One great sales tool at the disposal of Krukowski Stone is a 7,500-sq.-ft. showroom that shows uncountable possibilities for prospective customers.
Krukowski Stone owns two quarries, a quartzite sandstone quarry and an gneiss quarry (above) to back up all of its operations. In turn, it crafts a variety of projects both from its Cambrian Cream quartzite sandstone and Aqua Grantique gneiss, in addition to purchasing slabs in order to provide just about any product or service relating to stone.
For this stunning kitchen project, Krukowski used Wausau Red granite from another quarrier just 30 miles from it’s base of operations. This very hard granite is tough to find in slabs sizes conducive to countertops, so the company purchased 5 semi-loads of it, much of which was used in and around this private residence.
One of the benefits of having a stone production facility is access to a variety of high-end CNC equipment, such as this 3-axis machine with lathe, to use on any project for which they might be needed.
Fireplace surrounds, such as this one done in the company’s Cambrian Cream and provided with a flamed finish, is one of many products the company offers.
Jeff (top), his two sons, Brad (middle left) and Christopher (middle right) Krukowski, as well as his sister Joanie Krukowski-Whitt and brother-in-law Ted Kijak (bottom right) are all part of a family team that helps insure that the staff can be depended on, whatever their roles with the company. Jeff’s three daughters (not shown) also work full- or part-time at the company, which originated from the family farm in the 1940s.
Like most providers of natural stone, Krukowski has invested in a resin line that uses an epoxy resin to repair imperfections in the stone that would otherwise make a slab useless for many applications. This worldwide trend has helped to bring down the price of granite and other natural stones over the past several years and lead to a boom in the stone industry.
The countertop shop for Krukowski Stone, in Mosinee, Wis., doesn’t share the typical founding story of many other fabricators. As a matter of fact, countertop fabrication is only one small part of a much larger business that is backed by two of its own quarries.
Krukowski Stone was started in 1978 by owner Jeff Krukowski, and the countertop fabrication aspect of the business didn’t come into play until 18 years later in 1996.
Krukowski grew up on a farm in north central Wisconsin and lived a typical farming lifestyle. One unique aspect of the family farm was that many dark brown chestnut boulders dotted the landscape, and in the 1930s, the stone industry took notice. However, because the economy was just coming out of the depression, it wasn’t until the late 1940s that stone suppliers came calling.
Stone companies made inquiries into purchasing the boulders found on the property and the Krukowskis were happy to sell. “Basically the stone suppliers would buy the chestnut stone boulders from us and split it by hand for exterior building applications in Chicago or Milwaukee,” said Krukowski. “One of the first big projects our materials were used for was as veneer on the Marshall Fields store in Milwaukee.”
Larger companies began to seek out the material and while the demand grew in the ’60s and ’70s, the family continued to sell off the stone from their property.
In the mid-’70s, Krukowski graduated from high school, took a job at a factory, and helped in the farming and in the loading of these boulders for stone companies. However, after about a year of factory work, Krukowski decided it wasn’t the life he wanted and saw an opportunity to turn the stone supply into a business.
“One of the guys who was hauling the stones from our property was making $1,000 a day with the truck,” explained Krukowski. “And I was only getting about $100 a week at that time, so I didn’t need to be a Rhodes Scholar to figure out what I should be doing. I started with a little truck that I borrowed from my parents and provided stone for local projects. Then, in the later ’70s, I started going out to deliver it. Eventually, we started splitting the stone ourselves by hand and delivered a finished product to the stone yards in Wisconsin and then beyond to other states.”
After marketing further south, his own territory grew into the Milwaukee and Chicago markets, and eventually Krukowski purchased a 40-acre quartzite sandstone quarry that his grandfather had sold off in the ‘30s from the family land. Then, in 1979 he bought his first stone splitting machine and built a 20- by 30-ft. facility to house it. The company has had tremendous growth since the addition and has diversified in many ways, including purchasing a second quarry and developing its own fabrication shop.
Krukowski Stone now owns more than 650 acres of quarryable land and employs between 45 and 75 people, depending on the season. The current business is housed in a number of facilities that cover more than 62,000 sq. ft. The split shop is 12,000 sq. ft. alone and houses six splitters. The company’s sawing facility, which is where the countertop fabrication shop is also located, is 36,400 sq. ft. and the business also has a 7,500-sq.-ft. showroom.
HOW IT'S DONE
While the countertop shop is a relatively small part of the overall operation of Krukowski Stone (four dedicated employees fabricating three to five countertops per week), it has the benefit of a lot of high-end fabrication equipment. This is because the company is doing everything from cutting blocks and polishing slabs to architectural stone work and creating countertops all in one building. Among the equipment at the shop’s disposal is a variety of saws and CNC machines, including several bridge saws, multi-axis CNC machines, polisher, block saws and wire saws, among others.
Much like any semiautomated shop, the initial cutout is done on one of the bridge saws and then introduced into the CNC equipment for shaping and profiling. “We also have two very good people who do some of the simple fabrication work by hand,” explained Krukowski. “Sometimes it’s just faster to do a flat polish or something like that by hand than it is to set it up on a CNC machine.”
And while the company has a lot of multifunctional machinery at its disposal to cover all possibilities, some of the technologies designed specifically with countertop fabrication in mind, such as digital templating equipment, are not used. “Our main countertop person is old school, coming from a background where everything’s hand polished, etc.,” said Krukowski. “He templates it by hand, then the tops are fabricated and then we have a crew that installs them.”
In addition to offering the Cambrian Cream quartzite sandstone and Aqua Grantique gneiss stones that the company quarries, it also offers a selection of 70 other granites to its customers that it procures from distributors in the typical manner. And as far as how it gets to market, no stone is left unturned.
“While we send out our raw goods all over the United States and Canada, our countertop fabrication is mainly in central and north central Wisconsin, but we do fabricate a few dozen per year in other states as well,” said Joanie Krukowski-Whitt, administrative coordinator for the company. “Some of our longtime customers will have us fabricate counters for shipment throughout the country. We work with individuals, contractors, wholesale dealers, designers and architects. We provide technical information, detailed assistance with product selection, samples and a friendly and knowledgeable staff.”
And Krukowski is positive of the dependability and quality of his staff because a lot of them are his family, who have grown up around the business. “Family is important to us,” explained Krukowski-Whitt. “Most of Jeff’s immediate family work for the company. Joyce Krukowski, his wife, has worked with him in the office for many years. His son Brad is in charge of shipping. His son Christopher works in the new slab department, in charge of resining the slabs. His daughter Tammy takes local deliveries when she’s home from college, his daughter Ashley works in the office and his daughter Jennifer, a junior in high school, works summers doing miscellaneous items around the company. Ted Kijak, his brother-in-law, has worked with the company for more than 20 years and is a leadman, and I am Jeff’s sister.”
This trust placed in family has not gone unrewarded, as one of the largest outlets for new business comes via referrals. “We do some local television advertising and go to some shows, but we haven’t had to do a lot of marketing because we get a lot of repeat customers and word of mouth referrals,” said Krukowski-Whitt. “A lot of times the homeowners will come after being referred by a builder in the area whom we’ve worked with in the past. We’re here to help them whatever the need is for their house.”
“Once we start working with someone, we do it right the first time and we make the architect or homeowner happy,” added Krukowki. “So if our color scheme fits another application, they generally work with us. We just hired our first salesperson this spring. Working with the people over the years and doing it right the first time makes them happy, and [business] just continues to build.”
Having a 7,500 sq. ft., world-class showroom helps. About 25 percent of that showroom is dedicated to promoting countertops and stone tile, and Krukowski said he receives numerous compliments on the quality and depth of the displays. “I don’t want to sound like we’re bragging, but we’ve been told by hundreds of people that we have the nicest showroom in America,” said Krukowski. “Our wholesale distributors who come in from all over are always complimenting the showroom.”
Another big selling point for the company is that there is hardly a project they can’t handle or a service they don’t offer.
ALL THINGS STONE
When it comes to products in natural stone, having the whole operation at your disposal, including the quarry itself, can make a huge difference. In addition to countertops, Krukowski Stone provides a huge variety of both architectural and landscaping products and services, ranging from exterior cladding material, custom cut stones and thin veneers to columns, landscaping stones, signs and even water features. To that end, the company has a variety of block saws, wire saws, polishing lines, resining equipment and even a flaming machine and a Wheelabrator to texture the surface of the stones.
“We have the capacity to produce 850,000 sq. ft. of slabs a year,” said Krukowski. “Each slab is about 60 sq. ft. of 3-cm material. We sell 25,000-plus tons of wall and flagstone and approximately 25,000-plus tons of veneer a year to stone yards and building and landscape supply yards throughout the United States and Canada. We also sell to architectural and landscape contractors and to retail customers in Wisconsin and to contractors and individuals in other areas of the United States and Canada where we do not have dealers.
“Most of the architectural type projects we do go through dealers,” continued Krukowski. “We fabricate tens of thousands of square feet a year that we never do see the end product for. We take it off the drawings and fabricate it and send it out and it’s put together by someone else. I guess if there’s anything in stone, we generally can do it.”
Having developed his business from picking and selling surface boulders to creating block quarries, Krukowski has seen a lot of changes in the stone industry in general. One of these changes that the company is taking full advantage of is the resination of slabs, which has become very common over the past five years.
“We started out splitting boulders and that paid for us to advance our operations and start slabbing,” said Krukowski. “Then we put in our resin line and we resin the material to take care of any imperfections. Our stones have a lot of little short fissures and we are using an epoxy resin that makes it better.” With the advent of this technology they can make stone sound and use them in more applications.
He said fissures that would have previously prevented material from being used in North America can now be used, which has allowed the price to drop and opened the door for more and more use of natural stone. “Without [resin technology] 80 percent of the slabs wouldn’t be solid enough to be used,” said Krukowski. “If you have to replace that material, it would be unaffordable to 98 percent of your customers.”
And by taking advantage of all of the technologies on the market, such as resining of slabs, the company has experienced remarkable growth. “For the past 15 to 30 years, up until this year, we’ve had tremendous growth,” said Krukowski-Whitt. “We’re fortunate that with our stone we can do so many different things. A lot of companies stick with the same landscaping stone and don’t want to move forward. We were one of the first companies to cut thin veneer and we’re a major quarrier and manufacturer of natural thin veneers. The opportunity seemed to be there to go forward with the slabbing department, so we are moving forward there, too. Although there are some harder economic times now, we’re making sure we’re providing a very good product, and going above and beyond and expanding in new areas that are out there.”
THE BIG PICTURE
While most fabricators don’t and can’t have
the kind of offerings that are afforded to a company that quarries its own stone, there is
a lot to be learned from the diversity that is offered by Krukowski.
“There are some advantages of being able to offer all of these products and services,” said Krukowski. “I think in a year like this year, the more diversified you are, the less impact a slowdown has.”
And it can also lead to a lot more sales, according to Krukowski-Whitt. “When people walk into our showroom, which is pretty elaborate, maybe looking for stone for the exterior of their house, they see the fireplace or countertops, and might decide to do their fireplace with stone or their countertops,” she said. “Then, they see that we sell landscaping stone and they incorporate the exterior landscaping with stone. Or they add trim pieces that they didn’t know were an option to dress up their windows and things like that. When they see what we have available, we can sell more products that maybe weren’t originally intended or thought of by the homeowner or designer coming in.”
On the flip side, there are some disadvantages of covering the full spectrum of products. “Because we fabricate granite, limestone and sandstone into any number of products, sometimes we are busy and have to quickly overcome a learning curve on some project or material,” said Krukowski. “Once you get the recipe down . . . and document what works and what doesn’t, it helps. For those guys who just do granite, they’ve got that down, but when you cross over to three or four different types of stones it’s tougher.”
For boon or bane, Jeff Krukowski and his family have made a livelihood out of dealing with all things stone, and if the excitement in their voices and the passionate way they discuss their business is any indicator, they are happy with their decision and wouldn’t change it if they could.
For more information contact Krukowski Stone Company Inc. at 3781 County Road C, Mosinee,
WI 54455; 715-693-6300; email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org;
Editor & Associate Publisher Kevin Cole can be reached at email@example.com.