In the solid surface industry, mixing domestic tranquility with the sounds and smells of solid surface fabrication is practically a tradition. Rick Smith of Custom Surfaces started out fabricating Corian on his back porch. Mark Converse of J-Con Woodworking routinely filled his home with the distinctive aroma of thermoformed solid surface while fabricating sheets in his basement, and Ohio Valley Supply's Chuck Sawyer took on whole commercial projects and built them in his garage.
For Don Hinckley of NBC Solid Surfaces Inc. in Springfield, Vt., it was a slightly different twist on a familiar story. Not only did his garage serve as a fabrication shop, it was his home.
"My wife and I purchased 30 acres in Chester, Vt., that had an old, burnt out stone house on a hill overlooking a beaver pond," Hinckley recalled. "I tore down the house and built a garage in its place with an apartment above for us to live in. When we began fabricating solid surface, we had to open the garage doors every time we ran a sheet through the table saw because space was so limited."
A former homebuilder turned remodeler, Hinckley delved into solid surface when his attorney asked him to furnish a Corian countertop as part of a kitchen redo. "I had never heard of the stuff, but his wife wouldn't settle for anything less," said Hinckley. "So, I got a quote."
Things progressed smoothly until Hinckley learned he would not be able to install the countertop himself. Unwilling to accept such a state of affairs, he contacted the local distributor for assistance and information. His timing was perfect for two reasons. First, there were no other solid surface companies in Vermont outside of the fabricator from whom he had obtained the quote, and second, that fabricator had taken on distribution of a product competitive to Corian.
"The distributor told me it would take some money," Hinckley remembered, "but if I would go to Kennett Square for training, they would certify me to install the job myself. I quickly agreed, and headed off for Pennsylvania. The first time I cut into a sheet of Corian I fell in love with solid surface. I knew then I wanted to not only install, but fabricate countertops"
Coincidentally, the DuPont instructor at Kennett Square was a man by the name of Bill Wolle, whom Hinckley admired for his extensive knowledge and expertise in solid surface fabrication. Little did Hinckley suspect that, one day, he would serve as president of the International Solid Surface Fabricators Association (ISSFA), which employed Wolle as director of training and certification.
Back at Chester, Hinckley and his employee, Brian Albert, set to work fabricating the kitchen countertop for his attorney friend. The couple had specified Corian Black Pearl with a full bullnose edge and a semi-gloss finish. It was a daunting proposition for a brand new fabricator, made even more intense by the cost of materials.
"I was paying close to $700 for a sheet of this stuff, and to me that was a ton of money," Hinckley said. "Every time I got near it with a router the sweat would roll off my forehead. I measured 100 times before I started cutting. The job came out great, but it took a whole week to build."
Flush with success from their first project, Hinckley and Albert focused their energy on bringing in more countertop work. At the outset, Hinckley knew he wanted to sell to kitchen dealers, avoiding the headaches of dealing with the retail market completely. He began calling on his target market, trying to win their business with the promise of exceptional service and quality.