When Fred Christen was brought in by H. Frank Leathers to evaluate his plans and preparations to fabricate a thin granite product that adhered to a honeycombed plastic core, the prospect of making standard-thickness countertop material had not yet materialized. Now, the company that Leathers began, and that has passed into Christen's hands, fabricates 150 to 175 kitchens per week, in both Silestone and 3cm granite.
Hallmark Stone Company was founded in 1998, after Leathers, then a home builder, visited Texas and noticed that the stone prices were much higher in the Midwest than in the South. He decided to capitalize on that and start a fabrication plant. In January of 1999, after a few issues were discovered with the thin stone idea, the company, which at the time employed seven people, began fabricating, selling and installing 3cm granite. Within the first few months, the company made contact with Home Depot, which had a reluctant granite supplier. The store was interested in Hallmark handling its granite customers, and approached the company about servicing Silestone as well. After meeting with representatives of Silestone, Hallmark decided it could do that product as well as granite, and began servicing both to eight Home Depot stores.
"We installed the first Silestone display at Home Depot at 5:30 on a Saturday morning," said Christen. "When I got to the office on Monday, I had two messages from kitchen and bath dealers asking me about the product that had already seen it in the stores we installed it in."
A Growing Business
Since displays were put into the first store, the company has grown to serve 54 Home Depot locations that mainly cover the St. Louis and Kansas City areas, with a secondary market covering Wichita and Manhattan, Kan., and Columbia and southern Missouri. But the bulk of the company's business, said sales manager Don Lewis, is now with builders and the kitchen and bath industry.
"In the last year, we have serviced more than 200 kitchen and bath dealers," Lewis said, also noting the growth in sales to the building market. "In the St. Louis area, of the top 50 builders, we have done business with 24 of them."
Commercial job opportunities have also been coming up for Hallmark, and Lewis explained one of the most impressive: a project for the Tyson chicken plant in Arkansas. "Tyson Foods is opening up what they're calling the Discovery center, which is going to house almost 20 different test kitchens" Lewis said. "The project requires almost 80 slabs all in Silestone Stellar Snow and we had 13 or 14 island countertops all go into production in one day." (see Figure 1)
To handle the growth of its sales, the company relocated from a 5,400-sq.-ft. facility to one that's 21,000 sq. ft., with an additional 10,000-sq.-ft. facility just for holding and staging finished jobs and 7,000 sq. ft. of outdoor space for inventory (see Figure 2). To give an indication of how much work the company is putting out, in November of 2006, Hallmark went through 375 slabs of granite and 485 slabs of Silestone. From the original seven, Hallmark now has 118 full-time employees. Along with the Park Industries saw that was purchased in 1998, which is still used to this day, the company uses another Park Yukon high-end saw, (see Figure 3) three edging machines, four routers, and according to Christen, too many hand-held polishers to mention (see Figure 4).
"We haven't gone the CNC route at this time," explained Christen, "but I'm very close to converting." He also mentioned the possibility of purchasing a dual-table waterjet in the future.
With the prospect of owning its first waterjet, Hallmark has also begun to consider breaking into solid surface fabrication as well. "With the traditional way we're fabricating now, with the diamond tooling and so forth, we're not really set up to fabricate solid surface," Christen said. He added, however, that Hallmark is looking into doing a 3cm solid surface product in the future.