Greg Robertson (V.P./owner), Rob Goe (President/owner) and Jeff Barrington (V.P./owner) each bring a well of experience to Custom Crafted Counters.
The shop’s famous tree stump table is the centerpiece to the showroom’s Green room, where consumers can find practical applications of a number of recycled and green products.
The main shop has a number of different areas including wet, dry and cabinet areas. Each shop employee is trained in all aspects of the shop including floor installations as well as templating and installation before being placed into a specialty reflecting the employee’s strengths.
The office crew at CCC is the customer’s connection to their project as the job goes from start to finish.
The showroom was recently updated, becoming the shop’s largest project to date. The showroom functions to display practical applications as opposed to small samples.
Would-be English teacher, Robert Goe, of Custom Crafted Counters based in Madison, Ohio, got started in millwork on a part-time basis to pay for college in 1995. Then, in 2001, the dreamer in Goe took a chance and started his own shop fabricating solid surface countertops.
Hoffman Millwork was a small shop specializing in laminate and Gibraltar solid surface for countertops. Goe worked there part-time sweeping floors to pay for college to become an English teacher. Not working directly with the millwork at that time, Goe admits, “I didn’t even know how to read a tape measure that well. I just did laminate countertops with a little bit of solid surface.”
Over time, employees came and went at Hoffman, and Goe was trained to take over other duties on the shop floor. By 21, he had become shop foreman — over one other employee — until the owner of Hoffman Millwork was ready to sell in 2001.
At that point, Goe had begun to think about moving on to something else: hoping to find a job with some benefits and consider his future a little more than he had been. The owner of Hoffman offered to sell the shop’s tools and customer list to Goe. “I was faced with a crossroad,” he explained. “Do I go and work at the local factory and have a regular 9 to 5 job, because I had long abandoned the English teacher at that point, or do I take a chance and start a business. I figured there’s not a person in their lifetime that doesn’t imagine at some point what it’s like to be their own boss. I thought I might as well try this.”
TAKING A CHANCE
Custom Crafted Counters opened Oct. 1, 2001. Goe had taken on Todd Wetzel, another shop employee from Hoffman Millwork, and right away became certified in Corian solid surface. The two started fabricating Corian, and the move to become certified immediately began to pay off for the shop. “We worked well with the Corian and it led to people asking us to fabricate other applications, like shower pans and tub surrounds,” said Goe. “So, we started doing other things beside counters.”
Not long after the shop had opened, Goe ran into Greg Robertson, the person who had trained him when he started at Hoffman more than five years earlier. Goe and Robertson had remained friends and decided to partner up and bring cabinetry, Robertson’s specialty, onboard.
Robertson had been building melamine cabinets for NASCAR trailers before partnering with Goe. The shop continued to fabricate laminate and solid surface countertops while Robertson got the laminated cabinet business going. “The cabinetry wasn’t directly attached to Custom Crafted at the time, but we ended up joining it together because it made sense for everything to be under one roof,” said Goe.
The first year of business brought in gross sales of $200,000. “That was the best year of my life,” remembered Goe. “I knew absolutely nothing about business, but I wanted to do everything. I was so naïve that I didn’t realize how hard it really was. I was just a dreamer.”
THE NEXT BIG THING
The shop didn’t stop developing once it added cabinetry to the lineup. After Robertson joined and the company found success in cabinets, Goe wanted to stay ahead of the curve and started looking for the next big thing. The logical choice, he thought, would be to offer stone as it was coming down in price and becoming more popular among residential installations as people made the change from solid surface to spending about $1 more per square foot for granite.
To get a stone fabrication process developed for the shop, Goe and Robertson headed down to Virginia Beach where Regent Stone was offering a training class for stone fabricators. “We went to the training and it was great!” remembers Goe. “We came back feeling more confident and decided it was time for the stone shop to get going, but we wanted to do that as cheaply as possible.”
While many shops around Custom Crafted Counters were going all out to develop their lines of stone by buying large — and expensive — bridge saws and CNC machines, those shops still didn’t have any stone jobs to pay for the hundreds of thousands of dollars in investments. “The way I looked at it, we didn’t have any stone jobs, so let’s try to invest a small amount to build up the stone jobs, put the money aside and then start getting the fancy equipment,” said Goe.
The shop started fabricating stone with an Accu-glide Rail Saw, some hand polishers, grinders and a couple of A-frames, literally opening up the stone production for $10,000. Though the shop itself wasn’t all too impressive and the production schedules lagged behind those with the big machinery, Custom Crafted Counters began to build a reputation for making solid, high-quality tops. In no time at all the shop was fabricating one stone job right after the other.
“I was once told that every decision you make is a strike-out, a single, double, triple or a home run,” said Goe. “I’ve definitely had my strikes, but with stone, we hit a home run. It was just before it was reaching its ultimate peak where everybody and his brother were trying to do stone. We went and researched it and got into it at the right time, and we had our skill level where it needed to be once it became more and more popular.”
Shortly after stone was added to the line-up of services, Jeff Barrington joined the team at CCC. Barrington was also well versed in laminate, solid surface and cabinetry and had 12 years of experience in the industry. The three continued to run the shop and eventually decided to expand once again into flooring and more expansive home remodeling.
GROWTH IN A DOWN ECONOMY
The company had taken on an additional 3,000-sq.-ft. location in Madison, Ohio, where the shop would do its remodeling work. “When we got into the remodeling, which really hit for us a little over a year ago, we brought on a contractor we had been working with for a long time,” said Goe. “When he came on, he added a whole new element to what we do. He was a finisher, a painter, a dry waller and he could knock walls down. When that happened, it really accelerated our flooring. Now we had a gentleman who was truly knowledgeable in that area and understood different products. We began to utilize the smaller shop to house extra dry wall and equipment, etc., and bring the samples for the flooring into our showroom.
“We knew how to lay flooring and we understood different things involved with it, but this contractor really understood what flooring was needed in a particular situation and what would best suit a customer, whether it is with wood or laminate or granite tile,” Goe continued.
The move into remodeling and flooring helped the shop continue to see growth in 2007 and 2008 when many other fabricators had been hit hard by the economy. “Each year we have grown,” Goe explained. “In 2008, we still experienced growth, just it in different areas. If we had been only doing countertops we wouldn’t have grown, because our countertop end did drop. When we got involved in doing the remodel work, we were still able to do the countertops and the cabinets and flooring. We were doing a little bit extra to secure that, but this year we’re going to have to do something else to become unique, but we are first of all a countertop shop. Our business is 60 percent countertops, but we still want to experience growth.”
GETTING IT DONE
With so much going on under one roof, Goe relies heavily on his employees to make sure things get done, and has developed a process of work flow based on the needs of those employees.
The first step in the process of a job is selling the job. Once a job is sold, the salesperson on the job coordinates with Robertson, who heads up the office and job scheduling, to get materials ordered and then set a final date for the job to be completed. Then the job goes into the schedule onto a large over-sized calendar where everyone can see the job’s progress. “We looked into software, but the guys on the road every morning need to have a visual,” explained Goe about the manual process. “They come in and see the big calendar and the jobs they’re paired with, what they need to do and they can get their folders. We found that, in our shop, the smaller sheets weren’t working, but if it’s right there and in front of your face, it helps us.”
Once materials are ordered and the job is scheduled, the details go into a folder that’s predated for when it needs to be completed. Then, Goe can access the jobs to see what’s coming up and communicate with the shop floor about what needs to get done. “We get the job built, the print kicks back to the front office, where they see everything is accomplished and get the proper paperwork and sign-offs. After the final billing, the job is dedicated for a crew to install. They get the folder, take it out on the scheduled setup date, the job gets wrapped up, and the paperwork comes back and is filed.”
Once you’re in the shop, the production floor is set up with a wet area for fabricating granite, quartz surfacing and concrete. Moving past this is an area set up for laminate and solid surface, and beyond that is where the shop moves into cabinetmaking. Though the shop floor may be divided, the employees are not, with every employee trained to do every process before being placed in a certain area.
“The main reason we train the employees on everything is because we’ve found it benefits us as a company if we’re able to plug someone in anywhere,” added Goe. “It’s beneficial because they get a good taste of everything and I can find out where the employee feels strongest within the company. The last thing I would want to do is bring a guy in for stone and that’s not his thing. Maybe, it turns out he’s a really good people person and problem solver and would be better on the road in the customer’s home, but instead I’m wasting his talents in one area. I never got to see it because I didn’t try him out in that area.”