Taking nothing for granite When U.S. firm announced

When U.S. firm announced Lac du Bonnet business would close, worker decided to buy company By: Bill Redekop

When U.S. firm announced Lac du Bonnet business would close, worker decided to buy company

Even though he knew nothing about buying a company, Brent Charles (left), seen with fabricator Jerry Niyo, decided to purchase Granite Mountain Stone Design near Lac du Bonnet

Even though he knew nothing about buying a company, Brent Charles (left), seen with fabricator Jerry Niyo, decided to purchase Granite Mountain Stone Design near Lac du Bonnet

Things looked bleak when Cold Spring Granite announced it was closing its manufacturing plant near Lac du Bonnet, throwing 35 people out of work.

Employees believe the American company, which makes granite countertops, grew nervous with the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, who vowed to make companies return manufacturing jobs to the United States.

A month after the election, Cold Spring announced the closure of its sole Canadian plant, Granite Mountain Stone Design, which it had owned for 60 years.

But Brent Charles had other plans.

Charles, 37, can’t explain what made him think he, as an employee, could raise the capital to buy the firm.

He assured the Free Press he’s not wealthy and knew nothing about acquisitions.

But he knew the plant’s importance to the community, and he knew the customers and companies it supplied wanted its product.

And he knew the business. His father, Edward, had worked for the company for 46 years until leaving last year. He cut the very first granite countertop two decades ago, which started a successful line. Previously, the company only made monuments and headstones.

Brent has been an employee for 19 years, having been responsible for cutting granite with a diamond wire saw and most recently serving as director of business development.

The sale was completed two weeks ago in a seamless transition.

It’s not every day an employee steps forward and saves the company.

Workers are ecstatic, from the receptionist to those working on the plant floor.

“To have someone come out of nowhere and say, ‘I’m going to take on this challenge,’ it’s awesome, just awesome,” said Jason Kaczanowski, the commercial quoter. “Brent and I have known each other since high school and we’ve worked together off and on, and knowing he’s my new boss is just the cherry on top.”

Granite Mountain is heavily involved in the construction of True North Square in downtown Winnipeg, as well as the granite recladding of the McPhillips Station Casino, and interior work for the Asper Foundation office. It also did work inside the luxury suites at Investors Group Field.

Charles credits Cold Spring for making the transition easy. A family-owned business headquartered in Cold Spring, Minn., which has a population of 4,000, it knew what a company means to a rural community, he said.

As well, the cost of either auctioning off its equipment and inventory or moving it to Minnesota didn’t appeal to the company. Instead, the company, started in 1898, opted for a deal that made everyone happy.

Charles commissioned a business plan from a third party, and then went over it with other people in the field until he felt comfortable, he said.

Staffing is down to 18 because many people left after they received layoff notices. But some of those people will return, and Charles wants to get staffing back to where it was.

Losing 35 jobs would have been a big hit for the area, said Cathie Brereton, past reeve for the rural municipality of Lac du Bonnet.

“I would have been more surprised and worried if it was somebody taking over who’d never done this before, but he knows what he’s getting into. Obviously, he thinks he can make a go of it and I suspect he can.”

Cold Spring will retain the Lac du Bonnet-area quarry, but as Charles said, its pink granite has fallen out of fashion. Instead, the market is demanding white and grey granite the company imports from Quebec, northwestern Ontario, and even Brazil and Israel.

Asked if importing granite to the Canadian Shield isn’t the proverbial case of “carrying coal to Newcastle,” Charles said the company has been doing it for years and it’s based on people’s tastes.

Another classic case is the desert city of Dubai importing sand for building because its local sand isn’t construction-grade.

Granite Mountain supplies countertops to clients such as Kitchen Craft, Springfield Woodworking and Qualico. Its granite countertops are found throughout Manitoba as far north as Gillam, as well as west all the way to Vancouver.

It does work in cottage country, including West Hawk and Falcon lakes, and Lake of the Woods.

“We’re not shy about doing island work. If we have to do it by helicopter (in Lake of the Woods), we do,” Charles said.

Read more by Bill Redekop . bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

 

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