Under the direction of new owners Lily and Kurt Sendek, 3D Stone continues to expand upon its already strong history of product excellence and customer service.
By Bianca Herron
Whether one may notice or not, Indiana limestone is everywhere. Some of America’s most notable buildings, including the Biltmore Estate, Washington National Cathedral, Pentagon and Empire State Building, all share a common factor: they were built with Indiana limestone – a hallmark of construction throughout the history of the United States, says Greg Gootee, Vice President of Sales for 3D Stone.
“With its beauty and durability, Indiana limestone stands the test of time as the physical building blocks of America,” he says. “Limestone is an exceptional building resource with roughly eighty percent of that, which is used in the United States coming from a 10 by 35 mile strip of Indiana known as the limestone belt.”
3D Stone Inc., a twenty-four-year-old company located in Bloomington, Ind., has found its niche market by becoming one of the leaders in the Indiana limestone fabrication industry. Its strategic location within the limestone belt offers direct access and a competitive edge.
The company’s successful process includes purchasing blocks of raw limestone from a quarry, cutting, shaping and polishing the stone to meet client specifications. Limestone can then be used in a variety of ways; most commonly the stone is adjourned to the sides of stately buildings, added to homes as finishing touches or used in custom projects. All finished products that come from 3D Stone are sure to be of unmatched quality and excellent durability.
A mason founded 3D Stone in 1992 with the goal of becoming a leader in the Indiana limestone market. As the company nears its 25th year in business, 3D Stone is the most successful it has been to date due in part to its employees’ dedication and new ownership. Lily and Kurt Sendek purchased 3D Stone in September 2015 with the intention of growing and advancing the already strong company, which can be seen first and foremost with their employee base.
“As our company approaches its 25-year anniversary in March, it’s a great honor to be well established within the industry and have such strong relationships with our customers,” President Kurt Sendek says.
Currently, 3D Stone has just fewer than 50 employees skilled in a variety of occupations. Employees work in areas including hand carving in the cutter bay, operating the planer machines and wet saws, welding and maintenance, along with many other skilled trades. Each department within the mill works together in order to provide a finished quality product.
In addition to the employees who work on the mill floor, 3D Stone employs estimating and drafting workers who determine project costs and provide the exact specifications of how the limestone slabs should be cut, finished and custom designed. Administratively, 3D Stone has a shipping coordinator, sales, financial and human resources departments, in addition to Lily and Kurt Sendek who manage the overall operations of the company.
“3D Stone has a strong team with many employees having more than 30 years experience within the industry,” Kurt Sendek explains. “With Indiana limestone, you can’t just hire anyone. We have skilled artists that we employ.”
Keeping its talented employees happy while working is a top priority for 3D Stone’s new owners, Gootee notes. “It’s difficult to replace that type of experience,” he explains. “It’s not like it was 20 years ago where someone would be willing to apprentice, learn a skill and make it their way of life for the next twenty years. When the company has the opportunity to obtain additional experienced limestone workers, we will do everything we can to incorporate a pleasant workplace and grow that interest within the limestone industry.”
In order to facilitate local student curiosity in what the new owners consider “a dying breed” of limestone carvers – and the limestone industry as a whole – the husband and wife duo implemented a student internship program to train its next generation of skilled limestone workers.
“We’re going to the local universities and colleges, getting young people while they’re still in school and offering them part-time internships,” CEO Lily Sendek says. “They acquire every aspect of the stone industry. We hope to have them grow with our company and stay here for the long run. Not only do the student interns have the opportunity to apply their in-class knowledge in a real life atmosphere, but they are also able to gain experience that can’t be learned in a classroom.”
Additionally, 3D Stone offers opportunities for employee growth. “One of our brightest is a project manager who started with 3D right after high school. He began working on the mill floor, learned our processes, caught the limestone bug and chose to go to school for drafting,” Sendek continues. “He was able to work his way up to his current position and now has come full circle with an intern of his own to train and supervise. He has a vast amount of knowledge from his experience within the mill along with his time in school, assisting in his ability to design materials for customers.”
This process of dedication to employees, coupled with the training and growth opportunities provided by 3D Stone is unique to the limestone business, she adds.
In order to keep employees pleased and offer a pleasant workplace culture, 3D Stone provides multiple benefits for their workers. “As a way to say ‘thank you’ to our employees for the great work they do, we host lunch once a month,” Kurt Sendek says. “In the winter, it’s a bit more difficult, but my wife and I will do all the cooking, set everything up and serve lunch for everyone.”
In addition to the monthly employee lunches, 3D Stone offers quarterly profit sharing. In this way, employees share in the success of the company. “In addition, we offer a full benefits package for employees and their families, which isn’t common in this industry,” Lily Sendek notes. “Most importantly, we have a collaborative environment and very few decisions are made without the input of employees.”
3D Stone’s democratic approach to employee related decision-making is constantly applauded by employees, she adds. “The culture and employee relationships we have fostered have led to the company’s success, and allows us to grow our market share and workforce,” Sendek says.
Growth Through Technology
When 3D Stone bought the company, there were nearly 36 employees. Today, 3D stone has nearly 50 with growth projections in sight, Kurt Sendek notes. With a growth mindset, 3D Stone has the capacity and desire to be an even larger player in the limestone marketplace. Under its new leadership, the company has added a second shift of employees to enhance its throughput and delivery time.
The company aims to bolster growth further with the recent changes in its operations, including implementing the newest in technology, such as customized software that tracks the flow of material throughout the mill and allows customers to learn the status of their project in real-time.
“Instead of customers calling and waiting for an employee to go out to the mill and check on the status of their project, we can monitor every aspect from computers and give instant information,” Gootee explains. “Now we can track each piece of stone and know exactly where it is in the mill. We can also see if any issues arise and schedule efficiently with customers. This allows us to accurately commit to deadlines and live up to them.”
Though the technology came with a steep price, it has helped set 3D Stone apart from its competition by allowing the company to offer unmatched customer service. For example, with 3D Stone’s new advancements, if there is any confusion about a specific part number, the company can confidently tell customers not only what day the product shipped, but also even which pallet it was on.
“Historically in the industry, companies could not accurately predict when products would come out of the factory line,” Kurt Sendek explains. “Now we’re able to see projects at every status point, allowing us to place accurate predictions on when a project will be completed and ready for shipping. Quite often the pieces we make are part of large-scale projects, and our limestone is just one component of an entire job. If we’re not on time, then somebody else suffers.”
In addition, 3D stone has also invested in the first-of-its-kind, custom-designed APEX 5-axis state-of-the-art CNC stone-cutting machine. Implemented last September, the CNC machine reduces operation time by improving consistency and by detailing much more quickly than can be done by hand.
“CadCam Technology, the program design software behind the CNC Machine, offers a three-dimensional view of what the finished product will look like before it is cut,” Sendek says. “Another feature of the CNC machine is the Lights Out operating mode that, when programmed, can keep the machine running even after everyone has gone home for the night. Once fully operational, the computer-controlled device is expected to produce substantial increases in throughput. Staying up-to-date with new technology creates the ability to take on larger and more complex projects than ever before.”
With new technology in place, 3D Stone can better care for their customers. “We put the customer first in our relationships,” Gootee says. “3D’s aim is to satisfy our clients’ needs before we begin to focus on our own. Our emphasis on customers is quite an asset that we provide. By providing accurate timeframes, the ability to track each piece of a project and the excellent quality provided, 3D Stone can do just that.”
With a state-of-the-art, 52,000-square-foot production facility, 3D Stone fabricates high volumes of stone year-round. “It’s not just 3D, but the industry is trying to highlight natural stone rather than cast-types of stones,” Gootee says.
Being an environmentally friendly product, Indiana limestone is of higher quality than most stone. In addition to the quality of the natural stone most often used by 3D Stone, the production process within the company’s mill is superior, he adds, noting that the process is said to be a clean one with the only resources used in production being recycled water and electricity.
“For the process used with cast stone, there are many acids needed for the finishing, making it less environmentally friendly than our recycled water process,” says Gootee. The naturally clean process used with Indiana limestone allows it to receive many LEED points. In addition to environmental concerns, cast stone also does not have a long lifecycle. After only 10 to 15 years of use, you might begin to see some deterioration with cast stone, which is just not the case with Indiana limestone. Indiana limestone is a premier product, as there really is no long-term maintenance needed.”
While Indiana limestone is 3D’s main focus, Kurt Sendek says that the company also produces other types of stone to offer a variety to customers. “We don’t want to be completely segregated and say we only fabricate Indiana limestone because we are fabricating other limestones as well,” he says. “By doing this, we can better help clients who are looking for something particular – whether that be helping them save money, a certain design, quality or color. So though our bread and butter is Indiana limestone, we offer many options to best fit our clients’ needs.”
Leading The Way
The company further sets itself apart with hopes to soon be certified as a WBE, woman-owned business enterprise. This certification is possible for companies where a woman owns majority of the shares.
3D is currently in the final review process, Lily Sendek says, adding that she is aware of only one other Indiana company that is WBE certified. “By personally owning 51 percent of the company, 3D Stone has a substantial opportunity to be in a minority bracket,” she explains. “There are many occurrences where general contractors need to work with a percentage of minority or women-owned businesses.”
The limestone industry is predominately male run, so to achieve the WBE certification in itself will be an accomplishment, Sendek notes. “There are really only a handful of women who are in the stone industry. There is a tight-knit community, called Women In Stone, which I joined last year,” she says. “We have separate conventions and meetings along with a mentorship program. I was mentored by a woman with over 20 years in the industry and will have the opportunity to provide mentorship to someone else. Being such a small percentage of the limestone community, the women in the industry tend to work together and assist each other whenever needed.”
Sendek considers this time “groundbreaking” for the female represented stone community. Though she adds that as CEO of 3D Stone, she has done “substantial” work for the company, Sendek notes that it is a team effort between herself and her husband. “I feel like Kurt and I have really divided and conquered. He has more of the manufacturing mindset and I am more skilled in running in-house operations,” Sendek explains. “Within the offices, I am responsible for managing human resources, sales, finances, and creating and nurturing new relationships. However, ultimately, it really is a team effort between Kurt, myself and our employees.”
3D Stone’s new ownership team efforts have trickled down to both their employees and the architects 3D Stone works with. “We work with architects from the beginning stages to help drive down project costs and offer potential alternatives to create more robust end products,” Gootee explains. “Often, architects will design a portion of a building as they envision it, but with minor changes 3D can show architects how the same project can be much less expensive to fabricate. This process gives savings back to the customer, in turn making it valuable to the architect as well. By working with 3D Stone, architects can offer less expensive designs to their customers and 3D Stone can have a better understanding of exactly what pieces need to be fabricated.”
Under 3D Stone’s new leadership, the company has been able to foster relationships with those it works with, including employees and even their competition, . “3D Stone employees work well together and are satisfied with their newfound democratic way of decision-making, Kurt Sendek concludes. “We have implemented advanced technology that not only provides additional benefits to our customer base, but also will increase our ability to increase throughput. And finally, our hope to soon be a WBE certified company offers substantial advantages. We have the right people in the right positions, making us a well-established company with nothing but a bright future and growth opportunities ahead.”