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Agile local seizes granite market (04/05)

By KELLY LOUISEIZE Persistence, efficiency and a niche market are paying off for Thunder Bay’s Granite Tops.


Persistence, efficiency and a niche market are paying off for Thunder Bay’s Granite Tops.

Owner John Naccarato began refining granite into kitchen and bathroom countertops, tables and/or fireplace accents in 2000, when he realized no one in his region was working the compressed resource.

“Someone was always coming into town to install it, so I knew there was a good market for it,” he says.

With marketing strategies in hand, he set out to approach Thunder Bay’s contracting and cabinet-making sector, but quickly broadened his client base to include Minneapolis, Duluth, International Falls and Northern Minnesota companies.

Naccarato embedded his company’s name in the minds of prospective clients across North America by attending trade shows, but it took a while. In the first four to five visits, they came home empty handed, but persistence paid off. Today, the company has an equal portion of clients in northwestern Ontario and the northern United States.

It is amazing how many people are building houses in remote northern American towns, he says. He points to Warroad, Minnesota which, despite its population of 5,000, is experiencing more housing starts than Thunder Bay. International Falls-area residents are building retirement getaways and look to Granite Tops to provide materials for their dream homes.

“Once the customers realize you are in it for the long haul and you are not going away ... they try you out,” Naccarato says.

Before they developed market share in the United States, homebuilders would have to wait two months for granite products. Now, the waiting time is three weeks. Staying true to time lines has built up the company’s reputation. It helps that, in the stone industry, Canadians are known for quality products, he says.

And like any good Canuck looking to further enhance his company’s repuation, Naccarato went to Italy. He bought some CNC Auto Motion machinery that manufactures granite products through a numerically controlled system.

“With the same (staff), we could quadruple our production with the one CNC machine,” he says. “This gives us a pretty good competitive advantage.”

Sales have been on the upswing since inception. From nothing four years ago, the company now brings in $1.2 millionannually: $900,000 from granite sales and the rest from ceramics contracts. He expects to hire two more people this summer and double his sales within two years. If that happens,another ten jobs will be added to the current payroll of 11.