Repurposing sandstone for new business

By |  January 22, 2016

Scraps of cut sandstone had piled up on Napoleon Stone’s property for years, sitting idle with no purpose or revenue-generating possibilities. But the current owners found opportunities to repurpose the sandstone, and they’re continuously searching for other ways to better their business.

“When you make a sawn step you have a particular amount of waste in a strip or a piece,” says John Carretta, co-owner of Napoleon Stone, a landscape and building stone producer based in Napoleon, Mich. “Historically, that might have gone into a pile and sat there a while.”

Material Napoleon Stone can’t repurpose and sell as building-stone veneer can be crushed or screened and sold as rip rap and other bulk-stone alternatives. The range of products allows Napoleon Stone to generate revenue that previously didn’t exist in the business, Carretta says, while eliminating piles from the site that would otherwise be considered waste.

These are the sorts of opportunities Carretta and his business partner, Mike Sullivan, seek. The two friends purchased Napoleon Stone about 10 years ago, with Carretta handling sales and Sullivan managing operations.

Both Carretta and Sullivan continuously seek the next morsel of information to help them do their jobs better. After all, they see themselves staying in the business for a long time.

“A lot of businesses really didn’t embrace any sales and marketing techniques 20 to 30 years ago,” Carretta says. “They didn’t embrace technology to drive business growth.”

Differentiators

Napoleon Stone takes some unique approaches in these areas. As examples, the company has invested in a website, search engine optimization (SEO), social media and “push marketing” through a customer relationship management system to promote Napoleon Stone to customers who might otherwise not know about its products and services.

“We have had good success thus far as a result of investments we have made in technology, and a good portion has resulted from our efforts with SEO,” Carretta says. “We probably get five calls a month from people in southern Indiana or southern Ohio thinking we can sell them stone because they Googled something in their area, and we come up as a search result.”

Carretta sees a marketing angle to every sale made, as well.

“The more houses you have with landscape or building stone, the more pictures you have,” he says. “The more pictures you have, the more marketing material you have.”

But the company has gotten more into aggregates lately. Napoleon Stone has historically produced a lot of 1-in.-minus crushed stone, Sullivan says.

“Usually we’ll bring in a crusher, but just this past year we have started to produce and market the other crushed stone alternatives to both contractors and excavating firms,” he says. “Once they see and begin to use our products, we often become a valued supply partner to them, and they are generally happy to have found us.”

Landscape stone is still at the core of Napoleon Stone’s business. According to Sullivan, his company runs about 15 tons of material through a stone splitter each day. The company cuts eight products in all, producing stone for a variety of landscaping purposes, including stone retaining walls, flagstone pavers, full and thin veneer building stone, cut steps and wall caps.

Bulk products such as rip rap, semi-stackable chunk boulders and decorative outcroppings are also produced. Napoleon Stone offers several rip rap choices, including 4 to 8 in., traditional plain rip rap (8 to 18 in.) and heavy rip rap (18 in. and larger).

“This material offers excellent value due to its attractive coverage per ton versus heavier, and more common, limestone rip rap,” Carretta says.

Operations

The mining process at Napoleon Stone is somewhat different from the kind other producers employ. Napoleon Stone does blast occasionally, but Sullivan describes loaders with forks as trying to “pop loose” vertical seams in the rock wall.

“Our team is pretty good at popping them out, and then the whole seam gets loose,” he says. “From the wall we’ll break it into slabs – 4- to 8-in. slabs. Some stuff gets broken down into step material.”

Getting to the stone isn’t an overwhelming challenge at the moment, Sullivan adds. One section the company is mining only has a couple feet of overburden.

Deeper overburden sections will have to be removed the longer Napoleon Stone mines, though.

“You’ll go to a limestone quarry and its stone seams are one layer across,” Sullivan says. “Our seams vary in height, although we know where all the different sizes of stone are located throughout the reserve.”

According to Sullivan, the look of the company’s sandstone is unique for its location in southern Michigan. Napoleon Stone’s material is buff or tan in color. Sullivan says Tennessee sandstone is similar in color to the material available at Napoleon Stone, but the company’s location gives it a sales-and-delivery advantage in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and surrounding states.

The company actually handles its own deliveries with a fleet of flatbed and dump trucks. Offering deliveries gives Napoleon Stone a sales advantage, according to Sullivan.

“Customer service is important to us,” he says. “We like having our own trucks because [otherwise] it takes a few days in some cases for customers to get their products.”


Napoleon Stone
Location: Napoleon, Mich.
Products: Landscape stone, building stone and crushed stone
Employees: 10
Reserves: About 50 years
Website: www.napoleonstone.com


Take note

Sometimes as an alternative to blasting, wheel loaders with forks are used to “pop loose” vertical seams in the rock wall.

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About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry. He can be reached at 216-706-3724 or kyanik@northcoastmedia.net.

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