Rymer’s new shop location which he moved into in April 2008, features a 22,000 sq. ft.operation under one roof from fabrication to showroom, offices and even indoor slab storage.
The company’s showroom was designed to distinctively feature not only its slab fabrications, but also the shop’s large and unique tile selections, an area of the business that Rymer hopes to grow extensively in the coming years.
An outside view of the shop’s new location in Austin, Texas.
The shop is known for its custom fabrication and unique customer involvement. In addition to countertops, the shop has fabricated staircases, fireplaces, showers and tubs and more. Pictured here are a few examples of the shop’s custom work.
The shop not only boasts a 5,000 sq. ft. showroom, but also a convenient indoor slab storage showspace for customers to browse.
From a 7,000-sq.-ft. shop and showroom with scattered storage yards to 22,000 sq. ft. of shop, showroom and storage under one roof, Steve Rymer of Architectural Tile & Stone, a reputable multi-million dollar fabrication facility in Austin, Texas, has got it together.
Architectural Tile & Stone opened its doors in 1999 on a well-traveled street in central Austin. The shop ran with five people at the time, and Rymer co-owned the business with his brother, David, before buying him out in 2005. As a business-minded individual with a background in accounting, Rymer understood the need for a capital investment upfront in his business and purchased a bridge saw, bullnose machine and simple water filtration system after attending StonExpo to get started. After three weeks, the shop was up and running, and did between $30,000 and $40,000 in its first month.
The shop sold approximately $900,000 the first year and continued to grow until hitting a plateau at $5 million because of the downturn in the housing market. Eventually the shop would add another saw and edge profiling machine, move to a filter press system from Water Treatment Technologies and also purchase its first CNC machining center from Park Industries. To keep the process together and growing, in April 2008 after two years in the making, Rymer made the difficult move to a new 22,000-sq.-ft. facility that houses 5,000 sq. ft. of showroom and office space as well as 7,000 sq. ft. of slab and tile storage inside and additional storage in an outside yard. Previously, the old shop location had been very spread out, with tile and storage in many different smaller locations.
“Moving the 700 slabs was one of the most difficult things about the move, but really everything was difficult,” explained Rymer. “We had two of our busiest months in two years during our move. We had two shops going, the new location and old location, each with one saw fabricating to keep up with the orders. There was no way we could stop our production. Now, though, square footage-wise we just about double our under-roof area and it’s all in one place.”
Rymer’s shop currently offers granite, marble, onyx, limestone and other natural stones, as well as Caesarstone quartz surfacing, and is currently preparing to offer IceStone, a concrete and recycled glass slab material, to its customers. In addition to fabricating these materials, Rymer is also a distributor of high-end and artistic tile, though the shop will only design in this area and not install in order to offer a higher quality standard on his slab fabrication. The tile distribution accounts for approximately 30 percent of the business going through the shop.
Though the shop began fabricating solely natural stone when it opened, Caesarstone was brought on a year ago and is exceeding the original expectations that Rymer had. “Where the product was zero just a year ago, it’s about 8 percent now of the slab sales and we are expecting it to grow another 15 to 20 percent,” explained Rymer. “We see that strong of a growth coming with it because, as I’ve observed, the market in Austin is changing to a more contemporary look.”
AN IN-HOUSE PHILOSOPHY ON CUSTOMER SERVICE
The shop currently runs with 31 employees, each of whom specializes in a certain area requiring no outsourcing of sales, design, templating, fabricating or installation. “We don’t farm anything out,” said Rymer. “One of my beliefs in this business is that you have to control your quality and we can only do that if our projects stay here.”
Architectural Tile & Stone is not only concerned with its personal level of quality control, but also with the customer’s level of quality control.
“We force the customer to come take a look [after the templating],” explained Rymer. “We talk to them about every little corner and how they want it turned. Do they want a big radius or a small radius? We show them the template. Do you want more overhang or less overhang? So, we take care of every single detail.
“Then, we force them to come into our facility as we lay out all the slabs,” Rymer continued. “We put the templates on the slabs and if they see an anomaly in a stone they don’t like, we try to move around it because the beauty they see in the stone is going to be in their kitchen. It’s going to be their job, but of course we assist with our knowledge. We make it a group effort and make sure the customers are totally happy with their installations.”
Rymer has always believed in this level of quality. “Anyone can buy stones,” he added. “There’s no exclusivity there, so you have to be something different to maintain your business and grow it. That’s strictly quality . . . customer service and quality.”
When there is a disagreement with the client and fabrication, the shop will refer back to the Marble Institute of America standards. “We use that professionalism to achieve and get to the point where the customer is totally happy,” said Rymer. “I teach my personnel what’s in their standards book and insist that they follow those guidelines.”
A lot of the shop’s reputation comes from being able to solve problems and fabricate the difficult jobs others just can’t do for lack of expertise or can’t do to an acceptable standard. “They come to us for the more difficult jobs because they know that we will take the time and make sure that it is done according to safe industry standards,” said Rymer.
A few examples of some of the shop’s more memorable projects include its very first project, which was a remodel of an existing staircase in Rainforest Green marble. It was technically challenging for the shop, but was also very successful because it was a stepping off point for Rymer that propelled Architectural Tile & Stone into a custom niche market performing many more unusual installations. One of these unusual projects was a recent contemporary fireplace installation that took two slabs and went 10 ft. from floor to ceiling, requiring multiple structural reinforcements.
“We also did a tub deck and wall in a residence and we had the same type of situation,” Rymer explained about another memorable job. “It was limestone and there were panels that were 36 by 36 in. that all had the same liner block and relief angle to sit on because they were totally suspended. There was nothing underneath and those are probably the most challenging. It requires a good contractor to work with to make it successful.”
THE CRANE GAME
While consumer involvement helps to assure a high-quality product for installation, stone will crack and can break — and it’s an expensive product — so, careful fabrication is essential to the shop’s success. To ensure the safety of the product as well as the safety of employees, Rymer utilizes a number of Kundel crane systems for transporting the shop’s jobs from station to station.
“At our old facility, we had limited height and I went searching for a crane system to be stationed over our CNC and our saws,” explained Rymer. “We had a low-profile situation with very limited height constraints. When I looked at the Kundel system in 2003, not only did it make sense for us with our limited heights, but the electrification was built into it so I didn’t have to worry about wires or anything else going out onto the bridge. It also pivots, so we can take the slab and position it right on the suction cups and then on to the CNC or the saw tables.”
As soon as Rymer was able to afford it, he purchased another crane system in 2004. Both of the existing crane systems followed to the new shop location. With a 10,000-sq.-ft. shop now as opposed to 5,000 sq. ft. of shop space, there was more room for yet another crane system, and Rymer equipped the new shop with a 5-ton system.
“We were able to spread our wings a little bit and facilitate all of our machinery to where every piece of equipment that we have now is covered by a crane to handle the slabs,” said Rymer.
Of the two 30- by 40-ft. cranes from the original shop, one handles two saw tables and the other one handles the shop’s two vertical in-line polishing machines. The third and newest system handles the slab positioning for the CNC machine. Because the new shop doesn’t have the same height restriction as before, the newest crane is set up taller so it can handle another CNC machine, which the shop would like to purchase soon. “I prefer this type of system because I felt that it gave us a greater area of usage and simplicity,” explained Rymer.
The systems use suction cups to pick up the slabs off a cart and position the project onto the machine. Once the machine is done, the system is able to pick off the top and place it back on the cart so that it can be rolled safely to the next station, where the crane system there will pick up the job off the cart and carefully position it at the new station.
In addition to an increase in shop efficiency and performance, Rymer is pleased with the added protection to each employee’s health and well being. “The material is so heavy that you can’t handle it by hand, which for years we did,” said Rymer. “Where before you would need three people, this system with the suction cups takes one. The efficiency and the safety is just a tremendous difference.”