Based in Chicagoland (Elk Grove Village), WILCOR Solid Surface is a well-known fabrication business that works strictly with solid surface. As an early adopter of solid surface fabrication, the man behind the business has been a pioneer for the material and was a founding member of ISFA.
The business was founded in 1975 by John Reamer, who had worked for GE in its laminate manufacturing business, called Textolite. Reamer heard about a new product called DuPont Corian®, the first solid surface, which was catching on and was intrigued by it. He got his hands on some remnant material and began
His son and current president of WILCOR, J. Bradford “Brad” Reamer, started working in his father’s shop in 1977 as a kid just before his ninth birthday. “I would work during the summers and after school learning the trade by sanding splashes and doing all of the nasty stuff that newbies do,” recalled Brad Reamer.
“I left WILCOR in 1990 and took a sales job. I wanted to be out from my father’s considerable shadow. But, in 1995 my father was 70 years old and his health was failing as was the health of WILCOR. I bought the company that year and Dad worked for me as a consigliere of sorts.”
Unfortunately the senior Reamer passed in 2001, but not before he got to see WILCOR change into its modern version, recalled Brad. “I’m very proud of him, and the zenith of that pride was inducting him into the ISFA Hall of Fame in 2000,” he added.
WILCOR focuses purely on solid surface fabrication and installation, and services the Greater Chicago area. “Twenty years ago I decided to remain a specialist,” explained Reamer. “WILCOR is solid surface. I have had many opportunities to fabricate stone and quartz, but it just doesn’t appeal to me. I have been criticized by some who see my business model as myopic and that’s fine. WILCOR is strong and healthy and I still love what we do.”
One of the reasons for this singular focus is because the business sees solid surface as a blank canvas that can meet nearly any surfacing application that can be imagined. “Our residential clients talk about the ease of ownership being important,” said Reamer. “Homeowners don’t want products that require maintenance or tender use. The hygienic aspects of solid surface are also key for clients raising a family.”
And because of this focus on one product, WILCOR has the operation down to a near science, with each two-person team able to go through an average of seven solid surface sheets per day when handling standard residential fabrication jobs. This is accomplished through the use of modern machinery and equipment as well as years of process development and refinement. He also pointed out how solid surface has also improved over the years, to the credit of manufacturers. “The material is so consistent now,” he said. “The days of pitting and wave in the sheet stock are long gone. Fabrication techniques are also more consistent. I know that ISFA had a hand in that evolution.”
Brad, who is not only a founder of ISFA, but also served as president of the association. He credits his networking and involvement in the industry as a key factor to the company’s success. “When I helped found ISFA I was only 28,” he explained. “I met fabricators from all over the world and managed to steal every good idea they ever had! Seriously, that type of exchange is invaluable, not only in learning new craft, but learning about people. I also made some of the best friends I’ll ever know.”
The shop has high-end tools and machinery, which also play a role in the profitability of the business. They include a CNC router, two-head miter-folder; panel saws; and thermoforming equipment, and operates on a computer-based platform. “We generate zero paperwork,” said Reamer. “Everything is digital and web-based. Each employee has a tablet to see work orders, schedules and CAD drawings. The use of CNC routers and miter-folders make for work that is repeatable at the highest quality.”
Reamer has continued to develop the business over the years and now brings in residential work from a variety of sources including direct sales, box stores/retail and remodeling contractors. “We do commercial work as well as residential,” he explained. “In fact we have been doing more and more commercial work in recent years. I avoided much of it during the financial crisis. It was awfully tough to get paid, and being strung out on cash flow is not what I call a good time. I find that business changed quite a bit post-financial apocalypse. People were scarred by the recession and nobody wants to go back! Contractors are willing to pay substantial deposits now where they rarely used to. Most of the commercial work we do comes to us. WILCOR has been around so long that we’re pretty tough to avoid and our reputation is stellar.”
That reputation has gone a long way, so much so that the company does not advertise. “I have no feet on the street, and word-of-mouth has brought us a lot of business,” said Reamer. “So many times we’ve had folks come in our shop and say, ‘You did the countertops in my parents’ house when I was still at home’ or something to that effect. That’s very gratifying. After 42 years of doing one thing, yeah, we’re starting to get the hang of it.”
Not one to mince words, when asked about his company’s philosophy for success, he said, “We have only two rules here: 1) Never make a promise you can’t keep; and 2) Don’t sh!t where you eat. After owning this company for 22 years, I think about 80 percent of the decisions I make can be put into one or both of those buckets. The other 20 percent? Well, that may take a bit more finesse and some carefully solicited advice.”
Reamer was hesitant when asked what advice he could give to other fabricators, but offered the following. “As I get older I am learning to be happier more often by choosing to be in the moment, even in the smallest of things. Be it as a parent, partner [my girlfriend Kerry is a saint] musician or a just a fella in traffic, I’m having a great time!”
For more information, contact WILCOR Solid Surface Incorporated, 2371 United Lane, Elk Grove Village, IL 60007, (888) 956-1001.
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