Welcome to the latest in a monthly series of Google+ Hangout interviews with small-business owners and operators from across Canada.
D. Jeff Heggie, president of Cardston, Alta.-based Kodiak Mountain Stone, was here to discuss his business and its operations, and outline some of the unique benefits and challenges of operating in Alberta.
Kodiak Mountain Stone helps owners, builders, designers and architects by offering them manufactured stone, natural stone, brick, acrylic stucco and lightweight concrete fencing products to suit just about every need. It also sells masonry for exterior sidings, fireplaces, feature walls, and custom-made projects.
To view the Hangout, click on the video player below. For answers to questions we didn't have time to address, see the text below the box.
Question: How intensive is your manufacturing process, and what advantages does the manufactured stone provide for your company and for builders?
Answer: Our manufacturing process is quite intensive. There is definitely a lot of manual labour involved. With our initial factory in Leavitt (Alta.) everything was manual. As we progressed we changed a lot of the process to take out some of the manual labour. By the time we opened up the factory in Utah we had come a long way and automated quite a bit of the process. But even with the changes and automation, there's still a lot of manual work that goes into making the stone.
Ease of use is probably one of the main advantages of manufactured stone versus natural stone. Kodiak Mountain Stone is produced to be directly installed. Everything from the shape, profile and weight are designed to be installed right out of the box. The backs of the stone are flat. Manufactured stone averages around 10 to 12 pounds per square foot, and some of the profiles are designed to be installed in a manner we refer to as dry-stacking. With dry-stacking, the stones are placed tightly together so that after they are installed there is no additional grouting between each stone. In the end, this means easier, quicker and cheaper installation versus almost all natural stone products.
Q: Was your company one of the first to offer manufactured stone? Would you say Kodiak has changed the building business in some way?
A: Kodiak Mountain Stone was not one of the first to offer manufactured stone. Artificial stone veneer has been around since the early 1960s. There has obviously been a lot that has changed since that time from style and profiles to the manufacturing process itself. We have been involved in the industry for nearly eight years and have been able to have an impact in the areas we've done business. We've been able to offer unique styles and colors that had previously been unavailable. With our stores we have also been able to offer our customers beautiful showrooms with our specialized products.
Q: What would you say is unique about doing business in Alberta compared with other provinces and territories, or in the United States, when it comes to regulations, marketing and other key competencies?
A: In the U.S., there are some different regulations than in Canada when it comes to commerical projects. For this reason we have gone through all of the engineered testing that is required in the U.S. This has been beneficial because even though there are no set guidelines yet in Canada for manufactured stone, our testing results show that the quality of our stone is very good. The regulations in the U.S. include testing such as compressive strength and freeze thaw. For our Canadian climate these are important tests to have.
As for marketing, we obviously market different in Lethbridge and Calgary than other areas. In those two markets we have our own stores and we are targeting the builders, masons and end users directly. In other markets we are pushing sales through our dealers who are doing their own marketing. We get many inquiries from our website. If the website inquiry is from an area where we have a distributor that can support the customer we inform the customer about our dealer and let them know we will be sending their inquiry to the dealer in their area.
Q: You've had a lot of success over the years, in business and on the awards front. What do you consider Kodiak's biggest accomplishment, and what is its biggest hurdle going forward?
A: Our team has been loyal, adaptable and driven over the years. Most of our current team has been with us for a number of years, some from almost the beginning. We've gone through many different stages and have had to change everything from the way we manufacture to the way we market our product to adapt to changes in the economy and the markets we serve. Our team has been willing to adapt to whatever changes we have needed to make to help build the company. I think our biggest accomplishment is that we started out in a little shop in Leavitt and have grown to be a company with a factory in Utah, offices in Cardston, stores in Lethbridge and Calgary, plus dealers spread throughout the west. This growth and success is attributed to our great staff focused on making the company better and helping their customers.
Q: Can you share your most memorable business experience?
A: I've had a lot of memorable experiences in business, some good and some bad. One that stands out as we talk about the history of our company and our manufacturing is when I first started the company. I had spent weeks preparing our soon-to-be factory in Leavitt. I had spent a lot of time training on the process of how to make manufactured stone. Now the time had arrived. I was excited to get things going and was ready for our first attempt at production. I had it planned out. The first colour I was going to produce was a brown tone that I thought would be very popular. I carefully painted and poured the first stone. This was the stone that I planned on keeping forever in my office to mark the beginning of Kodiak Mountain Stone. The next day I got to the factory early so we could take the stones out of their molds and see how it went. To my shock, this beautiful brown stone that I had made, the first product of Kodiak Mountain Stone, was a lot closer to pink than it was brown. That's when I realized that there was going to be a lot more practice and a steep learning curve before we were putting our stone on the market.