By Brenda Erdahl
For 12 years Northstar Granite Tops in Maple Lake has handcrafted natural stone into elegant, beautiful countertops for homes. Last spring, the company took its first steps into the digital age and the results are even better than expected.
With the purchase of sophisticated machinery, Northstar Granite Tops has lost nothing of the loveliness and grace of its products, but now they come with a new precision unattainable by man and work that is much less taxing on employees’ bodies.
“The industry is moving into the digital age. In order to be competitive and offer the best customer experience, we need to follow suit,” owner Steve Bobick said.
Bobick and his brother Rock have owned and operated Northstar Granite Tops at 601 Sixth Street in Maple Lake since 2006, but have been in the business for 16 years. Up until last spring, they and their six employees did everything by hand. They created plastic templates based on the customer’s desires and existing cabinetry, laid those on the slab of rock selected by the client then cut out the design with a bridge saw. The final step was to hand polish the edges to a mirror shine. The work was time consuming and hard on a person’s body.
Today when Rock visits a customer’s home, he uses a device that takes measurements by laser and creates a digital template right there in the field. Back at the shop, Mike Bjelland, Northstar Granite’s programmer, takes a picture of the customer’s choice of stone then using the digital template, turns the slab of stone into a digital countertop which he can send via e-mail to the client.
Not everybody takes advantage of the digital countertop program, but those who do love it, Steve said.
The digital template is then sent back to production. Dennis Weidner operates the company’s new CNC Saw which cuts out the design with perfect precision and speed.
“It used to take Dennis two hours to cut a slab, now it takes twenty minutes,” Steve said. “It does reduce the turn-around time.”
The equipment is also incredibly precise taking in barely perceptible indents or curves in the wall to produce a piece that fits as tight as possible against the wall.
After the stone is cut, the counter top is sent to the shop’s new CNC Router which polishes the edges to a mirror shine.
Finally, the new counter top is touched up and given a final polish by hand before It’s ready for installation.
Also new at the Northstar Granite Top facility is an updated water recycling plant. The company has always recycled its water in an effort to be environmentally responsible, but this new system is even more efficient, Steve said.
“In doing all the automation that we’ve done, we didn’t lose any of our staff,” he added.
Their employees average close to nine years of experience and Rock and Steve take part in every counter top they create.
“We are very hands on owners,” Steve said. “This keeps the service and the end-product high.”
The company handles about 300 jobs a year all around the lakes region and into the metro, and most of their business comes from referrals which tells them they are doing something right.
The journey to a new countertop begins at the company’s 2,000 square foot showroom in Maple Lake’s industrial park. Keri Wurm is usually the first person clients meet when they arrange a tour of the showroom. Armed with 11 years of experience, Wurm is equipped to educate and give quotes, and she is always in-tune with the latest trends and styles.
Once the stone is selected, Northstar Granite Tops will take care of the rest.
“We do everything, from fabrication to installation, to sealing your new countertops before we leave your home,” Steve said.
Northstar Granite Tops has been accredited by the Marble Institute of America (MIA) since 2009, a distinction that demonstrates Northstar’s expertise in natural stone craftsmanship, and a true concern for worker and customer safety, as well as an adherence to business ethics and sound practices.
In addition to recycling the water it uses, the company also recycles 100 percent of leftover counter top materials to be used in making road beds for the State of Minnesota. Northstar Granite Tops is open 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. weekdays, and Saturdays by appointment. For more information or to request a free quote, visit www.northstargranitetops. com or call 320-963- 8677.