November 7, 2013

Maine granite supply company expanding the hard way

The owner of Qualey Granite & Quartz expects his bold move to succeed but is ready to fail.

By Jessica Hall jhall@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Matt Qualey says he has never made traditional business decisions.

click image to enlarge

Matt Qualey will expand Qualey Granite & Quartz of Veazie by opening the Maine Stone Design Center in Portland as a wholesale showroom and work center for designers.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Matt Qualey, shown with his rescue dog Baron, is expanding his granite supply business to the Pine Tree Industrial Park in Portland. Qualey was named Maine Small Business Person of the Year.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

He dropped out of graduate school, abandoning a potentially lucrative career in clinical neuropsychology, and invested in a monument business in Bangor in 2003.

When the economy tanked in 2008, he expanded and bought the biggest building he could find.

Now, as Qualey prepares to expand Qualey Granite & Quartz to Portland, he is budgeting for failure rather than banking on success.

It’s an unusual approach to business by a man who was named Maine’s Small Business Person of the Year by the Small Business Administration.

“I’ve never had a business philosophy. I’m a counter-indicator for traditional business decisions,” he said. “We kind of plan on this failing. We brace for the worst, just in case.”

Qualey Granite & Quartz of Veazie will soon open the Maine Stone Design Center in Portland as a wholesale showroom and work center for designers.

“We’re taking the ‘Field of Dreams’ approach: build it and hopefully they’ll come,” Qualey said. “We need to be able to serve all the state, and this allows us to cover southern Maine in a more thorough way.”

The Maine Stone Design Center will give designers a chance to see more than 150 slabs of natural stone and Cambria-brand quartz for countertops and other interior home accents. It also will showcase samples of the products in model kitchens and bathrooms to give designers ideas.

All of the company’s manufacturing will continue to be done in Veazie, near Bangor, where Qualey employs 18 to 20 workers. The expansion to Portland will add about five employees. Qualey would not disclose his revenues or forecasts for the new facility.

“This model will be very fluid. If it gets to the point where we need more people on the ground in Portland, we can do that,” he said.

The expansion will help the company better serve southern Maine, New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts. Its facility in Veazie has relied on demand in northern Maine and in Canada, which Qualey said never suffered the same recession as the United States.

Qualey said he started thinking about a Portland location almost as soon as he opened in Veazie. But finding the right spot was a challenge. He wanted to be in Portland, not the outskirts, and went through three purchase agreements that fell apart before he found the 15,000-square-foot leased space on Pine Tree Industrial Parkway, he said.

The biggest difference between Portland and Bangor? “Everything in Portland is five times as expensive,” he said.

Qualey Granite & Quartz processes 1,500 slabs of granite a year, about 1,000 square feet a week. Five years ago, weekly production was 250 to 350 square feet.

“We are getting more and more market share,” Qualey said. “Realtors are our best friends – they almost assault clients who don’t have granite countertops. It’s become the standard.”

Vicki Bessette, vice president of business services for Bangor Savings Bank, nominated Qualey for the SBA Small Business Person of the Year award because of his hard work, integrity and business sense.

“He’s been able to grow at a bad time in the economy and provide jobs,” Bessette said.

“Qualey has done an outstanding job growing his company through hard work, determination and meeting the needs of an ever-changing market,” Marilyn Geroux, the Small Business Administration’s district director for Maine, said in a prepared statement.

When asked about the award, Qualey doesn’t dwell on himself. He just notes that he has come a long way from his family’s potato farm in Aroostook County.

“This has been a wild ride,” he said. “Going to college and grad school was a big deal for my family, but I was bored to tears.”

(Continued on page 2)

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