Fabricator Offers One-Stop Shopping for Tops
By Daina Darzin
MacLaren started out working for a custom kitchen dealer straight out of high school, and quickly became the chief installer. He then progressed to owning his own kitchen remodeling business, which evolved into a specialty installing DuPont Corian countertops 16 years ago. Many remodelers were uneducated in the fine points of installing the then-brand-new product, so DuPont created a certified fabrication network. "Back then, we didn't think there would be enough business to keep us busy," MacLaren admits. But Corian turned out to be a big hit with consumers, and MacLaren Fabrication was on its way.
Today, the company sports eight crews, and installs about 50 kitchens and bathrooms weekly. MacLaren Fabrication has also recently undertaken such high-profile projects as the installation of DuPont's 2001 trade show booths.
Additionally, the company also did installations for "Dining by Design," a New York fundraising event coordinated by the Design Industry's Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA).
About five years ago, the company expanded to installing granite, and began fabricating natural stone materials last year. MacLaren says the new specialty was in response to granite's rapid penetration of the high-end countertop market. "I saw all my hard work was [threatened] due to the incredible demand for natural stone products. So it was basically, get in or get out," he recalls.
Deciding to branch out into stone fabrication as well as installation, MacLaren just recently completed purchase of all the equipment required for the job a much more complex procedure than fabricating Corian. "We bought a lot of automated machinery, line polishing machines, a CNC router," he notes. Heavier equipment was also required to move hefty granite slabs.
MacLaren works with two large granite distributors to obtain his raw material. Frequently, customers like to pick out their own slab prior to fabrication, which MacLaren says puts an additional burden on the process. "We have to provide more salespeople to aid in the selection of stone, but it is part of the natural stone dilemma," he explains. "We actually have inventory inside and outside. We poured 200 yards of concrete outside, where we keep all of our slabs."
DuPont was surprisingly receptive to sharing space and business with its Mother Nature-manufactured competitor, MacLaren elaborates. "They believe in me as a partner, because in the solid surface business, we are 100% Corian," he notes. "We are a brand champion for them. Therefore, they listened to me, and they understood that me getting into the granite business actually protected my Corian business. Now, in a million dollar home, we can do [the countertops] in the whole house. We can do the kitchen in granite, and all the bathrooms in custom Corian." The business expansion also reflects the trend towards combination kitchens, with, for instance, a granite center island and Corian sink area, MacLaren adds.
All the new equipment is also essential for another addition to MacLaren's repertoire: DuPont Zodiaq, a new surfacing product that's made of 93% quartz. "It has a very luxurious look but it's far more consistent than natural stone," MacLaren explains. Zodiaq has a hardness rating of seven, as hard or harder than most granites, and it's totally non-porous, with the shimmery look of real quartz.
"There's no need for slab selection, and that's a benefit in our industry," says MacLaren. "The high-end builder doesn't have to worry about his customer going off and making selections in other places where maybe he doesn't do business, and not being able to obtain that special stone."
MacLaren Fabrication's design capacity is limited to countertops; the company coordinates projects with area designers. "That's where our showroom comes in," MacLaren explains. "We allow designers to bring their customers in." MacLaren targets area designers through open houses, as well as through hands-on demonstrations. "We'll show them the process, and in some cases we'll have them actually work with the products from an architectural standpoint, so they can feel more comfortable when they specify the product," he notes.
The company also does considerable advertising in builder trade magazines, as well as participating in local home builders' associations. "We also support our local kitchen dealer market on a wholesale level," says MacLaren. His marketing efforts are currently limited to an 80-mile radius further expansion is limited by the problems inherent in transporting heavy materials, he explains.
Home centers, especially the new, upscale EXPO Design Center chain, have recently made inroads in the high-end countertop market, but MacLaren insists he isn't worried. "Not only do we have a showroom that's unique [combined] with a wholesale fabricator, but we provide [great service with] installation, design and fabrication," he declares. "We're one of the few companies in the country which can manufacture and install all these products under one roof. That's what makes us unique."
MacLaren Fabrication Inc.
LOCATION: Westchester, PA
PRINCIPAL: Andrew MacLaren, president
SHOWROOM: 1, 2,800 sq. ft.
HOURS OF OPERATION: Showroom: Mon.-Fri., 8-5; Saturdays by appointment. Fabrication shop: Mon.-Fri., 7-5
DESIGN SOFTWARE: Custom-designed
MAJOR PRODUCT LINES: DuPont Corian, DuPont Zodiaq, granite, marble, natural stone
SPECIALTY: High-end countertop fabrication and installation
BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY: One-stop shopping for all high-end countertop needs. "We're one of the few companies in the country which can manufacture and install all these products under one roof."