Cutting Edge Granite, Evansville, Ind.

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EVANSVILLE, Ind. – Defining Cutting Edge Granite isn’t easy.

For instance, company president Graham Wink is the grandson of one of the founders – but came to the business from a career in the heating and air-conditioning industry.  

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The stone shop is also only one part of a hard-surface conglomerate that also includes Wink Tile Co. Inc., and Evansville Floor Co. Those three entities continue to serve a role that dates back to Wink Tile’s founding in 1954: providing top-notch products and service for yet another family-owned firm, Wink Construction.

Still, there’s a lot that’s changed from the days the company ordered and installed fabricated stone. By the end of the summer the three entities will move into a new 20,000 ft² facility, with a CNC saw scheduled to join the operation by the end of the year.

Both the space and the saw are needed to give Cutting Edge Granite more capabilities. The firm’s CNC router just isn’t adequate for some of the larger carving work Wink would like to do.

A BIGGER PICTURE

Graham Wink explains that the family’s involvement in tile and stone really started because of a pressing need of his grandfather, Clarence Wink, while running Wink Construction.

“Our company was formed by my grandfather and his brother,” the younger Wink says. “My grandfather was building houses and couldn’t find anyone to do the tile work.”

Although tile was definitely the company’s initial emphasis, the firm also did some small dimensional-stone jobs – mainly in marble – by buying the pieces already fabricated and doing the installations. At that point, most of the work was commercial.

As with most family businesses, ownership changed over time. Clarence Wink turned the operation of Wink Construction over to his son, Douglas, and the great-uncle handed the reins of Wink Tile off to his son, Douglas Wink’s cousin.

Then, in the mid-1990s, the cousin decided to sell the tile-and stone-operation.
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“His cousin approached my dad about buying the business,” says Graham Wink. “At the time, I was running a heating and air-conditioning distribution center for a manufacturer here in town. Once my dad looked at the business, he got with me, and we decided to keep it in the family.”

Graham Wink admits that he was a little shaky changing industries.

“The first year I made a few mistakes,” he says. “I was probably overly aggressive going after some commercial tile projects, but I think I caught on fairly quickly. I had to get some history behind me and figure out what we could really do.”

One of the things that caught the younger man’s eye was that the dimensional- stone part of the operation was changing. While the demand for dimensional marble was dropping, the desire for granite started booming in the commercial market.

A bank job with almost three-quarters of a linear mile of granite base helped send the Winks in a whole new direction.

“We did the math and figured we could buy the granite (pieces) premade, or buy the slabs and a bridge saw to cut them for the same price,” Graham Wink says. “Once we had that bridge saw and a nice CNC router (both Denver s.a. from VIC International Corp.) to go with it, we figured we might as well do residential work. Today, we do a mix of commercial and residential jobs.”

BUSINESS POTPOURRI
When Graham Wink talks about doing commercial projects, he’s talking about a fairly substantial customer list that includes both the public University of Southern Indiana and the private University of Evansville, as well as well-known corporations such as Toyota, Bristol-Myers Squibb and General Electric.

It’s there that having such a broad range of products really pays off, he says. The Winks picked up Evansville Floor Co. about five years ago for its terrazzo lines, to complement what they were already doing with tile and stone.

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“On the commercial end, I like to bundle everything together for the larger projects,” Graham Wink says. “It works well for us to take over doing all the hard surfaces.”

However, he adds that he’s also willing to do terrazzo work for his tile competitors and, “We’ve ended up doing a fair amount of stonework for our tile competitors, too,” he says.

It doesn’t hurt, of course, that a fair amount of Wink Construction’s work comes his way, but Graham Wink says certainly he doesn’t do all of it.

“Every now and then, someone’s willing to do it for what we won’t, especially tile-wise,” he says. “Our market is higher-end jobs, and we’re not the low-cost provider. Somebody else will do the job at a lower price for lower quality than we want to do.”

Cutting Edge Granite also isn’t afraid to do cleaning and restoration work, and Wink says that’s gotten the company some out-of-the-ordinary clients, such as the local courthouse and area churches.

One job of which he’s particularly proud is the restoration of the local St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

“We refitted arches and columns to new top and bottom balustrades,” he says. “Since the church was built 150 years ago, it was a really exceptional project. It had been done with Georgia marble, and we repaired it and matched it with new stone. If you don’t know it, you can’t tell what’s original and what’s new.”
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It’s also an aspect of the business Wink would like to expand on, which partly explains current plans to buy a Breton five-axes CNC saw.

“Obviously, we’re doing balustrades, but we also do sinks,” he says. “We’d also like to do more work with Indiana limestone, but the router is not the most-efficient carving machine.”

Even without it, though, he says the company is willing to travel to land interesting restoration jobs.

“We think we’re pretty good at it,” Wink says. “We’re especially good at sourcing materials. We can find the old blocks and match what’s there.”

On the residential side, Wink’s emphasis is on higher-end and custom jobs. He estimates that about 25 percent of the residential work is brought in by designers, with another 25 percent coming from kitchen and bath shops.

“We believe we’re the only place for people who want something unusual,” Wink says. “For someone looking for polished-out seams or a book-matched island, we’re about the only shop where you can get something like that.”

WORKING HARD
As with the restoration work, Wink hasn’t been afraid to expand his service area for the tile and dimensional=-stone portions of the business. Savvy marketing has seen to some of that.

While good word-of-mouth and the company’s long history in Evansville account for some of its residential work, in an effort to attract more high-end jobs – particularly remodels – Wink says he does “a fair amount” of advertising that started with radio and print and expanded to other media.

“We started with a small advertising agency a few years ago, developed an advertising campaign, and have been working that ever since,” he says. “About 18 months ago we added some television and a little direct mail.”

Today, he says many walk-in customers know the firm because of its radio spots, but television advertising has grown Wink’s market.

“Our goal is to reach as many people as possible, and while we started in our metro area, television has really added to the radius we work in,” he says. “People in the outlying areas up to an hour-and-a-half away get our television stations, so we’ve gotten more out-of-town customers.”

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On commercial tile projects, Wink says he’s worked as far away as Chicago, although he adds, “That was when gas was cheap.”

Still, when it comes to the residential side of his business, Wink believes that what matters the most is his great team of employees.

“I have an estimator who does most of the tile estimating,” he explains. “I do the terrazzo estimating and work those jobs. And, my wife, Jama, and Scott Smith are our sales people for the granite division.”

Additionally, the employee who handles the templating and CAD drawings works with people in their homes, so there’s no question about special edge details or seam placement.

“They like the level of customization and detail we provide,” says Wink.

As for the production side of the operation, Wink says he’s lucky in that the company is a union shop, which makes it easier to lay people off and bring them back again as the market changes.

“We generally keep five people busy in the granite division, but we’ve expanded to as many as nine employees when we need them,” he says.

And, unlike some other parts of the country, Wink says the economy in the Evansville area has remained fairly strong.

“This market may be a little behind the times,” he observes. “Other than just the last few weeks, we’ve seen demand continue to grow here residentially. We didn’t see the boom like some other markets, but we’ve got a nice pocket of development where we’ve continued to work.”

And, as the company prepares to move to its new location, Wink might not mind a slight slowdown in shop activity – not that the business is moving far.

“We’ve been in a converted small office building that we added a metal structure onto the back,” he says. “The new building is next door really. We’re buying it from a company that closed, but it’s about 20,000 ft² with offices and warehouse attached. It’s got much more space for the stone shop.”

Wink says the location is ideal, being on the same street as Wink Construction and in an area that’s changed over the years from commercial to more residential and retail. Part of the new facility’s attractiveness is that it has space to make it more appealing to residential walk-in traffic.

“Our showroom has very limited space right now,” he says. “We’re going to put in a big showroom. We’ve worked with some kitchen and bath places where we’ve put in displays, and now we’re going to be asking them for cabinets and other items so it can be a real nice showroom with a good selection of stone.”

However, stocking stone is not a big thing for the company. Generally, Wink says he tries to keep seven or eight popular colors in stock, relying on area distributors to serve the rest of his clients’ needs.

“We also have a really large remnant yard, and that’s also a popular place for people to look for what they want,” he says.

Once the move is made and the new CNC router is place, Wink plans to turn his attention to generating more sales of dimensional stone. While he says the business is currently divided almost equally between terrazzo, tile and stone, “I’ve found when we’re really busy and putting out two kitchens a day, my costs are lower.

“I’d like to be able to offer a better price to my customers.”

Still, wherever the business goes from here, Wink believes the family’s greatest success has always been customer satisfaction.

“The way we’ve grown our business is taking care of customers and making sure they get what they want,” he says. “Integrity and service are the keys to our success. We have a good reputation and we work hard to maintain it.”

This article first appeared in the August 2009 print edition of Stone Business. ©2009 Western Business Media Inc.