Rock-solid service

Mebane stone yard putting a new spin on selling rocks
by Mark Tosczak, The Triad Business Journal

With 10,000 tons of rock sitting in Scott Stone's 15-acre stone yard, you might think the family-owned company is in the business of selling rocks.

You'd be wrong, though.

"We're not just a stone yard," says Steven Scott, who with his wife started the business 20 years ago after exiting the family dairy farming business.

Scott is a member of the once politically powerful Alamance County Scott clan, which includes two governors -- Kerr Scott and Robert W. Scott -- as well as disgraced former N.C. Commission of Agriculture Meg Scott Phipps.

But it's the core of professionals working at Scott Stone, and the wealth of knowledge they've gained over the past 20 years that Scott says differentiates his company.
Put more simply, Scott's point is this: You won't necessarily find rock-bottom prices at his business, but you will find rock-solid service.

And that, Scott says, is why he's managed to grow the business he and his wife started in a doorless barn into a $5 million-plus-a-year operation that handles jobs ranging from Mebane subdivision entrances to Lockheed Martin's new architecturally distinctive Center for Innovation in Suffolk, Va.

The service is good enough, in fact, that Judson Daniel, a mason in South Boston, Va., says he uses Scott Stone almost exclusively.

"They are different from other stoneyards that I'm familiar with from the standpoint that, first of all, all their representatives are trained," he said. "(They're) knowledgeable not only with theory, but with experience, and that makes a difference."

More from quarries
Steven Scott has spent two decades traveling to quarries, getting to know quarry operators and the rocks they cut from the earth, developing relationships and determining who could meet his standards for customer service.

"There's been many a night I've driven all night in order to be in a quarry the next morning," he says.

The company has also implemented a quality-control system on shipments of rock. So, for instance, as truckloads of stone come into the yard, a Scott Stone employee takes digital photographs of the stone.

Those are helpful, Scott says, if later on there turns out to be a problem with what a quarry has shipped. Rocks aren't just rocks, after all, when they're being used as part of a building or landscape. The color, shape and size are all design features, and those features can vary even among rocks from the same quarry.

"I dare say there's nobody in the state of North Carolina that has as many quality checks as we do," Scott says.

Besides digital photos, Scott Stone has also developed a barcoding system for tracking its inventory. And rather than delivering stone by dumping a truck full of rock onto the ground at a work site, the stones are delivered by the pallet load.

At times, Scott says, quarry owners have balked at some of his requests. But Scott, like his customers, is willing to pay a little extra in exchange for getting rock delivered his way.
The company measures everything it does, Scott says, and even grades its vendors each year. The grading gives Scott Stone a way to tell suppliers what it expects and how they are doing.

That focus on quality is one reason that Michael Dickey, a landscaping firm in Burlington, is willing to pay a little bit extra when he does business with Scott Stone.

"If you pay for quality work upfront than you don't get stuck with crappy material," Dickey says.

Focus on customers
Along with a rich vein of customer service and product knowledge, Scott Stone is also moving closer to its customers.

The company has started to work more closely with architects, for instance. It's also trying to get closer to the home owners and other consumers who ultimately pay for the stone.
And often it's women who ultimately decide what stone gets used in a project. (Olympic sprinter Marion Jones, who lives in Raleigh, is among Scott Stone's customers.)

Scott points out that much of his staff, including the company's sales manager and chief financial officer, are women. His wife, Linda Scott, is the company's acting president.
The company is also moving to more of a showroom approach to selling its wares.
In August, Scott Stone broke ground on a new showroom in Greensboro, its first location outside Mebane.

"We are moving to the showroom type of situation," Scott says. "That helps us differentiate ourselves from other stoneyards."

The Greensboro location will be at New Garden Village, a retail complex that includes several noncompeting, complementary businesses, such as a nursery and a brick company.

"Greensboro allows us to be closer to that decision maker that is time starved," Scott says.

Eventually, he said, the company would like to have locations in Charlotte, Raleigh and Wilmington, too.

Greensboro got the first location, Scott says, in part because of the environment that New Garden Village offered. So far, the company has been unable to find similar places in other cities, he said.

Again, for Scott it wasn't just about the cheapest rent or cheapest building, it was about the quality of the environment.

Communication is key
Despite 20 years of experience, Scott says the biggest challenge remains is still one of the basic things that many businesses struggle with: communication.

Communicating well with employees, customers and vendors, Scott says, is something that he and other company leaders continue to work on.

When hiring people, for instance, Scott says the two main things he looks for are communication skills and character. In fact, the company has even taken to administering psychological profiles on job candidates to make sure they're a good fit for the position.

A stronger emphasis on communicating online, via a Web site designed by Burlington-based Chandler Agency, is also an area of focus for the company. One employee is dedicated to responding to online queries, sending out digital photos of products and helping convert browsers into buyers.

The Web site, Scott says, helped the company land the work for Lockheed Martin's new Center for Innovation in Suffolk, Va.

The dedication to clear communication even extends to telling customers things they sometimes don't want to hear -- that the company can't guarantee an order will be delivered when a customer wants it, for instance, because the stone hasn't yet arrived from a quarry.

"There are times I think people are going to leave here disappointed," Scott says. "They won't be disappointed because they were misled."


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