Over the past few years I have helped nearly 100 owners set up a new shop. Often they already have a building. In one way this is good and in another way this is not so good. Many times they choose the wrong building, which makes it difficult to outfit a shop properly. The following is a basic guideline to selecting the proper building for your stone shop.
The size of the building is important. If you choose too small of a building, you will quickly outgrow it. A small work space will also hamper production and may be considered unsafe if workers are constantly tripping over one another. I recommend that you choose a building that is a minimum of 5,000 sq. ft. At least 3,000 to 4,000 of this should be shop space and the remaining office space. This is important for several reasons. First, many start-up shops will grow rapidly after the first year in business. If you don't plan for this growth, you will quickly outgrow the building. If you have leased a building and are tied into a three- or five-year lease, then you are stuck for the remainer of the lease. If you own the building and have not planned for expansion, then you will also suffer.
In addition to the square footage, you should pay attention to the elevation of the building. The building should be on ground level and not elevated above ground. This is critical because stone slabs are heavy and it can be difficult to move the stone into the building. A building with a loading dock is fine, as long as you have ground level access to the shop. It's a good idea to have a building with a concrete slab that can support heavy loads.
Unlike many retail operations, the building's location is not critical for the stone fabricator. This is especially true if you are in an area without a lot of competition. Walk-in or drive-by traffic is not a major concern. It is a good idea to be located in an industrial park or similar area where trucks can easily move in and out. You will be receiving stone slabs, which are delivered on largeflat bed tractor-trailers. If these trucks cannot gain access to your shop or are restricted in your area, then this is a major problem. When looking for a building, drive around the area and make sure that there are no truck weight limit restrictions. If there are, then look somewhere else.
Parking Area and Yard
Just as important as the building is the parking lot and land surrounding it. You should have an area that is paved. Gravel and dirt are not acceptable because it will make driving a forklift difficult and dangerous when moving slabs around. If you plan on storing your slabs outside, then you need plenty of room for storage. Make sure you also have plenty of room to move slabs around. We recommend that you have at least an area that is 100 by 100 ft. The more the better. If you're leasing the building, make sure the landlord is aware that you will be storing slabs outdoors. This can cause major problems if they won't let you store anything outside. Of course if you plan on storing all your slabs inside, you will need a much larger building than what has been recommended above. Make sure that there is plenty of room for the truck to turn around as well as room to unload the slabs. Make sure there are no power lines in the way, so that when the truck unloads the slabs there is no danger of hitting them. This could be a shocking experience as well as deadly.
The building should have at least 12-ft. high ceilings. You are going to have to lift the slabs up onto your saw table, and any ceiling height lower than 12 ft. will make it difficult to move.
You will also need to check the slope of the interior shop floor. Take some small marbles and place them on the floor to see which way the floor slopes. This is important because you will be using lots of water. The water needs to be able to run in a location where it can be easily collected and recycled or disposed. While slope is important it is not critical to building selection. Drains and/or dams can be constructed to help move the water to its desired location. If this is the case, you need to make sure it is cleared with the landlord.
The building should have adequate water volume. Your saw will be using water at a rate of about 5 gpm. Check to make sure there is enough water volume to the building.
A very important feature to look for in your building is the size of the overhead doors. The doors should be at the very least 12 ft. high. If the doors are smaller than 12 ft., then it will be extremely labor intensive trying to move full slabs in and out of the building. This can be a very time-consuming chore and will eat into your productivity. If you're building your own facility, you should plan on 16-ft.-high overhead doors.