the company’s process is completely different than only a few years ago. “We template everything with the Laser Products LT-55, and we also have the Leica [LT TP Template Pro 3D], which can template in three dimensions, and Laser Products put their software behind it,” Cheeseman said. “We use that for shower surrounds or a full backsplash. We are a big believer in the Laser Products software, and it works well with our process.”
Once the digital template files are sent to the head office, advanced software is used for programming and nesting. “Our programmers work with AlphaCAM and Slabsmith, so we can look at the way the job will be cut on machines and also do layout,” Cheeseman said. “Slabsmith digital layout is also a service we provide for customers who want to see how the vein-matching works. This service gets the buyer more comfortable with stones that have more veining and movement. We did an altar for a church that was 42 x 28 feet in size. It used 16 slabs of Crema Bordeaux that had a lot of movement in it. Our ability to provide the customer with a graphic representation of the job prior to fabrication with Slabsmith got us the deal. Communication has been a primary area of focus to differentiate us from others who sell or install natural stone. Slabsmith has been an integral part of that.”
Once the programming is complete, slabs are typically cut on a Fusion 4000 bridge saw/waterjet from Park Industries. “We also have a Park Sierra for other cutting work, such as miter cuts or other small jobs.”
Meanwhile, edgework is done on a Park Titan CNC stoneworking center, with vacuum pods from Blick Industries, and the company also operates a Park Pro-Edge for straight runs. Pinnacle Stone & Tile uses a combination of tooling for the Park Titan. “We have had an aggressive approach over the last 12 months to determine which tools would work best for us,” Cheeseman said. “[Continental D.I.A.] Terminator is one of the tools we run. We have also been a strong believer in Tyrolit given the excellent service we have received.”
Once the equipment comes off the automated router, it is finished by hand. “Different materials come off the router at different areas of readiness,” he said. “Some material needs more attention than others. We also polish the underside of the edges, which is something the CNC doesn’t do. On average, each job spends two hours being quality checked and finished by hand.”
Material is moved around the shop using two Anver lifters that are part of a Gorbel overhead crane system. “We made a conscious decision to place overhead cranes around the whole facility for flexibility and safety,” Cheeseman said.
The facility has 15,000 square feet of fabrication space and 20,000 square feet total, including the offices and the warehouse for the tile division.
As it made the shift to become a digital shop, Cheeseman said that the company needed to assemble the right workforce to handle the changing technology. “A unique challenge for us was in the switch to digital,” he said. “You need to have people who are comfortable working with stone and working with computers, so we had to find people that were able to excel in both positions.”
Overall, the investment in technology has been a success for Pinnacle Stone & Tile. “Given the transformation of our shop, I have been able to add new work without increasing the headcount, and more importantly, the conversion to a digital shop has been an important differentiator in a market crowded with competition,” Cheeseman said, adding that Pinnacle Stone & Tile currently has 75 workers. “It is an even split between the tile and stone divisions. We do a little more work in tile, but from a revenue perspective, it is right down the middle. Our ability to be the one contractor that installs the countertops and the tile receives a lot of traction.”
In general, the company’s employees can execute multiple tasks. “The goal is that they are all cross trained to some extent, but there are certain skill sets that overlap better than others,” he said. “Templaters and programmers have a shared skill set, and our fabricators and installers are cross trained.”
When hiring new workers, a formal training program is in place “All new employees shadow someone in their division to learn how we do things,” Cheeseman said. “They may have been in the industry for 20 years, but we want them to know the Pinnacle approach before they work on their own. We also have our new workers go through a formal safety program before they set foot in the shop.”
Pinnacle Stone & Tile’s production capacity stands at around 2,500 square feet per week, but actual production varies based on demand and the type of work being produced. “We use Moraware to track schedules for all of our jobs, so it is easy to keep track of everything, “ Cheeseman said. “Our production is around 6,000 to 7,500 square feet per month, which equates to about five kitchens per day.”
Sales and marketing
In a pleasantly refreshing trend, Pinnacle Stone & Tile has noted that new housing starts are on the rise in its region. “We are working 43 different tracts right now, and we are definitely seeing an increase in the number of model homes being started,” Cheeseman said. “There really has been an uptrend in tract work here. That’s one advantage of working near the tech environment.” In general, Pinnacle Stone & Tile works within a 90-minute radius of its facility in Fairfield, which ranges from Southern San Jose to Sacramento.
In terms of pricing, Pinnacle Stone & Tile walks a fine line to keep its production volume up without giving in to the “commoditization” of granite. “We are aggressive when it comes to price, but we have been able to increase prices as it has gotten busier,” Cheeseman said. “We do work for Big Box where we do compete on price to an extent, but we have drawn a line in the sand when it comes to price, and people come back to our side of the line when they see the service we are able to provide. We have to deliver what we say we deliver, and at the end of the day it is about service. We place our focus on working through specialized sales agencies — general contractors, kitchen and bath dealers, etc. Meeting timelines is where we excel.”
Looking to the future, Cheeseman sees improvement in the sector. “The industry — and the economy — has been through a whirlwind, but we have been seeing very positive signs of growth,” he said. “We did 4,000 square feet in March and 7,000 square feet in June. New home construction is dramatically on the rise in Northern California. New home starts are beating everyone’s expectations. Apartment construction and hotels are also coming out of the ground. The year is turning out to be much busier than I expected. Everyone is cautiously optimistic that Northern California has made the turn and is looking towards a brighter future.”
Cheeseman also expressed confidence that the company’s technology investments have it well-equipped for future growth. “Our industry has been hit really hard, so we made an effort to scale effectively in preparation for a return to normal market conditions,” he said. “That’s why I’m excited about going digital. We are able to scale better with this technology in place. Running the machines longer accommodates growth much more efficiently with fewer new hires.”
Source: Stone World Magazine