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

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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

Qualey was studying for his Ph.D. in clinical neuropsychology at the University of Maine when he started working for a stonemason. That appealed to him much more than his studies, and he dropped out of school.

He started doing landscaping to help raise money to buy a monument shop in Bangor. When Qualey Granite & Quartz started in 2003, it focused on exterior stone work for walls and patios, before adding countertops, fireplaces and shower-surrounds.

Within a year and a half, Qualey’s partner, a stone worker, left the business. That forced Qualey to step up his training and learn stone cutting himself so he could fill orders.

“We rode a wave of physicians in Bangor buying homes or camps or renovating homes and putting in granite countertops. Without that influx of business, we wouldn’t have grown into what we are today,” Qualey said.

Another big step was getting funding. In 2006, the company got a $200,000 SBA-guaranteed loan through Bangor Savings Bank. In 2010, the company moved into its warehouse and design center in Veazie.

Qualey wasn’t afraid to invest in his business. The company bought a CNC machine, which Qualey describes as a $500,000 router and the best investment he’s ever made, and invested in software that allows customers to see their chosen slabs of granite in their kitchen plans.

Having two locations in the state will help Qualey Granite & Quartz compete against companies such as Blue Rock of Maine in Kennebunk, Bangor Wholesale Laminates and Morning Star Stone and Tile in Topsham, Qualey said.

With the Portland facility preparing for its grand opening later this month, Qualey, the exclusive supplier of the Cambria brand of natural stone products in Maine, is already planning more locations, but he won’t say where.

“If this one does well, we’ll have three to four facilities. At that point, it may have grown to the point that it makes sense to sell it,” Qualey said.

Earlier this year, the company scrapped its retail operations after 10 years of selling directly to consumers. The decision helped Qualey Granite & Quartz win new clients such as the S.W. Collins building supply company, Qualey said.

“Pulling the plug on retail was necessary to help us grow. We needed to stop being in the position where we were seen as competing with our customers,” he said.

Qualey is quiet and reserved. His rescue dog, a greyhound named Baron, is close to his side at all times. And he doesn’t seem wowed by his own success.

He and his wife, Laurie, are involved in the Bangor Humane Society and giving money to help animal rescue groups.

“I’m not interested in camps and cars,” he said. “We’re interested in giving it all away.”

Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:jhall@pressherald.com

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