Najda holds up one of the many 45-minute vanity tops the shop is able to produce with the help of a new CNC machine.
Najda purchased his first CNC machine from Techno Inc. to help enable his shop to create consistently accurate products for his customers.
Residential work, such as this kitchen in a Philadelphia home, is a large part of Counter Creations work.
The new technology in the shop saves 80 percent more time in the shop than fabricating by hand.
In addition to the CNC machine from Techno Inc., the shop also utilizes a vertical panel saw for quick and accurate cutting.
To keep up with demand, Counter Creations added cabinetry to the shop's offerings with in the first year of business.
Najda would like to eventually have four show rooms open in New Jersey, like the one pictured here, run by his son.
Counter Creations of South Hackensack, N.J., which boasts a yearly sales volume of $1 million and services the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area, specializes in fabricating kitchen countertops featuring laminate and solid surface materials, but also produces a wide range of cabinetry and other custom products for both the residential and commercial markets, making this business a one-stop-shop for consumers wanting both cabinets and countertops.
Mike Najda, president of Counter Creations, began working in the countertop industry in 1988 as a driver for a retail kitchen showroom and wholesale countertop shop. He spent 13 years moving up in that business from driver to shop coordinator, handling the scheduling and coordinating for installation and delivery of the countertops and cabinets. Then in 2001, when the owners closed the business, Najda purchased the equipment from his former employers and went out on his own.
"When I started my own shop, I started off with four men," explained Najda. "I kept the business pretty much family." Najda's brother-in-law, who had been at the same shop with Najda since 1988, went with him when Najda opened up his shop and took on the duties as production manager overseeing the shop. Najda's wife and older sister work in the company's office taking care of items such as receivables, payables, insurance papers and employee records, among other things.
When the previous shop closed, it wasn't as easy as Najda thought it would be to redirect the clientele to his new shop. "I absorbed some of it, but the previous owner, toward the end, had started showing less concern for the clients," said Najda. "I really had to beg, borrow and steal to get them back."
Building and rebuilding a client base is a familiar obstacle for many shop owners, but Najda had a strategy that worked for him then, and continues to help him today. "I give them excellent service, and I make sure that all my customers have access to me," said Najda. "Dealing one-on-one with the owner is a strong point. They know they're dealing with the head honcho; there's not a middle man."
When Counter Creations opened its doors in 2001, Najda focused the business on laminate and solid surface countertops. However, he had the knowledge and experience of working with cabinetry, and when the opportunity presented itself, Najda steered his shop toward it. Within the first year, the company was offering custom cabinetry.
"We naturally progressed into cabinets, helping contractors when they suddenly needed a box here or a box there," explained Najda. "And it just took off into a direction all its own."
Najda opened the shop, initially fabricating everything by hand, and striving to maintain a healthy balance of commercial and residential work. Shortly after he added custom cabinetry into the mix, by looking at time and labor numbers it was clear that something had to change.
AUTOMATING THE SHOP
Counter Creations previously cut solid surface and laminate countertops to size using a panel saw. Where radius corners were needed, templates had to be made and then cut out with a hand router. Najda found this method time-consuming and it required very experienced craftsmen. A typical laminate countertop took an average of four hours, and a common 60-in. vanity top would take anywhere between four and five hours for one person to fabricate.
For the first three years, the hand fabrication limited the number of projects on the floor as well as kept Najda from bidding on the larger commercial projects. Eventually, he decided to do something about the labor costs that were holding the business back.
In 2004, Najda decided to invest in a growing technological trend and purchased a CNC machine from Techno Inc.
"Our reasoning for getting the CNC was the dependability of the machine," Najda explained. "With craftsmen, you have to worry about who's taking a day off here, who's taking a day off there. The machine also provided consistency and we were able to boost production and get our clients their product more quickly."
The shop had previously done research on the new technology, wanting to invest in a CNC well before it had actually purchased a machine in 2004, but had held off because of the price of CNC technology.
"I looked at several different models of machines," Najda said. "My goal was to get a large working area, a relatively small footprint, a high level of accuracy, and a very rugged and reliable machine for an economical price."
It wasn't until one of the shop's edgebanders needed to be serviced, and Najda's service technician suggested the idea to him again, that Najda reconsidered the investment.
"[The service technician] really impressed us," remembers Najda. "He was able to repair the machine and get it fine-tuned and working. He's the one who mentioned to me, 'Did you ever see a CNC machine?' and naturally my first response was, 'I can't afford that.' "
However, once he saw the Techno CNC, with all it could do for him, and at a competitive price, he couldn't resist.
TIME IS MONEY
The fabrication process now saves the shop a lot of time, and Counter Creations is able to turn around a job in no more than five days. "Regardless if it's solid surface or laminate, we give ourselves a five-day limit," boasts Najda. "As far as cabinetry or the total package, we normally try to turn around the job in about two weeks."
He employs six fabricators (one being strictly solid surface and the others cross-trained among the product lines) and two installers, along with his wife and sister in the office, his son working in the showroom and drawing the templates into the computer for the CNC, and another college student working with his son to do the drawing.
"Between my son, who's 19, and a 20-year-old college student, they draw everything on the computer for us and convert it over to the CNC," said Najda explaining his process of fabrication. "They save the information to the CNC. Once we get in the final drawings, I hand it off to my foreman who will go out to the machine and bring up that job. He hits a button and the machine just cuts everything. If we're cutting cabinets, the parts come off and we hand it to a guy who runs the edgebanding machine, and then it goes to another guy who does the assembly. It really cuts a ton of time off."
The previous hand fabrication
methods took more than four hours to complete one top. And, according to Najda, the time
savings for the new process is 80 percent!
"The machining time is now only seven minutes, and we typically spend about 10 minutes programming and 45 minutes finishing the top," explained Najda. "We are also getting similar time savings on cabinets. It would have taken five days in the past to cut out the cabinets for a large commercial kitchen job. Now we can produce the complete parts on the CNC router in about two days. Most of that time the router is cutting on its own so our people can spend their time assembling the cabinets."
With the new CNC technology installed in the shop, Najda was not only looking at a significant amount of time being saved in the process, but also at savings in production costs. Najda estimates that he has been able to increase his profits 25 percent with about 70 percent of that coming from labor savings and 30 percent from other material savings.
The CNC has increased the repeatability, consistency and speed of the products allowing Najda to accommodate the larger commercial projects that he wasn't able to do before. "Before [the CNC machine] I would never have been able to build a 300-unit project," said Najda. "With the time constraints and the labor involved, it just wouldn't be worth it. Now, we just blow them out.
"We recently finished a project in Baltimore where there were six countertops per kitchen. With three men in a day, we were able to get 10 units done," he explained. "We were doing 60 countertops in an eight-hour work day with 90 percent of the work being cut on the CNC machine. It would cut the shapes, the radius and cut the sinks out — everything. From there we would just build up the countertop and run it through the edgebander to do the edges."