Fabricator Focus

Rocksolid Surfaces Cleveland


"We pride ourselves on our quality"

Jim Walsh & J.B. Walsh

By K. Schipper

CLEVELAND – Family business usually conjures up images of a husband-and-wife or father-and-son – but it’s a pair of cousins now showing their stuff here as partners in a local stone-fabrication shop. Rocksolid Surfaces started more than 40 years ago building boats under a different name. The countertop part of the business evolved in the 1990s as the market went from laminates to solid surface to stone. Today, it’s still doing some millwork and cabinetry, but the Walshes -- J.B. and Jim -- believe they have the entrepreneurial skills to take what was already a good countertop business and move it to the next level and beyond the troubling times of COVID-19.

It’s a family thing to own a business; Jim’s father, Pat Walsh, and J.B.’s dad, John Walsh, owned a manufacturing firm. Both sons worked in manufacturing, with J.B.’s experience in business development and sales management, and Jim focused on analytics and inventory management.

Rocksolid does plenty of work in natural stone, but it's also keeping pace with newer materials like Dekton® with this waterfall-edge surround and full-height backsplash. Plenty of interesting detail here, including vein-matching on the external edges and where the top meets the backsplash. (All photos courtesy Rocksolid Surfaces)

MANUFACTURING SUCCESS

It’s a family thing to own a business; Jim’s father, Pat Walsh, and J.B.’s dad, John Walsh, owned a manufacturing firm. Both sons worked in manufacturing, with J.B.’s experience in business development and sales management, and Jim focused on analytics and inventory management. “Jim and I were looking at other businesses at the time,” says J.B. Walsh. “This one seemed like a good fit for our backgrounds. We don’t have a background in kitchen design or construction, but we do know manufacturing.” They were fortunate that independently, the founder of Rockland Surfaces, nee Wood Dimensions, felt the same way about Jim and J.B. “Tom Rocks is a friend of mine and a long-time friend of the family,” says J.B. Walsh. “He’d done a number of kitchens for family and friends, and we knew the company fairly well. He was getting ready to retire and one day he asked me if I wanted to run his company. “I told him I’d prefer to buy it, and that’s how it went down.” Rocks initially began the business in 1979 building wooden boats. From there, it turned into a millwork company that started doing custom cabinetry. Because it served kitchen and bath customers, it wasn’t a reach to start doing countertops for the cabinets, beginning with laminates, and following the trends to eventually become a full-service countertop fabricator. Even with that relationship, the purchase took almost two years and was finalized March 1, 2018. Today, the operation is owned by Walsh Commercial Group and does business strictly under the Rocksolid Surfaces name, with J.B. Walsh as president and Jim Walsh as vice president of operations. Both men’s fathers are also involved. There’s little doubt the cousins bought a going concern. J.B. Walsh says the company offered several things, including an established customer base, a strong reputation and a solid workforce of more than 80 employees. However, there are some things new ownership has been able to provide: “It needed new energy, it needed some fresh new ideas and thoughts and processes, and it needed some new technology,” he says. Technology probably offered the easiest answers. Today the company runs two Park Industries® TITAN® 2800 CNCs and a Baca Systems dual table Robo SawJet, and recently switched to digital templating. “There are still people doing handwork,” says J.B. Walsh. “We do a lot of quality checks. We don’t see the future slowing down, and we’re not trying to reduce our workforce, but trying to reallocate them to get a more-consistent product coming off the CNC faster. “Ideally, in a perfect world, the less we touch it, the better it is, the more accurate it is, and the safer our employees are.”

The Walshes' manufacturing background shows with the efficient organization of the backshop, which now features two Park CNCs and a Baca Systems RoboJet.

“We don’t see the future slowing down, and we’re not trying to reduce our workforce.”

J.B. Walsh

Two-island jobs are rare enough, but this project -- shown in full at the top of the article -- included one island in book-matched granite and a separate, internally-illuminated onyx top.

“PRETTY DIVERSE”

It’s probably not surprising that the cousins want to turn out jobs quickly because they’re trying to increase their sales. However, speed isn’t their only concern. Plans are underway to introduce Slabsmith™ to the operation, a process the duo sees as a win-win for both their customers and the business. “It will have an up-to-date inventory of our full slabs and remnants,” says J.B. Walsh. “We can do digital layouts for our customers so they can have an idea of their layout and understand their seams and the movement of veining before we install the countertop.” It also helps in the Walshs’ desire to do a better job of material management by controlling waste and yield. “That’s the number-one driver for our business,” J.B. Walsh says. “The metric is to save material, use less material, throw away less material ,and break less material.” Look at the Rocksolid website and it’s easy to assume the business is focused on high-end residential work. Because they offer a wide range of products including custom cabinets, that’s one of the markets they service. However, it goes well beyond that. “The majority of our business isn’t high-end,” says J.B. Walsh. “We have strong relationships with a lot of kitchen and bath dealers, and we get a lot of their customers, but we do everything from average jobs to high-end to commercial work. “We’re pretty diverse.” While the majority of Rocksolid’s business leads funnel through outside sources displaying their own products (often in their own showrooms), Rocksolid Surfaces also has a showroom that’s recently been remodeled and is open to the public. Walsh says the showroom features all the products Rocksolid sells, and it’s an extensive list that includes not only natural stone and quartz surfaces, but recycled glass and recycled wood products, soapstone, quartzite and even ultra-compact materials. The company is one of a handful of certified Dekton® fabricators in northern Ohio. As with striking the right balance with its showroom, Walsh says the cousins are still deciding how much material to stock, especially given there are several distributors within 20 minutes of the shop. “We like to think we stock a lot of material, but we purposely don’t stock too much,” he says. “We look at it every day trying to find the happy medium. People want to see the product and touch it and take pictures, and we want to control the sale. They’re coming to buy from us, and we want to make sure we have enough selections to make them comfortable.”

“We had a stronger month in February than any month since we’ve owned the company and March was looking even better. Then we ran into a wall.”

J.B. Walsh

AN EYE FOR QUALITY

It’s much the same with the company’s marketing plan. “We don’t have an extensive external marketing campaign to get people to come to us directly, but that could change in the future,” Walsh says. “Again, we respect the relationships we have with our contractors and kitchen and bath shops, and we don’t want them to feel like we’re stepping on their toes.” Many of the people who come through the company’s doors are there because of its reputation or a referral. Walsh says after taking over the company the cousins did a little bit of print marketing, mainly because that was the approach taken by the previous owner. Today, their marketing is focused on social media and the company’s new website. “We’re not devoting large amounts of dollars to marketing,” Walsh says. “That could change very easily through. We’re still trying to find our niche there.” Getting commercial jobs is a bit more straightforward, since the company has a full-time sales team calling on potential clients. Still, asked to name the company’s specialty, Walsh quickly answers “quality and customer service.” “We pride ourselves on our quality,” he says. “We’re investing in the best tooling and the newest machinery. Our edges and seams are second-to-none. A lot of companies that are doing this by hand can’t get the quality we produce.” As for customer service, in a perfect world Walsh says it’s not impossible to measure a job on Monday and have it installed by Friday. “That’s if there’s a super rush, and everything is perfect and the materials are there,” he says. “Typically, we say five-to-10 business days.” And, that’s over a market area that extends across all of northern Ohio, parts of northwestern West Virginia and as far east as Pittsburgh, or approximately 120-150 miles from Rocksolid’s shop. Part of the company’s secret – besides its automated shop – is nine installation crews. Walsh says one of those crews installs cabinets and the other eight install countertops; two of the eight deal strictly with solid surface. and the rest install stone. That’s another thing the cousins are still working on: how to cross-train the crews so they can install the whole spectrum of the company’s countertops. Both in the shop and on the install crews, Walsh says the men were fortunate to inherit a good group of employees. “We were concerned as to how the employees would feel about new ownership management,” he says. “A lot of them have been here for a very long time, and many of the same people are still here. There have been some coming and going, which is just the nature of any business, but we’ve been pretty strong with our core people.” Rocksolid does have a training program, and Walsh says new employees are often recruited through word-of-mouth, or through digital channels. It’s a mix that appeared to be on the cusp of paying off before the economy shut down. J.B. Walsh says their goal is to grow 20% year-over-year; to keep things pointed in the right direction, the cousins monitor their financial performance weekly. “Typically, January and February are very slow months, but this February was the best since the company started,” he says. “We had a stronger month in February than any month since we’ve owned the company and March was looking even better. Then we ran into a wall.” The coronavirus lockdown reduced the company to doing only what Walsh describes as “essential jobs,” such as completing work for homes that were left without a working kitchen, and laying off a portion of its workforce. However, it did apply for – and receive -- a Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) loan. “It’s made a large difference for us and allowed us to bring back many of our talented team members earlier than later,” he says. “Although things are now less than ‘normal,’ we’re bouncing back and our orders for July are forecasting to be almost flat from 2019.” Overall, Walsh says it appears the industry is bouncing back in the Cleveland area, but challenges will remain at the company moves into 2021. “I think we’ll continue to have a strong economy with a reasonable correction,” he concludes. “We continue to have a long-term growth plan, but it’s more conservative than before. We’re continuing to find ways to be more profitable to offset lower top-line sales growth.”

For a project benefiting a local charity, Rocksolid found a smart-looking use for Dekton®'s Trilium industrial-finish surface.

This coffee bar at Hinkley, a decorative-lighting supplier in nearby Avon Lake, Ohio, features Himalaya recycled-glass surfaces from Curvara.

One of Rocksolid's specialities is soapstone fabrication, whether for countertops (top) or standalone cabinetry (below).