By Sarah Peiper
After working in the utility sector for almost 20 years, Gary Gutteridge decided it was time for a change. In 2018, he stumbled upon an opportunity to buy the Granite Gallery in Tumwater, Washington, and he jumped on it. Never having worked in surface fabrication previously, Gary welcomed the challenge to take an existing business and turn it into a household name. Gary and his staff have worked hard to rebrand and modernize a fabrication business that, while having been around since 2006, needed some fine-tuning. Today, Granite Gallery is one of the best fabrication shops in the area, primarily serving western Washington with plans to expand to the entire state and beyond.
A Fresh Start
With no previous experience in surface fabrication, Gary admitted he was making a pretty big leap. “I didn’t know anything about making countertops, honestly. I just went for it. I bought Granite Gallery, and most of the employees stayed on staff with me after the acquisition. The business was really struggling when I took it over. I ran parallel with the existing team — they knew more than I did at the time — and we worked together to make this thing what it is today. We’ve seen tremendous growth year over year, and I’m really proud of how far we’ve come.”
Gary has about 30 employees on staff, which includes 12 fabricators working two shifts, nine installers, and 10 working in sales and office management. “We’ve got a really good crew,” added Gary. “Everyone is really loyal and committed to doing great work. We have the big picture in mind at all times.”
Success Starts from Within
According to Gary, what sets Granite Gallery apart from the competition is attitude, energy, quality control, fair pricing, on-time service and putting employees first. When it comes to inspiring his team, he implements incentive programs and sets frequent goals that everyone understands and can achieve. “We have a lot of fun as a team; we charter boats for daytrips and organize other outings as rewards for our achievements. Our employees know we appreciate everything they do — the extra mile — and we have an open dialogue with each other.”
Like most shops, growth means more staff. Gary admitted it can be challenging to find new, experienced employees in this labor market. He’s fostering the next generation of fabricators and ushering them into a career with Granite Gallery. “We have 5-6 fabricators who are under 25 years old. They didn’t have much experience when I brought them on board, but they’re so smart — very tech savvy and they learn quickly. We’re leaning on these younger folks to learn the ropes, and offer new perspectives, too. They challenge us to rethink and revise so we can be the best we can be. It’s enlightening and inspiring to watch them grow in the work.”
Granite Gallery was doing mostly residential work when Gary acquired it. Today, they’re split about 50-50 between residential and commercial business, some of which is multifamily. “It’s been a growth opportunity for us to expand more into commercial work,” added Gary. “We’ve recently added some new machinery in the shop that will enable us to increase our output and support the commercial side while still being able to take care of residential.”
Gary and his team have been doing more luxury commercial, as well. From high-end facades with bookmatched details to backlighting and more, the team is having fun getting more creative. Currently remodeling the showroom, Gary will feature some stunning statement walls and unique applications, and the showroom will be divided to better serve residential and commercial clients. “We want our customers to see the breadth of our craftsmanship and all the possibilities there are using these beautiful slabs,” he added.
Granite Gallery works primarily with granite, marble, quartzite and quartz, going through more than 300 slabs per month. “The benefit of offering a wide selection is that we can bring everyone’s dreams to reality,” clarified Gary. “From basic countertops to luxury slab fireplaces, shower surrounds and more — there’s really no drawback other than storage space. Everybody’s got their own taste, and we try to stay current with the latest trends so that our offerings meet the needs of our clients.”
Investing in the Future
Gary has been pouring every dollar he makes back into the business. “It’s really a long game I’m playing, trying to grow the framework of the company to support expansion.” He’s recently purchased two BACA Robo SawJets, a Montresor Vela 7.2 edge polisher, a Turrini Claudio dual silo water recycling system and two Turrini Claudio dust collectors to help keep the shop running at maximum capacity, and support the health and safety of his fabricators.
Also in the shop you’ll find a crane system, a Brio 5-axis saw and an Intermac Master 33 CNC. The team uses the Flexijet 3D laser measuring system for projects that include walls, fireplaces and full-height backsplashes, and Laser Products Industries’ Laser Templator for countertops. “It’s tech like this that has really helped us maintain accuracy and maximize efficiency,” added Gary. “It’s all about working smarter.”
Another new piece of tech Gary’s excited about is a green screen photo booth that enables his team to take pictures of every slab that goes into inventory. “When we get a container, we capture images of our slabs, label them and upload them to a database,” clarified Gary. “Using software, we can provide digital renderings so the client can see the project and understand how their slab will be used.”
In Washington state, it’s so important to be environmentally friendly and energy efficient. It’s part of the social and political fabric. Granite Gallery prioritizes vendors who quarry stone using sustainable practices. “Our customers are focused on sustainability and so we’re trying to change the way we do things to support a better environment,” added Gary. “We try to educate customers and help them make the best decisions for their projects. The new technology we’re using for digital slab inventory and mockups enables us to minimize waste for customers. For example, the offal from the kitchen slab may be enough to make a table or a bathroom vanity, and because our customers purchase by the slab, we encourage them to avoid letting that extra material go to waste. It often leads to more projects — a win for everyone.”
In the shop, they recycle wastewater and the slurry created during the stone cutting and fabrication process is recycled into concrete. “Even if stone is discarded, we do whatever we can to recycle it,” said Gary.
For Granite Gallery, the most popular material right now is Quartzite. “We stock this material by the container. Our slabs are handpicked from multiple providers and delivered to our showroom so our customers can see their beauty firsthand.”
And to serve their customers with the best experience possible, Granite Gallery offers other services that help complete their remodeling projects with ease. The team offers cabinetry, tilework, sinks and other accessories, and more. They work with subcontractors for plumbing and electrical work to create a seamless experience for their customers.
Going to Market
And since word of mouth is Granite Gallery’s main marketing strategy, it’s important they build trust and rapport with each and every client. They’re also connected with a builder exchange, which helps them get specified by key local businesses and contractors in their area. They stay involved with the local community, exhibiting at the local home and builder show each year.
“We sponsor charity events like golf tournaments, little league baseball teams and more,” added Gary. “We donate materials to Habitat for Humanity. We put flyers out in every house on the local tour of homes each year. Part of it is about being involved in the community, but the flip side: I want the community to recognize that “G” in our logo and immediately know it’s Granite Gallery. I want that “G” to be the Nike swoosh of countertops!”
Since Gary’s only been in this business for a short while, he’s found a lot of value in being connected to others in the industry, including the International Surface Fabricators Association. “Learning from each other is so important, and since I’m rather new to this business, it’s been a big help for me to learn from others who have faced the same adversities,” added Gary. “Our door is always open to other fabricators who want to learn how we do things.”
The Future is Bright
Gary’s philosophy for success: Dream big to know what you’re shooting for. Surround yourself with good people and continue to educate yourself. “My advice to others,” he continued, “is to just jump in and do whatever it takes. Always put your staff and your customers first. Every decision you make should trickle down to a good customer experience.”
What’s next for Granite Gallery? Gary has hopes to open additional showroom spaces in Washington and beyond to expand his market presence.