The Shad trucks are famous for their part in the company’s TV advertising and consumers welcome the shiny deliveries.
At more than 10,000 sq. ft., Hall’s location in Windham, Me. (top) dwarfs his original 500 sq. ft. location (bottom) in Portland, Me.
A 'WHOLE' NEW WORLD
While advertising has certainly pushed the Shad brand into new homes, wholesale fabrication is not as simple as just selling tops — it’s about efficiency. If a wholesaler cannnot make a product efficiently and economically the price goes up, not just for the dealer/distributor, but for the end consumer as well which could make or break a sale.
Hall knew going into business that, as a wholesaler, he needed to keep his cost down and his production up.
“In the beginning we were cutting solid surface sheets the length of a skill saw, ripping the sheets down through a table saw, and doing all of our seams with a router,” said Hall. “It would take forever to cut and glue a kitchen.”
Hall found a solution to his production issues through Colonial Saw when he decided to purchase a Striebig saw because, according to Hall, everyone had a Striebig. But, after building his business with the most basic tools to fabricate solid surface, the price tag — $24,000 — was a bit intimidating.
“I thought $24,000 was a lot, but I had to be able to keep up without hiring a lot of employees,” said Hall. “Then, the experienced employees I did want to hire would be surprised I didn’t have a panel saw and leave.”
Hall knew the machine was important to his shop and tackled the money head on. He would spread the cost of the machine over five years. That worked out to $4,800 per year, which was still quite a large sum of money to Hall. He broke down the cost of the machine even further, figuring out what it would cost monthly, weekly and finally daily — just $20!
“Cutting just one sheet on the machine would save me $20 in hourly wage, the cost of operating the machine for one day,” explained Hall. “If I used the saw for only one hour per day, I made my money on the machine, but of course you use your saw for more than one hour a day, and it’s easy to justify it.”
In 1999, the Striebig OptiSaw 2 was set up, placing Hall and Shad’s Custom Countertops in a much better position to handle the growing wholesale work available from Lowe’s as the chain of home centers expanded. As the shop continued to expand and purchase new equipment to help make the shop more efficient, the same methodology of breaking down the cost of the machine to a comfortable amount was applied.
“I used that way of thinking when I purchased the shop’s automatic Striebig,” explained Hall. “With the automatic saw, we’re not just saving money because the machine is quick, we’re also saving man-hours because we can multitask while the automatic Striebig Control is operating.”
Not only did the purchase of the Striebig saws help the shop keep up with the growing Lowe’s business, it also made things a lot easier on Hall’s employees.
“My dad had a countertop business, and he brought me to his shop when I was 7 years old,” said Hall. “That’s how I learned what to do, so now I spoil my guys. They have the kinds of equipment I would have loved to worked with like the Paralign seaming clamps, dust-free sanders and of course the saws. I try really hard to make it a great working environment for them. When I worked in a shop, that’s what I would have wanted to work with.”
A LOOK INSIDE
Shad’s Custom Countertops fabricates not just solid surface but also custom square edge and post-form laminate tops in three shop departments.
“We’re a little bit different than other shops following this industry trend where many solid surface shops aren’t doing laminate,” said Hall. “In most cases, if you’re solid surface, you do solid surface and stone; and if you are a laminate shop, that’s all you fabricate. We do laminate and solid surface, and not as many shops are pairing those now.”
Pairing solid surface with laminate, rather than with stone, has eliminated the need for wet tooling and machines, making it simple to cross-train the shop employees, with more than one person who can do everything. The shop has one employee who works primarily in custom square edge, two who work in post-form and another two, including the shop foreman, who work in solid surface in the shop. Hall also employs two dedicated installers as well as various office personnel.
When it comes to work flow, the shop’s post-form fabricators work 100 percent in the post-form department. Should the need arise, employees in the solid surface department can move over to work in post-form; the custom square edge department can also work in post-form as well as solid surface.
Before feeling the effects of the recession in 2008, Hall employed four fabricators in the post-form department and four in solid surface with three employees on the road installing. Because his key employees are cross-trained and able to move around, they can keep up with the work no matter what type of job comes in.
As business begins to slowly pick up from last year, Hall has been able to take another look at his shop’s production.
“The solid surface department is great,” said Hall. “That department runs like a Rolex, but we have to make our post-form department more efficient. That’s my own fault. I have the ideas to make things run better, but I never get around to doing it. What we need to do in post-form to build more tops in a day is wipe the slate clean with the department layout. I want to do a complete analysis of the whole thing to get us on the right path with that department.”
In the past, other production efficiencies have included only providing template and install services for solid surface, but now template and installs are available on the laminate as well for a small fee; solid surface services are still built into the price of the top.
“We never used to install the laminate, but due to the economy we’ve been installing laminate countertops, too,” said Hall. “It gets our trucks out more, though, which are nice and clean and have our logo on them. Fabricators looking to stimulate some growth in their market should look into things like that.”
THE ECONOMIC FACTOR
Hall is also working to stimulate growth, not just directly, but through his dealer network through a number of promotions, including free sinks with solid surface tops and a gas give-away last year when the price of fuel was at its highest, and establishing retail pricing.
“It’s tough on wholesale to set retail prices, but our dealers have asked for it,” explained Hall. “To put our dealers on an even playing field with the large home center, we’ve set some pricing and promotions by asking the dealers what they want their margins to be. Then, we look at the cost and what they want to sell it for. If that works, we come up with a retail price to try and drive sales for them so consumers know they don’t only have to look at Lowe’s for a low price.
“We hear day in and day out our dealers can’t compete with Lowe’s. We provide a free sink for Formica InDepth consumers; it’s a stainless steel sink. Box stores can do that, but a kitchen dealer can’t get a free sink, so we’ve decided to eat the cost on a stainless steel sink and offer that for our dealers.”
Hall has attributed the halt in business in large part to the price of oil, something that affects the Northern states like Maine, which uses oil to heat homes, more than the rest of the country.
“I don’t think the lower half of the country was as affected by $4/gal. heating oil. That added a huge scare up here. It was the most expensive it ever was the winter before, and then oil doubled and people were worried about it being $4,000 to heat their homes this winter. When heat is that expensive, no one is spending money, especially not on countertops.”