Wisconsin-based Buechel Stone Corporation is about to celebrate fifty-five years of supplying stone products. The company primarily fabricates natural stone for residential and commercial projects, which involves cutting stone for full and thin building stone veneers, architectural details, patio and paving stone, along with all types of natural landscape stone for encouraging holistic, sustainable design. Across three main locations in Fond du Lac and Chilton in Wisconsin and Marion in North Carolina, the company employs 180 people.
The family business was founded by Francis and Alyce Buechel, who converted their farm into a quarry in 1964. Francis and Alyce would later sell the business to their sons, second-generation owners Scott and Tim Buechel. Today Scott is the company’s President and only remaining second-generation owner. Tim has since retired and passed his ownership on to the next generation, his son Mike.
Mike Buechel, the company’s Chief Operating Officer, describes the business according to its mission of providing “the best, most dependable experience in the natural stone industry – guaranteed.”
The company takes a personal approach. Buechel Stone partners with customers from beginning to end on projects, and gets directly involved in the decision and construction processes. The primary Wisconsin and North Carolina locations are outfitted with panel displays and sample racks to assist clients with the selection process.
Mike says that the company is more about the people who do the processing and make the product, rather than the product itself, as there is not a lot of good information in today’s market about natural stone. So it becomes very important to inform customers of the product’s properties and most effective uses in the context of a project. And Buechel Stone’s expert team is uniquely knowledgeable about the subject.
In an industry that requires so much of its workers, this company puts its team first. Mike says that employee care is very important to the way the company is run. “We want them to have a great work day with clean and comfortable facilities. Almost zero work is done outside. They are kept in the loop about the state of the business through monthly updates from their supervisors and quarterly meetings. Tenured teammates are recognized by a Rockstar Extreme Anniversary Program, and REAP the rewards with great gifts they get to pick out every five years.”
Buechel recognizes the employees’ work and regards the treatment and well-being of its workforce as a high priority. This has led to a tight-knit work atmosphere and a great deal of loyalty from the workforce.
The company has been around for over half a century and has endured many changes in the marketplace. Mike says that the economy is strong in general and around the construction industry in the Midwest, and building projects have been decently prosperous and regularly requested. However, the current landscape is not without challenges, one of which mainly concerns labor.
Mike says that all companies in the industry are struggling with the demand for housing and the lack of human capital to build it. Wisconsin, specifically, has less than three percent unemployment, and it can be difficult to hire people to do jobs that require a great deal of physical labor as well as craftsmanship, knowledge, and skill.
He says that the first few months in 2019 will be of interest, as the demand for building in the housing and commercial markets will remain, but without enough people to physically do the work, contractors will see less construction. As a result of this, projects may take even longer than normal or interest rates may rise enough for people to back off these projects, which can have further undesirable consequences.
There is a great need for specialty companies like this to stand out, especially given recent economic and labor challenges. One way in which the company distinguishes itself is through its frequent and intelligent use of social media. Mike says that the company employs its social media platforms based on what is best fit; for example, Facebook is the ‘face’ of the company, where background stories of the company and local interest stories related to it are published. Other platforms such as Instagram or Pinterest are used for content that showcases a certain product in its line-up, as these tools are more visual.
In fact, Buechel’s treatment of its employees has become a part of its social branding, as the company refers to its workers as ‘#rockstars,’ which Mike says highlights the human face of the business to potential customers and communicates that working with Buechel is more than just a job, and workers are more than just employees.
These efforts are a way to both be noticeable and inform. Mike says that the stone industry is often misunderstood, and with over a thousand stone manufacturers of various sizes in the United States, there is not much data about the jobs and people who work within the industry. Buechel’s unique and concerted social media approach looks to circumvent that and has become one of the company’s most recognized trademarks.
Buechel Stone also separates itself from other companies through its commitment to sustainability. Mike describes the company’s sustainability methods as an important part of its vision. It is work that, while sometimes quite expensive and not affecting the value of product, is something that he says needs to be done in today’s world. The main concern with these processes is the social and environmental consequences. A large amount of stone is imported from the east – China and India, specifically – and dealers can buy cheaper from abroad than domestically. In cases like these, he believes that “you must demonstrate your difference, if you’re not going to compete on price,” which is a big reason behind the company’s continued drive for sustainable work practices.
As a new year begins, Buechel Stone’s recent successes will pave the way for a prosperous future. The company acquired another location in North Carolina in late 2018, which will extend the reach of the business. After starting the company’s fabrication location a few years ago, it has now bought out the raw materials supplier on which it relied, which will give it more control over the production process, leading to big advantages for both the company and its customers.
He says that the company will continue to build from its current position and that planning for the next three to five years is already underway. He also notes that his business partner and uncle Scott will be looking to retire sooner rather than later, as Mike father’s Tim did a couple of years ago. The future for Buechel Stone Corp and its workforce is at once both daunting and resolute, in that no matter what types of changes or challenges lie ahead, the company will not lose its focus of being a second home to those who work hard daily for it, and will continue to be a name that is second-to-none when it comes to natural stone.