Member Spotlight - Onslow Stoneworks

Member Since 2017

Onslow Stoneworks was officially founded by Mike Schott in North Carolina in the late ’90s, but its interesting and unique history is intertwined with the granite industry going back to the 1800s.

Family Foundations
In September of 1988, Schott had completed his duty with the U.S. Marine Corps. “When I left Camp LeJeune in North Carolina for the last time, I realized I did not have a plan for the rest of my life,” he explained. “However, I literally went to work for a local glass company that same afternoon, still wearing my fatigue pants and a t-shirt.”

He had grown up in New Jersey, where his grandfather ran a glass company, and Schott’s earliest memories were working at that shop. “While growing up, everyone worked at the glass shop, so I never had to look for a job. If you weren’t in school, you were working for Grandpa at the glass shop.”

After about a year of working for the glass company in North Carolina, Schott decided to start his own business, using the knowledge he had grown up learning. “In September of 1989 I started a little glass company in Swansboro, N.C.,” he explained. “I remember going to the dump and salvaging scrap lumber to build a glass cutting table. I made some business cards and off I went.”

He developed that business for several years, relying on the discipline he’d developed during his years in the service. Then, in 1996, it really took off. Two hurricanes, Bertha and Fran, hit the North Carolina coast nearly back to back, something which hadn’t happened since 1955. As the only glass company within 30 miles of the coastal resort town of Emerald Isle, as Schott puts it, “Even I couldn’t help being successful.”

In 1998 things really changed. Schott was approached by an acquaintance who wanted help working with some prefabricated granite slabs. “He wanted me to fabricate some pieces for him,” said Schott. “So true to form I said yes, and then figured it out.”

He admits that nostalgia had some part in his decision to try his hand at stone. In the 1870s his ancestors emigrated from Italy to New Jersey where they operated a granite quarry on the cliffs of the Palisades overlooking the Hudson River and New York City. Schott’s grandfather Emil Scioli, who worked at the quarry as a boy and later went into the glass business, took the time to pass on the family’s heritage. “As a boy my grandfather taught me how to cut granite with a hammer and chisel,” recalled Schott. “I was fascinated how he made his tools look like an extension of his hands.”

With history calling him, and after taking on the stone fabrication project, he ultimately decided to leave the glass business and start Onslow Stoneworks. “Cutting and handling techniques for stone are similar to glass, which really paid off,” he said. “My brother took over the glass company, and I started Onslow Stoneworks utilizing some labor from the glass company for installs. I was so proud to show my grandfather many years later that the family was back in the stone business.”

By that time, Schott was married to his wife Dawn, now of 35 years, and was developing a family of his own. Family was always an important part of his life, so when his children got old enough they joined him at the company. Realizing his business was the legacy he would leave his family spurred him on to operate and grow the business more intelligently, purposefully and efficiently.

A Growing Company
Onslow Stoneworks has grown from a small two-man operation to a company with 32 employees and three locations in eastern North Carolina – Swansboro, a 14,000-sq.-ft fabrication facility, and New Bern and Morehead city which serve as satellite showrooms.

The company currently processes 1,500 to 1,700 sq. ft. of installed countertops a week, with 90 percent being residential and 10 percent commercial. Residential work comes through two main channels, builders (about 30 percent) and direct retail (about 70 percent). However, Onslow Stoneworks identified commercial installations as an area of growth. “We finally have a competent in-house commercial estimator,” explained Schott, “and that area is working out to be a really nice increase to our business.”

In years past, the company’s business was about 15 percent big box stores, which it took on to fill spare capacity. And while Schott said he’s seen some companies do well in that arena, he didn’t feel it was a good fit for Onslow, which always had a custom, full-service approach. “I like having a one-stop shop where customers can select their counters, sinks, faucets, tile, glass shower doors and even Granite Gold Protection Plans,” he relayed. “It took time to get efficient at these things and until we opened our first satellite location, we never realized how much we relied on asking an expert right behind you. Having remote locations really exposes any voids in training and company processes.”

Because of Schott’s family history and love of granite, the company focused largely on natural stone, but over time quartz and now sintered materials are part of the company’s offerings. Currently granite/natural stone makes up 65 percent of countertop sales, with quartz and sintered products equating to 29 and 6 percent respectively.

“Having a background working with glass really helped our understanding of sintered material, which in many aspects is like glass,” explained Schott. “With modern machinery, especially tooling, dealing with all of the different materials is not as challenging as in the past. Our installers love it because we get to carry some ‘thin stuff’ once in a while.”

The company’s philosophy with material vendors takes into account pricing, but emphasizes service and relationships. Buying from a limited number of sources allows Onslow Stoneworks to focus on communicating needs and expectations, which pays off.

“For stone that we don’t directly import, we have fantastic relationships with CRS and Cosmos distributors, both out of Raleigh, N.C.,” said Schott. “They really helped us in product offerings and inventory when we started to grow. I especially value my relationships with Sunny and Vandanna Surana of CRS, who believed in me and became very close friends.”

With sintered materials, Onslow focuses on Neolith and Lapitec. “While Neolith has been in commercial play for a while for building cladding, Lapitec has come on strong. Customers like the finish options we offer instead of the same old looks,” explained Schott. “Caragreen, who specializes in distributing green products, is a great teammate, making customers aware of Lapitec and welcoming input from their partners.”

The focused vendor philosophy is especially important with quartz which has so many brands. The company chose to offer what Schott described as “tried and true performers” in the form of Cambria, LG Viatera, Q and Spectrum.

Recently while developing a self-quoting tool on its website, Onslow made the decision to offer a limited selection of Spectrum quartz sold by the square foot. “This meant investment in inventory to keep material costs low and inventory control measures to maximize material efficiency,” said Schott. “Kevin Obrien and Chase Barnes of Spectrum showed us the value of the program over the long term.”

The company went paperless in 2010 and developed its own digital operating system, so it took the next step to digital templating, utilizing the 2D3D Laser Templator from Laser Products. Digital templates are good, but having machinery to fully utilize them is better so Onslow leveraged its relationship with Joe Feist of Feist Machine who had introduced the company to Construal equipment. “Over the past several years we purchased all of our saws, cranes, vacuum lifters and an air scrubber from them. When it was time to step up into a CNC router, we made the call to Joe,” explained Schott. “He helped us understand the digital world. We trust him so much that we purchased the very first Construal CNC router ever to be sold in the United States sight unseen.”

The company is running two CNC 5-axis saws and a CNC FA Router from Construal, and prior to the pandemic started making room for another CNC router to increase capacity. This time Onslow is looking at Park Industries, from which they just purchased a Pathfinder slab digitizing station utilizing Slabsmith technology. “Park is a great American company and I’ve seen their Titan CNC router in action at many shops,” said Schott. “The Titan can bring a lot of value, and with Park’s customer support, it was not a difficult decision to add one to our operations. Barring the unforeseen, we intend to place that order this year.”

The company was also having growing pains from a management perspective, so it turned to Entrepreneur Operating System (EOS) Worldwide, which organizes the way a management team solves any and all issues. “We hired Dan Rose, a professional EOS integrator to help us implement the operating system that showed us how to structure the company to grow,” Schott explained. “It’s an expensive two-year effort for us, but after going through our first six months, nothing has had a bigger impact on me as a businessman. It’s literally the greatest tool I can leave the company and family.”

Critical Connections and the Future
“Until recent years, we never sought outside help, knowledge or other best practices. Now, through my relationships with industry organizations like ISFA, we have discovered things we didn’t know that we didn’t know,” said Schott. “But more satisfying was the validation of thoughts and practices we developed that stood up to the scrutiny of others.

“There have been a few individuals who have influenced me professionally such as Geoffrey Gran of The Countertop Factory Midwest, who has a way of putting things in simple terms. I tend to make things complicated and he’s helped our company to be ‘easy to buy from,’” continued Schott. “And Joe Duszka of Carolina Custom Surfaces has become a good friend and a sounding board for ideas. Joe’s company is the size we have our sights set on and I constantly tell him, ‘I can see your tracks.’”

“More than anyone, Xavier Douwes of Vendome Partners International has helped me understand how and what we are measuring as a company,” added Schott. “He’s helped us establish new sets of metrics that are a big part of measuring our success.”

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, Onslow also invested in professional marketing company, Marqet Group, as well. Schott expounded, “I told them in the beginning how bad I was at marketing and how I hated it, but this team of real professionals were up to the challenge and really push me to think about it.”

Schott also has a close relationship with Rich Katzman of Stone Services Group (SSG), which has helped the Onslow team pull together different technology platforms and integrate them into a sleek operating system. “This has not only opened up commercial opportunities, but also showed us how Quote Countertops, Slabsmith, StoneApp and our accounting software can all seamlessly integrate,” said Schott. “These types of innovations are what separate us from other companies.”

In the next month Onslow is rolling out its new ERP, StoneApp by Stonegrid that integrates everything into one process. Generating leads utilizing Quote Countertops combined with customer interactive kiosks in all showrooms and all CRM and job information, scheduling and production controls will now run through StoneApp. Customers will have the option to view the entire inventory, 1,000 slabs, on the company’s website, a valuable sales tool.

Its new website will allow customers to go online and use kitchen and bath 3-D visualizers and quoting tools. When a customer comes in holding a quote they generated from the website, it will help shorten the selection time.

Philosophy and Advice
When asked about his philosophy behind the company, Schott said, “There is no substitute for passion. A lot of people want things – not things you can buy, but experience. Few people experience the complete and total immersion of body and soul to achieve lofty goals. Even less are willing to proceed when they understand the real cost.”

And when asked what advice he might offer other up and coming businesses, he offered three suggestions:

  • Don’t do Stupid things. More people should try it.
  • Practice both physical and mental discomfort. Like this coronavirus outbreak, reality will inevitably hit. Those that are physically and mentally prepared for discomfort will be better situated to not be overcome by it.
  • You learn more from listening than you do talking. Be a great listener and observer. Everything that has ever been learned and taught is all around you. Let that be part of your higher education.

Schott speaks his mind and has a desire to succeed. Onslow Stoneworks’ successes and growth are great examples of his hard work and dedication. Looking forward, while also considering his family history, few could doubt the business will be around a long time even after it passes into the hands of his offspring.

For more information about Onslow Stoneworks, visit www.onslowstoneworks.com, or contact the company at (252) 393-2350 or email [email protected]