MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — From granite kitchen counter tops to travertine floors and outdoor fire places, the business of fabricating and installing natural stone involves more than just heavy lifting.
The materials — travertine was used for the Roman Colosseum — can be pricey, especially depending on where in the world it was mined.
And the equipment used to cut and shape those slabs is particularly heavy duty.
Bryan Marriner said he spent $92,000 just on the saw his company uses at La Terra Stone Corp. on Hand Avenue in Cape May Court House.
“The barriers to entry are great,” said Marriner, 37, of Cape May Court House, who started the company in 2008 as an offshoot of the business he started 20 years ago, Marriner’s Landscaping Inc.
With that business, Marriner said, he was having trouble finding companies to do the type of stone work he wanted on the schedule he needed.
“One day I said, ‘Why don’t we start a company and do our own fabrication?’” he said.
Starting La Terra Stone in 2008 — when the economy was souring — Marriner said he was helped by his landscaping company.
“My other company naturally carried this company a certain amount … but even in a horrible market, we went up every year in terms of revenue,” he said.
In a June 2012 report, market research firm IBISWorld said marble and tile stores, like many other textile industries, felt the impacts of construction declines from the recession. The industry has been recovering, though, as construction rates have increased.
Marriner said La Terra Stone grew by fabricating and installing interior and exterior natural stone products including marble, sandstone and limestone.
The business also fabricates and installs natural stone veneers, walkways, patios, step treads and fire pits, and even home pizza ovens.
“In a bad market, we tried to set ourselves apart from the average guy. We’d come in and do the whole job. The only things we’d sub out are the things we have to, the electrical and plumbing,” he said. “The homeowners love that because it’s one person you have to deal with.”
Some of the work is especially high end, usually centered on exterior work on the barrier islands.
One project involves importing about 30 tons of a special kind of limestone from an Israeli mine.
Another project — about a $50,000 outdoor job — sent Marriner driving across three states to vendors looking for exactly the right granite his client wanted.
And while one of the big trends in his work has been the high-end island homes in the region, Marriner said about 80 percent of business involves interior work such as kitchens, work that typically involves lower price ranges.
“The exterior market’s great, but there’s only so much high-end stuff going on,” he said. “The price point is affordable … a lot of people can discipline themselves to save $3,000, $4,000, $5,000 for a kitchen. Nobody can discipline themselves to save $40,000 for a backyard.”
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