Meet a pair of dedicated business owners who aren’t waiting for an economic boom to improve their business, and learn how their new digs are an impressive step up.
Moving a half-million pounds of stone across Rockford, two tons at a time, isn’t for the faint of heart. But no one ever accused Lonnie Presson or his business partner, Rick George, of lacking determination.
Surrounded by well-wishers, Presson and George snipped a red ribbon for the giant new location of 9-year-old Lonnie’s Stonecrafters, 3291 S. Alpine Road, on Oct. 29.
“Making this kind of an investment is a risk, for sure,” says Presson. “But I decided there’s no point in doing what everyone else has been doing in this soft economy: waiting for something magical to happen. I don’t plan to stop selling flooring or granite in this town, so I’m pushing ahead and I’m not going to let up.”
After purchasing the 47,000-square-foot building, Presson and George planned out the space with one thing in mind: Ease of use for customers.
“We want to make the stone-buying process as easy as possible for people, and to house the largest selection of granite slabs in the region,” says George. “We have more than 300 on display already, and soon we’ll top 1,000.” Along with granite, soapstone and marble, there are displays of quartz and engineered stone, too.
Inside the front doors, customers find a well-lit showroom with offices and a complete, functioning kitchen with granite countertops. Through a wall of glass with sliding doors, they see workers cutting and polishing custom orders, using state-of-the- art equipment. Hundreds of shiny, cool stone slabs – rows and rows of them – stand ready to be admired, touched and envisioned in a customer’s kitchen or bathroom.
“There’s nothing quite like granite,” says Presson. “And it’s probably a lot more affordable than many people think. There was a time when we couldn’t order it in volume, but now we can.”
Decades of success in the flooring industry have taught Presson that being competitive in price is important, but it’s not everything. Owning the best equipment, employing the best-trained people and building/upholding a rock-solid reputation are all part of the formula for building an enduring business. And Lonnie’s Stonecrafters intends to endure.
“I saw a customer just last week who had paid $1,000 to another stone company that folded the next day,” says George. “He’ll never get that $1,000 back. It’s important to do business with people who plan to be around for the long haul and will stand behind their work.”
“To make sure every customer is happy with the end result, we involve them in the process at all the of key points along the way,” George explains. “We don’t want any surprises at installation. We ask them to view the slabs up close in the store, and again on our computer, after we overlay their kitchen footprint with an image of the exact piece they’ve selected. Using our software allows them to see just how the patterns in their granite will fall in their footprint, so they have a chance, before the stone is cut, to tell us if there’s any portion of it they don’t like. We make sure our measurements are perfect, by using a laser measuring system that’s integrated with our CAD [computer assisted design] cutting machine and SLABSMITH software.”
Investing in the best equipment – American-made, when possible – is a guiding principle here, as evidenced by the American flag stamped on the row of modern machines in the workspace.
Presson and George also take the high road when it comes to environmental responsibility. Cutting and polishing stone requires a great deal of water, but they’ve installed a recycling system that keeps stone sludge out of the city sewer system and reduces water usage to nearly nil. “Lonnie didn’t have to do this – it wasn’t required by law or anything,” George explains. “It was an expensive addition, but he felt that as long as we were setting this place up from scratch, we may as well include the recycling system. It’s just the right thing to do.”
This means Presson and George had to install hundreds of feet of grate-topped drains into the cement floor. Dirty water runs into the floor grate, then feeds into the recycling system and comes out perfectly clear for re-use. Harmless, nearly dry chunks of lightweight rock dust are then disposed in the trash. “The system is self-contained, so aside from replacing a little water that evaporates, we’re hardly using any city water,” says George.
But great equipment would mean nothing without great people to operate it. This means sending staff members to industry seminars and making sure they’re comfortable answering customer questions about the stone-cutting process. “Without my wife Cassie and this great staff, we wouldn’t have seen our business grow each year the way it has, even during the recession,” says George.
When the partners first opened Lonnie’s Stonecrafters nine years ago on Laude Drive, behind Bob’s Ace Hardware, they anticipated expanding that facility someday, rather than moving.
“But as we started looking at the costs, we decided it was better to do this one time, in a space we can continue growing into,” says George. “The layout in the other building was less than ideal, and we would have been landlocked.”
The team also liked the new location. It’s right off the U.S. 20 bypass, and close to I-90 and I-39. Customers can find it easily, no matter what direction they travel from, which is essential.
“About 70 percent of our business is retail, selling straight to residential customers – mostly people who are staying in their current homes and fixing them up to enjoy or to put on the market later,” George explains.
The business also works closely with kitchen and bathroom design companies. “We learn a ton by working with those folks,” says George. “For example, they’re seeing a lot of interest in lighter shades of stone right now, so we’re stocking a wider spectrum of whites and creams. And, we make their lives easier, by delivering dependable results every time. They want happy customers, too.”