September 25, 2017

My Days at O&G: Masters of “Beacon”

“My Days at O&G” profiles employees around the company working at unusual jobs every day

“Beacon” is a hub. Orders for custom stonework come in one door, expertly worked stone products ship out though another. Stone from vendors arrives and gets distributed to contractors, homeowners and the company’s seven masonry showrooms. At the center of the hub are two men, John Baranoski and Jack Harding. What they do keeps the gears turning at the big and busy Beacon Falls Fabrication and Distribution Center.

Baranoski’s (below) focus is on estimating, a specialized skill honed over thousands of projects and 20 years in masonry construction. It tethers him to his office for much of the week, but every day he’s also out in the 95,000SF Beacon Falls facility overseeing the men and machines turning out custom stonework.

Jack

Summer is always crunch time. It’s when every mason demands his stone. There can be 50 jobs in the works at once. It’s particularly “crunchy” working for those masons  who  serve universities like nearby Yale, for whom O&G has crafted restoration stonework over the past three summers. Masons often are not allowed to begin until the summer break and must have their scaffolding down before classes resume. “They send us some very detailed work, mostly for restorations – complicated profiles and returns, sometimes ornaments for the tops of pinnacles  that we do by hand to match existing.” Complicated or simple, no matter: Beacon must feed finished stone to masons rushing to complete their project in the tight summertime window.

This summer was particularly busy at Beacon. Six-day work- weeks were normal. Story-tall CNC machines with their water- cooled drills and cutters diced giant stone slabs one after another, while operators at more compact machines or with hand tools cut and finished smaller stone pieces. There was also as much estimating going on as there was fabrication.

Baranoski has earned the trust with many of his mason clients, enabling him to deal directly with them. “Masons have told project managers, ‘We’ll just work directly with Beacon,’ which they and we like,” he says. Masons know the sequence in which they need their pieces so the first pieces needed are the first produced. “We can ship as pieces are ready to keep feeding the job and stay ahead of the masons, so we’re not working blindly to finish and ship everything at once.”

Lead times and schedules are the biggest challenges at Beacon. “People aren’t aware of all the steps required to produce the finish product,” says Baranoski. His goal, not easily accomplished, is to have job tickets (the client-approved directions that give his stoneworkers the green light and the details on how to produce the pieces) released months in advance of the customer’s need. In some cases such planning lets Baranoski and team work through the slower winter months and stockpile finished materials for shipment when spring arrives. Recent work this summer on Phase 1 of a planned four-phase brownstone renovation project at the Rhode Island School of Design followed that model. Because work was approved seasons ahead, the custom brownstone architectural elements were largely complete and ready when work began last May.

Now that fall has arrived Baranoski is busy setting the stage for a project that will start in March in which Beacon will be providing 50,000SF of precisely cut tiles of Bottecino and Turk- ish marbles and travertine for the much-anticipated Long Island Rail Road extension to Grand Central Station. He’s expecting  to keep Beacon months ahead of the masons. He’s also in the midst of estimating a follow-on phase that is just about as big.

Jack Harding, tall and cordial, has been in the masonry industry all his working years, the last 22 of those with O&G. He directs purchasing, warehousing, wholesaling and distribution of natural stone products. His office is packed with sample boards, mementos and the paraphernalia of his trade, but he’s not there often. Instead he’s out among the crates and pallets in the yard or in the cavernous stone warehouse.

In Harding’s purchasing and importing domain,  timing  is key. “Whether it’s a special or stock order, between the time an invoice is approved and a purchase order placed it can easily take up to 12 weeks before we see the material in our yard,” he says. So he’s strategic about ordering and efficient with inventorying. With over 500 SKUs under his direction it requires that he monitor sales, rely on input from the Division’s sales team, read market trends and be a bit of a prognosticator to never run out of what he calls his “staples.”

Add to Harding’s purchasing, wholesaling and distribution duties the time-consuming responsibility of quoting overseas special orders – from Chinese, Indian, Italian, Israeli, English and other sources. He also searches out potential new products. Case in point: when Harding went to the Xiamen International Stone Fair in China last March with Masonry Division Vice President Bob Rizzo, they brought back samples of a striking charcoal-gray stone veneer. It was added to the O&G lineup and is just now arriving at Beacon, six months later. Harding predicts it will be a best seller.

Harding gives much credit to Administrator Cheryl Bouvier and his guys out in the yard: “We received more than 200 containers this year plus all the shipments and deliveries that went out of this facility over the summer – it only worked because it was a group effort.”

And it is, both men will tell you, the group effort of everyone at Beacon that keeps the gears turning.