With an extensive background in managing lumber and building supply operations for other people, it was always Mark Pelton’s dream to own his own business.
After years working for family run hardware and lumber retailers in the Toronto area, seeking a better quality of life for his family [wife Marlene and three kids] they pulled up stakes and headed east as he took up similar positions at hardware and lumber stores in the Bay of Quinte area until the time was right to open his own business.
BlackBird Stone and Tile, located at 30 Creelman Avenue, Quinte West, was established in 2013 after the Peltons bought an existing granite countertop business, expanding the product and service offerings significantly to include many types of countertops, cabinetry, and associated accessories.
From the beginning, thanks to strategic advertising and ever-growing positive word of mouth, the company has consistently grown in terms of employees (now at 14) scope and revenue – with 80 per cent of its business in the Bay or Quite Region, but also moving further afield to Peterborough, Kingston, Bancroft and even Oakville.
More than this, growth has occurred because of the quality products and excellent service offered by BlackBird staff, from the initial design phase, through manufacturing, installation and follow-up care. It’s this focus on service that Pelton believes has been the primary driver for the firm’s growth.
“Obviously underlying everything is making money, but I don’t think every day you make decisions based solely on money, and if you do, you’re sometimes making the wrong decisions. But if you truly believe in customer satisfaction, and at very least meeting but preferably exceeding their expectations, there’s a lot of rewards that come with that approach,” Pelton said.
“If you believe in yourself and believe in what you’re doing and have a good product or a good service, ultimately when you get to where you’ve been trying to get to, which is a solid business and surrounded by good people, it’s great.”
Pelton said there have been two big challenges encountered over the first few years of the business’ operation, and they are ones that are probably experienced by many small businesses: finding and keeping qualified and motivated staff and being able to effectively manage growth.
The first issue is ongoing, although Pelton said he has an excellent team now, and because they do in-house training on the more technical aspects of creating and installing their products, this has been mitigated somewhat.
The second aspect, managing growth, is also being dealt with through upgrading equipment and adding more mechanization to the manufacturing process.
“We’ve been growing every year and I felt that the time was right to automate this year. And it’s important to have the timing right because it’s a large investment: a couple hundred thousand dollars in this case. It’s not something we could do right out of the gate when we started because I wanted to get some traction, get some business and get a good reputation on the street to be able to be confident to go forward and write a big cheque to re-invest in the company,” Pelton explained.
“Automation is about making the production process easier, more seamless and more streamlined. I have a finite amount of space in the shop and I have seven employees doing the fabricating and we’re pretty much maxed out. We are producing as much as we can given the physical constraints. The idea with automating is that you can cut and produce the product [primarily the granite and other stone items] more quickly and more accurately which allows us to grow sales and the top line because we can handle more volume. Essentially what used to take us two to two-and-a-half hours to cut a slab of granite now takes about 20 minutes.”
In order to help finance the purchase of the top-of-the-line stone cutter, which has been imported from Italy, BlackBird approached Trenval to help arrange for financing. It marks the second time since the company started that Trenval has played an integral part its growth.
“Right from the get-go, Trenval was open and receptive to discussions and dialogue. I went to them initially to help purchase the space I am in. I was renting when we first started and the landlord wanted to retire, sell the land and the building and move back to Ireland. If somebody else bought the land and building for themselves, I would have had to move at the end of my lease. I knew at some point I was going to mechanize the shop, so I wanted to keep capital available for that,” he said.
“I asked Trenval if there was any way they could assist me in buying the land and the building without a down payment. And they made it happen: they went to the BDC [Business Development Bank of Canada] and the two of them put a deal together that allowed me to buy the building and property. For the Computer Numeric Control cutting equipment, I went back to Trenval and they agreed to offer financing to cover a large percentage of the purchase price.
“I am a real fan of Trenval. I think they offer great service, especially to young entrepreneurs who maybe don’t know what a financial statement is, or the importance of managing cash flow, or developing a business plan. Trenval has resources to get them up to speed and get their ducks in a row to be able to apply for funding.”
For more information on BlackBird Stone and Tile, visit https://www.blackbirdstoneandtile.com