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Business Spotlight: Springfield Granite Company

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by Laura Scott|ret||ret||tab|

SBJ Contributing Writer|ret||ret||tab|

sbj@sbj.net|ret||ret||tab|

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Granite has become such a popular item for kitchen projects that Scott and Tracy Hardwick can barely stay on top of it. The fast-growing business has gone from eight full-time employees to 40 in the last two years as the husband-and-wife team continues to plan for future growth.|ret||ret||tab|

Springfield Granite Company mostly provides custom countertops to building contractors and cabinet builders. One of those contractors, Audrey Yates with Designer Kitchen Interiors in Camdenton, uses Springfield Granite for most of her custom kitchen jobs.|ret||ret||tab|

"We do lots of big, beautiful homes around the lake, and we think they're pretty great to work with. Their follow-up is good, and we use them on almost every job," she said.|ret||ret||tab|

The bulk of Springfield Granite Company's business comes from about 400 accounts in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma. About 8 percent of business is an account with Lowe's to provide services for its 37 area stores.|ret||ret||tab|

"We do the majority of Lowe's work in the four-state area," Hardwick said. "We actually install it for Lowe's, too. It's not just where we drop off the material and they have someone else put it in. We do the whole thing turn-key for them."|ret||ret||tab|

The countertops are manufactured at the company's 15,000-square-foot building. The countertops are made from wood templates made in the shape of the countertop. The average rock slab, imported from places such as Brazil and Italy, is 5-by-10 feet and weighs about 1,150 pounds.|ret||ret||tab|

The rock comes from suppliers in Kansas City, Chicago, Dallas, Tulsa or Memphis. One of those suppliers is Dan Brown of Bedrock International in Kansas City. |ret||ret||tab|

"They've grown in the past three or four years by leaps and bounds," said Brown. "We enjoy working with them and have a good relationship."|ret||ret||tab|

The average cost for adding granite to a kitchen project is $4,000 to $7,000, Scott Hardwick said. |ret||ret||tab|

"The consumer has a misconception about granite, that it's astronomical and they can't afford it," he said. "Whenever we bid against Corian we're plus or minus 10 percent. There are 30 to 40 stones available that we can do cheaper than Corian for the same kitchen. Corian doesn't have near the light reflection or sheen that granite has."|ret||ret||tab|

A huge saw with a diamond blade cuts the granite slab into the desired shape before the top is edged, smoothed and loaded for its destination. Three full-time installation crews put the countertops into place. |ret||ret||tab|

"There's not much stuff made for our industry," Hardwick said. "We can't buy a lot of the equipment, so we designed it ourselves and had it built by a fabricator."|ret||ret||tab|

The $60,000 saw that cuts the granite is nothing compared to the monthly expense of $25,000 in diamonds. "The expense is that everything we use has to have some kind of diamond content in it to cut or polish the granite. That kind of gets my wife mad," he said.|ret||ret||tab|

Until four years ago, Hardwick installed ceramic tile. "It took its toll on my hands and knees after doing it for 15 years," he said. He installed tile in high-end homes at Lake of the Ozarks and felt that going into the granite business was a natural progression for him. He asked Rick Kalmbach with Dakota Cabinets in Ozark for advice.|ret||ret||tab|

"He told me it was a tough business and five others were already doing it. I went to his office and he pulled out a kitchen and bath trade magazine and it said the number one reason why not to do it was profit. The key is to make money based on volume rather than per job," Hardwick said.|ret||ret||tab|

The Hardwicks saved $10,000 to start the company, acquired a table to cut and polish the stone and leased a 3,200-square-foot building on South Scenic.|ret||ret||tab|

"We bought a few basic tools to get everything going. The first two years, we didn't take a paycheck," he said. "What we had then, we funneled back into the business. We've grown bigger than I ever dreamed of. When we moved into this building (in 2002), we sat down and came up with a five-year business plan, which we exceeded last year. We're doing 20 kitchens a week right now. We're running two shifts from 6 a.m. to midnight every night."|ret||ret||tab|

Hardwick bought the equipment in June 1999 and began fabricating in August. "From that time until December 1999, it was mostly just me figuring out what I was doing," he said. "I still had a tile company that was going, so I played four or five months and did 10 or 12 kitchens just to learn what I was doing. In July 2000, we hired our first outside salesman. Our sales were $88,000 the first half of the year and just over $400,000 the last half after we added the salesman."|ret||ret||tab|

The second year, company revenue hit $900,000 and sales increased to $1.3 million in 2002. In 2003, revenue almost doubled to $2.4 million and Hardwick projects that to grow to between $3.6 million and $4 million in 2004.|ret||ret||tab|

Hardwick plans to add a second computerized saw that will be able to be programmed to cut the slab.|ret||ret||tab|

"We're adding a lot more machinery to give some relief to the amount of labor on the floor," Hardwick said. "It won't take the place of jobs, but will give us the ability to cut more accurately and faster. We're doing four kitchens a day now. This will give us the capability to double (production) to eight a day and to 40 a week. We can be out installing more instead. I don't see us shrinking or laying people off. It will mostly be just repositioning."|ret||ret||tab|

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