Steve Wilde, owner of Innovative Solid Surface Designs
Wilde worked with the Department of the Interior, an historical architect and a specialty display company to complete this solid surface job at this Grand Canyon observation station.
Wilde has installed many solid surface countertops, though his jobs lately tend to be more specialized.
Frank Bosworth contributes to the company’s success.
One of the shop’s custom jobs includes this solid surface inlay, which Wilde fabricated for a local Harley Davidson store.
Having fabricated solid surface for 20 years, one would think Steve Wilde, owner of Innovative Solid Surface Designs, which opened in 1988 and is currently located in Jacksonville, Ala., had seen it all — Well, one would think.
To remind you of — or maybe just to introduce you to — what the industry looked like 20 years ago: In 1988, Corian was 20 years old and had only been nationally marketed since 1971. In 1988, it had been marketed in the bathroom for new uses such as tub and shower surrounds for more than 10 years, since the mid 70s, but wouldn't reach significantly into more wide spread applications such as furniture, lighting and other specialty items like jewelry until the beginning of the 1990s. (And in 1988, let's not forget, George Micheal was No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 for his single "Faith." Picture that.)
In 1994, four years after Wilde founded the company, Corian was made available in 72 colors. Today, the color palette consists of more than 130 distinct options. In 2000, more than 10 years after Wilde opened shop, Zodiaq quartz surfacing would be introduced by DuPont.
Before Wilde opened the doors to Innovative Solid Surface, he had been working for different contractors installing tile projects. While in the showroom of a company he had been contracted to do tile for, Wilde noticed a solid surface display.
"I looked at it and asked a few questions," remembered Wilde. "'Heck I can do this,' I thought. I called up the local Corian representative, Pat Conrad, down at what was then Specialty Building Products, and set up a time to take a fabrication class."
After becoming certified to work with Corian, Wilde built his first shop, which was 1,500 sq. ft., a requirement at the time set by DuPont to be a certified Corian fabricator. He would be at that shop for a decade before moving to a new shop in 1999 and then moving again in 2008.
"We built that first shop and we've been going strong for 20 years since," said Wilde. "We're somewhat of a specialty shop. We do more custom work with designers and fabricators than we do basic run-of-the-mill jobs any more. We do a lot of custom homes and high-end operations."
Wilde's shop has seen a lot of changes in the 20 years he's been in business, including not only the evolution of solid surface, but also changes in fabricating techniques and uses of the product.
THERE'S GOT TO BE A BETTER WAY
The shop recently adopted a new fabrication technique, using the Pinske fabrication system. "We were fabricating the standard stack edge . . . on top of the cabinets, which is the minimum requirement from DuPont for warranty and certification," explained Wilde about the old system. "Then we went to the Pinske system, and the front edge is 2-in. wide by 1 ½-in. thick.
"With the Pinske system of fabrication, when you're done with the countertops, instead of lipping over the front of the cabinets like on a standard installation, the solid surface sits on top just like granite or quartz," he explained. "In this method, the top is about 70 percent stronger, plus the installations are easier to perform because the tops don't move as much as with the standard technique. When you're doing your backsplashes and so forth, everything is much more rigid."
With the most recent shop move, which occurred in January 2008, Wilde hopes to take advantage of the new system of fabrication and be able to capitalize on more direct-to-consumer business. Currently, the shop attributes approximately 80 percent of its work load to wholesale work for cabinet makers and contractors.
"We've got a great location, traffic-wise, being right on a frontage road, and have a lot of walk-in customers now," said Wilde. "We have a small office showroom behind the shop that we use for displays and to let our customers see some of the work we can do. We also have a conference room where we can sit down and go over things and we show them the Pinske fabrication system and how we do things.
"We're the only shop in this area using the Pinske method, which is one of the reasons we went retail this year," he continued. "The cost is a little bit higher for the fabrication, but the job is just phenomenally better. It allows us to use full-size profile bits that you cannot use with a standard stack edge and we can offer a much better job to our customers with more design features and versatility built in."
Recently, part of the problem the shop has had with contract work is in moving to the new fabrication system because there's an increase in price. With the other shops in the area still fabricating by the stack system, it has caused problems for contractors with budget constraints. "They're used to paying $75 per linear foot and when I start charging them $70 per square foot, they aren't happy," explained Wilde, "but you get what you pay for."
With the move to increase direct to consumer business, Wilde is confident he can more than make up for cutting back on the contractor work that has helped to grow the shop for the past two decades.
"By going direct to the customers instead of going through my contractors to get the job . . . I can find the jobs which don't care how much I charge just as long as I do the job well," he said. "Our sales have actually increased since we've gone to the new system, and we're still cheaper than [the big box stores] that are using the drop edge system."
While direct-buy traffic has increased at the shop's new location, Wilde doesn't plan to eliminate his commercial and contract markets altogether. In fact, some of those projects can be just plain fun.