Fifty years ago, The Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, the movie “Mary Poppins” debuted in theatres, and filming began for a pilot which would later become the start of the TV series “Star Trek.”
And 50 years ago this year, Francis Buechel decided to sell some stone from his farm west of New Holstein and Chilton to Manitowoc Landscape. That was the first transaction for what is now known as Buechel Stone Corp., a business which today sells stone from coast to coast and beyond.
In 1964, Francis and wife Alyce could never have envisioned the gorgeous multi-story showroom and corporate headquarters of Buechel Stone Corp. which exists today just a stone’s throw from where their home was located at that time.
Son Tim Buechel sat in that showroom recently and reflected on how his Dad probably took the stone for Manitowoc Landscape from near an oak tree which still stands on the property. Eden Stone had been quarrying from the Buechels’ farm until Francis and Alyce decided to go into business for themselves. “It certainly has grown a lot,” Tim said.
Crowbars and wheel barrows
Tim said that first stone was taken from the ground using crowbars, hammers, hand chisels and wheelbarrows. Francis and Alyce also could not have envisioned the tools with which Buechel Stone Corp. employees work today, including wire saws which provide much more accurate cuts, more efficient saws which Tim said have trimmed hours of time every day, and all types of vehicles which move the heavy stone from one place to another.
Francis and Alyce took their 125-acre farm and converted it into a working quarry, servicing a 100-mile radius around their rural Chilton location.
Buechel Stone continued to grow and in 1978 it purchased the Panetti Stone Company of Fond du Lac. The purchase allowed Buechel Stone to expand its products and better reach its customer base, which at that time was still primarily Wisconsin.
But the times have changed. Tim said they appreciate very much their local and Wisconsin customers, but that customer base would not come close to supporting a business which now employs about 130 people.
Growing over the years
Over the years the company continued to grow in terms of products, quarrying land and dealer distribution networks. In 2000 Buechel Stone opened a 16,500 square foot building to house sawing and cut stone production. The momentum of growth continued into 2006 when Buechel Stone opened a 65,000 square foot building for the building stone lines (both full and thin veneer) and the landscaping lines.
All that growth makes it possible for Buechel Stone to service a customer base which is literally worldwide. Tim said Canada has been a good market for Buechel Stone, and that the company also is bidding on several other international projects.
The internet has been something of a double-edged sword for Buechel Stone Corp. It has allowed potential customers from all over the world to find out more about what Buechel Stone has to offer, but it also has done the same for some of the company’s competitors. Tim pointed out that does not mean just other quarry operations but also alternative construction methods beyond the natural stone which Buechel Stone provides.
“The consumer is a lot more aware of what is out there,” Tim said. “I’ve always said you need to know who your competition is.” He said it is important that Buechel Stone Corp. employees constantly educate people about the many uses of stone.
Shades of purple
On that subject, Tim said trendy uses of stone in 2014 will continue to be outdoor kitchens and paving/landscaping. “The color for 2014 is a shade of purple, which sits well with what we take out of the Chilton quarry,” he added.
While growth seems to have been a constant along its 50-year path, Buechel Stone was affected as most businesses were by the last major recession. “We’ve learned how to be smarter,” Tim said. “Being humbled isn’t a bad thing.”
He said the company still has job openings and will be adding summer help once again, but it works leaner now than when it had 300 employees. New and better equipment and a return to wiser ways of working has improved the company’s bottom line. “It’s all about being efficient,” Tim said.
“We had a good year (in 2013) and this year looks exceptional too,” he added. “We attribute a lot of that to customer service. You have to follow through on what you say you’re going to do.”
He added, “We have incentive plans that help that. Some of it is natural, but we also have goals we have to achieve. We visit our customers—we make sure we do that.”
From the time Francis and Alyce sold to their first customer until today, Buechel Stone has been a family-run business. Along with brother Scott, other family members and employees, Buechel Stone Corp. has pioneered several industry-leading initiatives, including the production and promotion of Natural Thin Veneer, the implementation of “Rock Colleges” (formalized training for its dealer network), and being the first stone company to introduce a weep system for its veneer installations.
Both Scott and Tim Buechel have been actively involved with the natural stone industry. Tim was a past board member of the Allied Stone Industry (ASI) and Scott was a past president of the Building Stone Institute (BSI). Scott and Tim have also received the Technical Achievement Award from Stone World. This award is given to a North American quarrier or fabricator who shares technology with the industry, has a willingness to pioneer the use of new technology, fosters educational programs for the training of stoneworkers in industry methods, and promotes technological progress through association work.
“We absolutely love the business,” Tim said. He reflected on the fact that the current generation of family members running Buechel Stone Corp. can see retirement off in the distance, but they are pleased to have the next generation already in key positions within the company. “Nobody knows your business better than you,” Tim said. “We have a good management group that works with us. We have a chief financial officer who keeps us very disciplined. We’re expecting a good growth year for 2014, but we’re managing it.”
Tim was 9 years old when he first started helping around the business, and he was 22 when the business was purchased from his father. He and other members of the Buechel family have guided the business through good times and challenging ones, and they said they are proud to see the business still going strong 50 years after Francis chiseled out that first piece of stone.