BUSINESS PROFILE

Jackson Stoneworks has a solid business plan

The company is Lowe's national distributor for granite countertops


Tyler Ryals is president of Jackson Stoneworks at 1111 SE 22nd Ave. in Gainesville.

Erica Brough/Staff
Published: Sunday, March 10, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 8, 2013 at 7:01 p.m.

Tyler Ryals and his father, Jack, went from looking for a product to start a company around in 2002 to landing the national distribution rights to supply granite bathroom countertops at all 1,700 Lowe's home improvement stores three years later.

Facts

Tyler Ryals

Age: 35
Occupation: President, Jackson Stoneworks LLC
Personal: Single
Pets: No pets
Dream partners for lunch: His grandfather, Michael Jordan, Jerry Seinfeld, Elon Musk
Last book read: "World Without End" by Ken Follett
Favorite TV show: "The Walking Dead"
Playing in his car: News/sports talk radio or silence ("Driving is a good time to think.")
Hobbies: Golf and work
Education: Santa Fe College

In between came the right product at the right time "and a whole lot of hustle," Tyler said.

Today, Jackson Stoneworks — which takes its name from Jack and son — has a 20,000-square-foot custom stone countertop production and warehouse facility and 10,000-square-foot kitchen and bath design showroom and office with more than 25 employees next to the Evergreen Cemetery in southeast Gainesville.

Father and son were looking to go into business together with Tyler fresh out of studying business at Santa Fe College. They went on a product hunting trip to a large trade show in China, where Jack had done business for years as a chemical importer with AllChem Industries. They took an interest in bamboo flooring and granite countertops and lined up suppliers.

They approached Lowe's, which was interested in the flooring, so Tyler mortgaged his house to buy a container full and they drove around the state to set up store displays.

US Floors had a head start and muscled them out of the business, but in 2003 Lowe's expressed an interest in granite countertops. They sold out the flooring stock to buy a container of prefabricated countertops in standard sizes and started driving to stores first in Florida and then throughout the Southeast to put up displays.

The timing could not have been better. Home building was booming. Granite was going in the many large "McMansions" under construction at the time. Advancements in technology and tooling, combined with low-cost Chinese labor, made granite more affordable.

"You almost don't build a home without granite in the kitchen anymore," Tyler Ryals said.

At the same time, Lowe's was in a building boom of its own and trying to keep up with Home Depot. The company had not established national suppliers for all products and gave Jackson Stoneworks permission to expand its market area.

Ryals said Lowe's gave them that inch and they took a mile. At Jack's urging, they took on investors to build more displays, 30 at a time that they delivered by trailer to stores from Florida to Maine, Ohio to Texas and everywhere in between. Ryals described it as "an old-fashioned land grab."

Ryals credits his father's "imperialistic disposition."

When Lowe's was ready to name a national distributor, Jackson Stoneworks got the nod in 2005 after establishing itself in 450 stores, compared to 20 for the next largest competitor.

Since then, Lowe's has slowly rolled out its own line of standard-size granite bathroom countertops while Jackson Stoneworks handles custom-sized orders. About half of Jackson's business now comes from local kitchen and bath design orders as they have added sink, faucet, cabinet and tile sales and installation.

As the housing bubble burst, Ryals said the market shifted from new home builders to homeowners doing renovations.

"Granite was topping out as the No. 1 home improvement item," he said.

Several local competitors who had overextended went out of business. Ryals said their sales held steady at about $3 million per year.

With forecasts predicting an improving marketplace, Ryals said they expect business to pick up this year. The company is trying to acquire automated machinery to make more countertops faster.

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