Company carving out a niche with stonework

Marble Source Unlimited eyes expansion as its client base grows

Growth: Marble Source Unlimited is considering expansion as its client base widens.

Howard Business

March 27, 2000|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

In the beige marble shower at the vice president's home in Washington, the floor is slotted so Al Gore doesn't slip while he's lathering up.

In Whitney Houston's New Jersey residence, peach granite counters -- including one atop an island shaped like a baby-grand piano -- highlight the kitchen.

And in a conference room on the 28th floor of Rockefeller Center in New York rests a 6-ton, $51,000 granite table so long that to talk to someone at the other end one would have to send e-mail.

At least that's what John Congedo says.

But he should know. His Howard County company, Marble Source Unlimited Inc., built all three works of stone.

Founded in 1988, Marble Source Unlimited fabricates products ranging from counter tops and fireplaces to flooring and entertainment centers. The stones come mostly from New York, Italy and South America, and are cut, smoothed and stored in the factory behind Congedo's Annapolis Junction showroom.

"It's like picking desserts," he said at the factory, where about 500 slabs of stone are propped on racks.

For Congedo, the grind of the stone business is second nature.

"As a kid, my parents would say I would come home with a pocket of rocks," said Congedo, who grew up in Howard County. "I just had an affinity for rocks."

But his first dabble as a professional in the business didn't come until 1982, when he began importing marble for the fireplaces fabricated by the company of which he was a vice president. About six years later, Congedo resigned and started his business.

At first, he sold high-end, costly stone products. Then the company developed Nature's Granite, a line of counters made with computer-controlled equipment and less expensive stone, marketed toward builders, dealers and home centers.

When Nature's Granite was introduced in Hechinger's stores about seven years ago, sales were between $30,000 and $40,000, Congedo said. But within two to three years, sales at the stores exploded to nearly $1 million, he said.

Today, the company's sales are in the millions, Congedo said. Its client base is in the thousands, and many, he said, are couples renovating their homes.

But the Marble Source Unlimited's clientele list also includes names and places such as former Sen. John Glenn, author Tom Clancy, Camden Yards and the National Security Agency. At the NSA, behind closed doors, rests a 20-foot, black granite monument inscribed with the names of agents who died during and after World War II, including the first fallen officer of the Vietnam War, Congedo said. Some of the names are so secret they are denoted with symbols instead of letters, he said.

With the growth of its client base, the number of Marble Source Unlimited's employees has also jumped. "When I came, it was one saw, me and John and a couple of other guys," recalled shop foreman Charles Collins, who joined the company 11 years ago.

Now there are three saws, including one that can cut 4 feet of granite per minute, and about 50 workers. And executives are expecting continued growth for Marble Source Unlimited. The long-range plan is to have divisions across the country, said Tim Beal, the company's chief operating officer.

"We're still riding an uphill wave," he said.

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