By Sarah Peiper
Owner Justin Howe got his start in residential construction, where he quickly identified a niche in countertops. Unsatisfied with the quality of countertops coming from his local market, he opened Adobe Walls Stoneworks (AWS) in 2003. Located in Amarillo, Texas, AWS is now the largest full-service countertop fabricator in the Texas Panhandle. With steadfast commitments to a quality product, its customers and employees, AWS strives for success with excellence at every step of the process.
Today, with the help of Sales Manager Torie Garrard, Operations Manager Micah Neely and Production Manager Mario Robles, General Manager Chris Sturdevant stands at the helm while Justin pursues other businesses in his portfolio. With 30 years of experience in management and sales, including 10 years in residential and commercial building, Chris has the background needed to run a successful operation. “We have weekly meetings to keep Justin informed on what’s going on here,” clarified Chris. “But for the most part, Justin trusts us because we’ve got a proven track record of growing the business year over year.”
Designated Remodeler of the Year in 2022 by the Texas Panhandle Builders Association, AWS covers a radius of 120 miles around Amarillo. They have two locations, including a fabrication center and the only indoor stone gallery in the area. AWS spares no expense by employing fully automated, computerized fabrication equipment and the latest laser technology for templating. They also carry the region’s largest selection of natural and engineered stone. On average, they fabricate about 1000 square feet of material per week.
Building a Team
AWS has 24 employees, most of whom have been on staff for five years or more. They use incentive programs to reward their employees for going the extra mile. The sales team operates on a base salary plus commission, and the fabricators also have a bonus program. On top of their base wage, they get a bonus per square foot cut. There are dry-erase boards throughout the shop that keep track of the number of days without a mistake. “They get to 30 days, and we have a cookout,” explained Chris. “It makes the team very conscious of what they’re doing. The fewer mistakes they make means, the more I can pay them.”
In the Shop
Current equipment includes a SaberJet XP 5-axis CNC saw, a Focus CNC bridge saw, a Titan 2800 CNC router and a Fastback II Edge Polisher — all from Park Industries. They also use Laser Products Industries’ LT2D3D Templator, SlabSmith’s Digital Imaging software system, and CounterGo by Moraware for estimating and scheduling.
“The SaberJet is the workhorse,” clarified Chris. “And the Focus is our backup saw, usually during high production season. The laser templator allows us to take accurate measurements and program the equipment to cut a tight-fitting finished product. The SlabSmith Digital Stone Image system enables us to have excellent pattern and vein match on waterfalls and full-height backsplashes, and it shows our customers multiple layout options.”
Regarding sustainable practices, they try to improve their processes and eliminate waste, including a custom water treatment system. “We have a strong commitment to the environment,” said Chris. “We recycle 100% of the stone waste by crushing it to an aggregate for roadways and landscaping.”
AWS is committed to the well-being of its employees with extensive training and safety programs. They have a training syllabus for all new hires, and it provides context around various materials and their properties, fabrication techniques and safety protocol. When new employees start, they shadow an expert to learn the ropes.
“Every Monday morning, we do a safety review,” said Chris. “There’s a safety program we follow that includes tooling, protective gear, heavy lifting — you name it. Then we do a Q&A to ensure everyone knows the right way to do things.” Chris says that reviewing basic safety measures repeatedly helps to keep safety top of mind for everyone in the shop. “Last year, we only had one reportable injury, a cut,” he admitted. “And we’re pretty proud of that. Not only is it the right thing to do for the welfare of our employees, but it keeps productivity high while keeping workers’ compensation claims to a minimum.”
Materials and Offerings
AWS works primarily with granite, quartz, marble, quartzite, soapstone, and solid surface, and they’re bringing in porcelain slabs. They also offer a large selection of ceramic and stone backsplash tile, sinks and faucets. They don’t sell cabinets — they subcontract it out — but they do sell the hardware. They also offer repair and restoration work and a 15-year sealer warranty on stone.
“We purchase materials differently than most,” said Chris. “Our sales manager, Torie, is very cognizant of what’s selling and what’s popular, and she goes on buying trips frequently throughout the year to places like Austin, Dallas, or Oklahoma City.” They generally buy four or five truckloads of material on each trip. This allows AWS to get the best possible prices and terms and pass the savings on to their customers.
Their inventory is usually about 65% stone, 25% marble, and 10% engineered materials, including quartz. “We try to keep about a million dollars of inventory on hand or order,” clarified Chris. “We like 120-day terms from our vendors, and hopefully, we can sell it before paying for it.” If something has been in the showroom for more than 120 days, they change its location to be more prominently displayed, then discount it or offer a 5% rebate to keep the stock moving.
They’re seeing a lot of interest in higher-end materials and add-ons like full-height backsplash, waterfalls and laminations. Quartzites are popular options, with Taj Mahal leading by a wide margin. “Five years ago, a $4,000 slab was top of the mark for us,” he recalled. “Now we’re stocking everything from builder-grade granite to high-end quartzite slabs. Engineered stone, including quartz, is getting more attention than ever. “I think it has more to do with increased customer awareness and a post-COVID zeal for a well-lived life.”
While offering a wide selection benefits their customers, the downside is that some materials are difficult to work with. “For example, the quartzites are super hard,” explained Chris. “If you’re working with marble, your blade will last three to four months. For quartzite, the blade will last three or four jobs.” When fabricating multiple materials, Chris says that scheduling is critical. They keep their Focus saw set up just for cutting granite, and most of the time, they have a quartzite blade on the waterjet saw, so they don’t have to change the blades throughout the day.
Going to Market
AWS is about 85% residential and 15% commercial. They have an outside sales representative who targets residential builders and a commercial sales representative who works with general contractors. To keep their brand top of mind, they run television commercials, and they are active on social media. But Chris says that their long-standing success in the marketplace positions them as a top choice for remodeling services.
The AWS sales approach doesn’t rely on upselling. “We sell to the need; if a customer has a property flip, we’ll sell them a builder-grade material, stainless steel sink and a basic faucet. Transitional house? Nice but neutral. Forever home? We help them get what they want within their budget.”
The AWS sales team educates customers about their purchases and how they might impact the value of their homes. “For example, most people don’t know what they should spend on countertop replacement,” explained Chris. “They want to spend as little as possible, but that can backfire on more expensive homes, so we did some research and figured out that in our area, about 5% of the value of a home is a good cost basis. A $100,000 home justifies a $5,000 kitchen. This works up to about a $500,000 home. The point is, if they put a $25,000 kitchen in the $100,000 home, it will only increase the market value by the same amount as a $5,000 kitchen, and if they put a $5,000 kitchen in a $300,000 home, it will actually decrease the home value. It helps them make better decisions.”
AWS sells by the slab instead of by the square foot. When they quote a price, it includes the material, templating, fabrication, installation and supplies. “Add-ons are sinks and faucets because you can spend a little or a lot,” explained Chris. “Our customers like our pricing because it’s transparent. We inform them about the material waste, which is generally 10%-15%, and we will fabricate offal to create window sills, trivets, table toppers and other small items. Sometimes there’s enough material for a powder bath top.”
If the customer doesn’t need the offal and the piece is large enough, it’ll go on the remnant rack. Remnants are the only thing they sell by the square foot, and since the material is already paid for and out of inventory, the only cost is labor.
AWS runs on good old-fashioned honesty. By educating their customers and selling to their needs, they build trust. “We do kitchens from about $3,000 to over $100,000,” said Chris. “But they’re all sold, scheduled, measured, fabricated and installed the same way, with the same care.”
A State-of-the-Art Showroom
AWS has a 12,000-square-foot indoor stone gallery, the only indoor showroom in the region. It’s a luxury space with more than 30 A-frames that display various materials and a four-slab butterfly feature wall. “The larger displays give the customer a better idea than if they were looking at 6- or 12-inch samples,” he clarified. The AWS showroom also includes over 30 sinks, 100 faucets and 200 tile samples. Chris says the showroom has increased their average sale. “It’s a beautiful, high-end, high-functioning space that has paid off for us.”
In addition, the showroom features a working kitchen which allows them to host cooking classes, wine tastings and other networking events such as the local builder’s association monthly Beer With A Builder and the Chamber of Commerce’s Business After Hours events. “Most recently, we held an event that raised $10,000 for a local group that provides coats, hats and gloves to the less fortunate,” explained Chris. “These events get anywhere from eight to 150 guests through our door who fit our customer profile.” AWS’ average sale is about $10,000. If you do the math on the investment on the events ($1,000-$2,000) and the leads generated, the return on investment is extraordinary.
Ultimately, investing in the local community is a win-win situation for AWS. They’re helping organizations to fundraise while donating space and shouldering the cost of the event. In return, they get potential customers in the door.
AWS is relatively isolated geographically, so they rarely attend trade shows or conferences, but they share best practices and work closely with local designers and builders. Subscribing to design and construction magazines keeps them ahead of trends. They follow Stone Fabricators Alliance on Facebook for some industry trends and work tips, and they are members of the International Surface Fabricators Association (ISFA). “Our fabricators attended ISFA’s solid surface training last year, which we needed to expand our commercial fabrication channel since that specifies a lot of solid surface,” said Chris. “The training was terrific, and we’re grateful for trade associations and how they support us in our work.”
Aspirations As Big As the Texas Sky
What’s next for AWS? Chris has strategic plans in place that aim to double the current sales volume within the next few years. With goals to expand the fabrication center to include additional storage capacity and functionality, the Texas sky’s the limit for this fabricator.
Learn more about AWS at www.adobewallsstoneworks.