Granite Transformations

Five years ago, Linda Young, 51, was a project manager in Des Moines, Iowa. Her Rockford-based younger brother, Mike Hayes, 45, was working in manufacturing. The duo had dabbled in some home improvement projects for their parents, but had no professional remodeling expertise.

One day, a friend of Young's told her about Granite Transformations, a greener and less intrusive alternative in granite countertop installations. Intrigued, Young checked out the company's website and, after research and due diligence, she and her brother became franchisees with ownership rights in Illinois and Winnebago, Dane, and Rock counties. About four years ago, they opened a 1,500-sq.-ft. showroom and a workshop in Rockford, followed by, in May 2011, a 2,200-sq.-ft. showroom in Madison.

"The interesting thing was, even though we were in Rockford, we were getting calls from (and doing work in) Madison. People were finding us," Young said.

Originally, Young and Hayes took out an SBA loan to open the Rockford location, but the Madison store required substantially less money. "We had a really good track record," Young said, adding that their bank supported the move. They can take advantage of economies of scale by utilizing the Rockford fabrication shop, which makes the Madison location more profitable overall.

"The timing was right," Young said about the move, "with commercial rates where they were, and the economy. We did have a hiccup with the city, but got through it." (That issue revolved around the showroom's sign permit, and delayed the business' opening by about a month.)

The primary Granite Transformations product, Young explained, has been around for 40 years and was first developed in Italy as floor tiling. It is 95% granite stone that's mixed with a polymer to seal the product and create very large sheets of quarter-inch, engineered stone that is non-porous, heat and scratch resistant, and comes with a full lifetime warranty. Granite Transformations makes templates of each project and uses them to cut the stone sheets. Edges are then added to the stone sheet, creating a "cap" that fits directly over existing countertops. No old materials go to the landfills, and installation typically averages five to seven hours.

It's not necessarily a cheaper alternative, Young said, because granite comes in so many grades that it's hard to compare. On average, though, Young said the company's Madison area projects have been averaging between $3,000 and $5,500. Each month, the company pays 4% of its revenue in franchise fees.

Young, who handles the showroom, sales, and marketing, said she used to work 60 hours a week as a project manager, and now puts in 70 to 75 hours a week between the two locations. "I'd rather work for myself," she said. Hayes, meanwhile, manages the fabrication team and operations. When the economic spigot turned off in 2009, layoffs ensued, and the owners learned how to operate more efficiently with less material waste. Now, there are 11 employees.

If the Madison store generates $900,000 in revenue this year, the owners hope they'll finally be able to take a week off.

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