In many ways, Glacier Stone Supply in Kalispell is a good representation of the Flathead’s construction and real estate industry in the past decade. It started in the early 2000s with plenty of promise, got considerable momentum as the housing boom hit the valley, and then fell hard as the recession hit.
Glacier Stone Supply hopes to become a representation for the future of the industry as well, having endured the lowest point in the company’s history to get to where it is now: struggling to keep up with product demand.
The stone company, which has provided Northwest Montana rock for architectural projects and landscaping since 2003, has its plant on Whitefish Stage running nine hours a day, seven days a week, and that might not be enough, says company president Tony Kavanagh.
“We need to ramp that up,” he said. “We need to do more. We’re not keeping up.”
The spring is the most optimistic time for building and construction materials companies, but this year feels different for many in the industry compared to the past few seasons.
According to a report from Bloomberg News, builders across the nation in May broke ground on 950,000 houses at an annualized rate, which is an 11.4 percent increase from April’s 853,000.
In Montana, builders are showing guarded optimism about the construction season, according to Montana Building Industry Association executive director Dustin Stewart.
“We’re looking pretty good in Montana over the last few months. There’s an awful lot of optimism in the association and the industry right now,” Stewart said. “It’s certainly a marked difference than what we’ve seen in the last four to five years. Both builders and suppliers in every corner of the state, they’ve got more work than they’ve had in years and they’ve also got work projected out, in some cases, several months in advance.”
At Glacier Stone Supply, Kavanagh, who took over as president last August, said his company has been shipping orders of solid stone as well as stone veneer – about an inch-thick piece of the stone face cut from the bulk of the rock that is used to cover buildings and architecture projects.
The orders have been shipping around the United States, including New York, Washington, Minnesota and even a container of stone for a project on Kodiak Island, Alaska. Northwest Montana’s stone is also popular in Canada, and Kavanagh said his company recently shipped three-and-a-half containers of stone for a 20,000-square-foot home in Russia.
The draw, he said, are the unique stone formations found here, which have been baked and pressed for millions of years and given some flourish with mineral deposits thanks to glaciers that moved through.
Kavanagh said his company’s stone can be seen on $200,000 and $300,000 houses, but is usually found on homes ranging in the $1 million price range. And there’s been a resurgence of higher-end housing starts across the country.
But the recession hit the company hard, and it is still working its way back. Glacier Stone Supply filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in 2010, which under the federal bankruptcy code allows a company to keep its business alive and pay its debts over time.
When the bottom fell out, Kavanagh said, Glacier Stone Supply could not keep up with its investments. There were quarries, equipment and iron.
“We had too much equipment; we had too much dirt,” Kavanagh said. “We had to go through and right the ship.”
That largely meant selling off major pieces of machinery and restructuring debt.
“The good news is that since that date, we haven’t skipped a beat,” he said.
The company takes its financial responsibilities seriously, he said, and debts are paid on time or early. The experience has made the company examine every expense, determining what is a critical need.
Even so, the company is pulling through, employing at least 50 people. The plant, where workers split and cut stones from the company’s 19 quarries, is abuzz with activity and orders are shipping. Glacier Stone Supply is involved with three bank builds and three hospital projects across the country, Kavanagh said.
It also formed a new partnership with Appalachian Antique Hardwoods, a reclaimed lumber company out of North Carolina. Kavanagh said the lumber company’s wood products fit perfectly with his company’s stone, and Glacier Stone Supply promotes the lumber west of the Mississippi in exchange for Appalachian Antique Hardwoods spreading the word about the stone company in the Southeast.
Glacier Stone Supply has moved into providing infrastructure for outdoor kitchens as well, Kavanagh said, which have become a popular trend across the country.
Stewart, of the MBIA, said builders will feel more comfortable with the optimism surrounding the industry if the work they’re seeing now continues into the fall. Kavanagh said he expects to remain busy and his company is working to maintain an austerity while tackling the new business.
“Our thing is to sell stone,” Kavanagh said, “the finest stone Montana provides.”
For more information about Glacier Stone Supply, visit www.glacierstonesupply.com.
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