By Sarah Peiper
Bella Casa Countertops and Stone is a full-service surface fabrication and installation company located in Littleton, Colorado, a charming suburb in the foothills of Denver. With a background in construction management, Geoff Jernigan started a remodeling company in 2002, growing the business organically and constantly advancing every year. He began experimenting with surface fabrication while running the remodeling company. The explosive housing and population growth encouraged him to transition the business to countertops and surfaces exclusively in 2010.
Background in Building
Geoff’s experience overseeing complete construction projects offered perspective into the service trades and a better understanding of homeowner needs. “We understand the bigger picture, and we can help problem solve for the builder, homeowner and our business,” he recalled.
Geoff saw the need to simplify the process and better serve homeowners with custom surface fabrication and service devoted to quality and integrity. “I wanted to stay focused in a linear production process — being able to create and manufacture with efficiencies, controls and schedules, and excel in that one thing.”
“I love the transformation from slab to finished product,” Geoff continued. “It’s amazing to see the raw materials turn into something aesthetically pleasing and functional, often in the heart of a home — the kitchen. Incorporating a unique slab that defines a space is really special; it’s fun to be part of that process.” He manages the day-to-day operations, including oversight of the crew, and he is the main point person for projects and key relationships.
His wife, Cary, holds an MBA and previously worked in the financial sector in sales, marketing and customer relations. When she joined the business full time a few years ago, it made perfect sense for her to spearhead customer service, marketing and office management. She’s helped the company expand its online presence and increase marketing efforts with focused campaigns designed to grow the brand and get more visibility. She’s developed the showroom and customer experience, elevating their sales process. “These are tasks I could never devote the time to,” added Geoff. “She does all the behind-the-scenes business management stuff that takes me away from production but is still so valuable to our clients and our team.”
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
The Bella Casa service team has 10 dedicated professionals, including project managers, fabricators, CNC operators, installers and client service specialists. Most of the employees have been with the company for at least five years — some as many as 15 years. “We’re a tight-knit crew,” said Cary. “Some of our employees started as neighbors or friends, and now they are family. They’re here because they love what they do. We try to foster an environment where they can succeed in their work. It’s important to find your employees’ strengths to help them grow their careers into meaningful and successful professions.” Geoff and Cary say this is critical to employee retention.
When it comes to managing their staff, Geoff and Cary lead with kindness, and they prioritize showing their appreciation for staff. “Everyone has an opportunity to provide input,” clarified Geoff. “And not only about the day’s tasks but the broader goals. It’s not an individual effort here; we provide a space for all our employees to have a voice and provide input into the business.” Along those lines, Geoff says it’s vital to work alongside your employees at every stage of the process. “Installs, polishing, cutting — whatever it is. It teaches you their challenges and gives you a chance to troubleshoot your processes.”
“We’re working on expanding our crew,” added Cary. “We’re adding a third installation crew, production staff and templating specialists.” But Cary says the labor market in Denver is tight, and finding the right people for the job is more challenging than ever. They leverage online job posting sites, word of mouth and referrals to find new employees.
The Jernigans are finding that young people are experimenting with their careers. “There’s a lot of movement as they try to figure out what kind of work inspires them,” said Geoff. “We get a lot of applicants that think this job is simple, and it’s just not. There is so much attention to detail. You must be willing to learn the fine aspects of the work.”
Geoff says there are people looking for work but don’t have the necessary skills, which is OK. “If you find someone who is willing to learn, it can be so rewarding,” he added. “I’m more than happy to train the right person. Everyone has different skills and perspectives that they can apply in amazing and often surprising ways. So you really have to think about who you’re hiring and why, and be open to what they can do as they grow and learn with you.”
In the Shop
Bella Casa’s current space is three leased units, all within the same area but physically disconnected. The production facility is about 2,500 square feet; another unit is 2,000 square feet of inventory; and the office/showroom is about 4,000 square feet. “The showroom space is fairly new to us,” clarified Cary. “We wanted a professional space to showcase materials, styles, current designs and industry trends and meet with our clients about their projects. It’s about elevating the customer experience and being able to meet personally to discuss their project and to see the process.” It’s currently under construction and will be completed in the next few months.
Geoff and Cary lean on technology and good internal communications to keep the shop running at maximum efficiency.
On the production side, they use the Flexijet 3D laser measuring system for templating and some heavy machinery to work the slabs. Their primary 5-axis CNC saw is a Thibaut TC600, and they just added a T812 router. “Both of these use the metric system,” said Geoff. “So we are in the process of moving all calculations and drawings throughout our procedures to metric from standard. It’s been an interesting challenge!” For filtration, Bella Casa uses GranQuartz’s Water Bear III filtration system, which cleans and recycles their water. They plan to implement Slabsmith in the next few months. Geoff likes the efficiencies it allows in queuing up the saws in advance, remnant tracking capabilities, and viewing accurate slab layouts.
And while the shop has some state-of-the-art tools to keep things running smoothly, the front end uses a few to maintain efficiency and accuracy. They run Moraware’s CounterGo for quoting and sales tracking. “I don’t know how we’d operate without it, honestly,” admitted Cary. And as a marketer, she understands the importance of brand awareness and bringing in new business. She relies on Countertop Marketing Co. to help her with the website and search engine optimization to funnel in potential customers. “They’ve also helped us add searchable wholesaler inventories to our site, and they update it regularly, so we are always showing current and available materials,” she added. “It’s been a terrific asset.”
The team holds production meetings and best practice summaries, reviewing projects to brainstorm ways to improve and increase efficiency. “Our margin is lean,” said Geoff. “We’re always looking for ways to operate at our best, and that best is always a moving target.”
A Dedication to Craftsmanship
The Bella Casa team specializes in top-notch craftsmanship in countertops and surfaces, working primarily with natural stone, including granite, marble, quartzite, and manufactured materials such as quartz and porcelain. They complete an average of 10 jobs per week. Their craftsmanship is often shown in large-scale projects that combine small details that sum into a complex undertaking, exceeding expectations. “Clients come to us for higher-end projects because they know we will give it the attention to detail necessary,” said Geoff.
“Over the past four years, we have committed ourselves to become one of the best fabricators in the Denver area for ultra-compact surfaces,” he continued. “They’re just starting to become popular here. We are now one of the only fabricators in the Denver area providing porcelain materials, including Dekton. We don’t shy away where other fabricators do; it’s that level of expertise that sets you apart.”
Cary says working with multiple materials has its benefits. From a marketing perspective, Bella Casa can offer the best range of material choices, and they can attract a diverse clientele. “We have enough designs, ranges of style, and functionality — we can position ourselves as experts across all kinds of projects,” she added.
On the shop side, Geoff says that the broad scope of materials can drain efficiency. “Obviously, if we stuck to fabricating one material, the production line would cruise,” said Geoff. “It takes time to train fabricators on multiple materials, and there is some downtime when it comes to tooling, both of which increase your overall costs.” For example, when it comes to porcelain, Geoff and his team have become efficient using the TC600 but with different tooling. “It’s about learning the right blades, incremental finger bits, feed rates and RPMs.”
Going to Market
Cary attributes the company’s growth to repeat business and key relationships with contractors, designers, restoration companies, and wholesale material distributors in the Denver front range. Their business is primarily residential — about 90%. “We’re rapidly expanding those relationships while serving homeowners directly,” she added. “Being close to material distributors gives us terrific insight into design trends and styles. It helps us stay on top of material offerings while maintaining a streamlined customer experience.”
“From a marketing perspective, we just do our best to keep our company’s visibility front and center,” she continued. “Expanding our website and prioritizing search engine optimization has paid off for us.”
What sets Bella Casa apart from the competition is their devotion to integrity and quality. “In the end, nothing beats a happy customer,” said Geoff. “Any fabricator knows the importance of referrals and how a good customer experience will travel and come back to you in one way or another.” Cary says it’s all about the extra mile in customer service; they genuinely care for their clients and take great pride in making each project the best it can be.
The Jernigans lean on trade shows like TISE and KBIS to stay aware of the scope and depth of the industry. They’re also members of trade associations like the International Surface Fabricators Association (ISFA) and the Natural Stone Insititute. “ISFA events and introductions are so valuable,” said Cary. “Especially the shop profiles and facility tours. We enjoy the networking opportunities and business development discussions. Industry peer and professional relationships are so important for building a successful business.”
“We also make it a point to give back to our local community,” added Cary. “We’re involved with the Littleton Chamber of Commerce, which supports local small businesses. It helps us market our business and make essential connections throughout our community.”
Mile High Aspirations
Geoff says the business is rapidly expanding, and they’re doing their best to keep up with it. “We just doubled our shop space, and we’re developing our new showroom — all of which is in a leased building. Even so, I’m already considering a land purchase to build and develop an owned space.”
Even though the economy is in flux, Geoff and Cary are optimistic about the future. With a willingness to challenge themselves with new projects outside their comfort zone, the sky is the limit, says Geoff. “We’ve found success in the past by trying new things — taking on bigger projects that give us the experience and the context we need to keep expanding. It’s inherent in how we work, and we’ll continue fostering that growth by exploring new materials, technologies and processes.”
“Always be curious,” Geoff continued. “Maintain a positive attitude, seek efficiencies and new ways of doing things while working with purpose and intention. I’m always thinking about what’s next —investing in the business with new machinery and, most importantly, good people. That’s our formula for success, and if we stick to that, I know the monetary success will follow.”