Suzanne Huntzinger | Photos by The Home Aesthetic
For nearly fifty years, the Stone Center of Indiana has been providing Indianapolis area contractors, builders, and homeowners with the largest selection of natural stone products in Central Indiana. Now, the Stone Center has taken things to another level.
With the opening of a second location near Westfield, the company has given customers even more reasons to love stone. The original location on East 65th Street has developed a following thanks to its stone playground which the Stone Center calls “The Great Wall.” It’s a two-story one-hundred-yard long expanse of stone samples, many of which are built into an actual three dimensional, so customers may see how a finished product appears up close.
As great of a showroom as the Stone Center has at the East 65th Street location, when the need to expand became apparent, there was no available property adjacent to the center that was large enough. “Our sales increased over 55% in four years along with our customer base,” owner John Smitson says, “So we needed to find a property that was already zoned for open industrial use and that was larger than two acres. This new property in Westfield fits the bill.”
The new location near Westfield’s Grand Park offers its own brand of stone extravaganza. It features a gorgeous showroom offering over 250 stone samples and three conference areas for collaboration between designers, architects, landscape contractors, and customers. Each room is big enough to bring plans, paint samples and other materials to select the perfect match for their projects. If that isn’t enough, there are over two acres of outdoor living design ideas. With so many great features, it is poised to become as popular as the original. Says Smitson, “We bought this land and built this center, so we could have something to grow into. This place is an investment in our future.”
Smitson has grown accustomed to rapid growth in the four years since he bought the Stone Center. As he continues to learn more about the stone industry, the company’s solid history and reputation provides a strong foundation for him. When it opened in 1969, the Stone Center quickly established its reputation for having the largest selection of stone products brought in from all over for use in the home, outdoor living and landscape. The popularity of outdoor living space now requires a selection of stone and materials from over twenty states and three countries coupled with fire pits, fireplaces, and grill islands to meet the needs of customers.
The Stone Center has kept stone relevant through the decades it has been in business. The way it’s displays have evolved is a big example of that. “In the beginning, the Stone Center was just a dirt lot with stone products on pallets. It looked like a giant rock quarry,” says Alan Drane, Director of Landscape Sales. “Then we made the decision to pave our lot and make our displays more experiential. The first time we saw a customer drive up, get out of her car, and walk across the lot to the displays in her sandals, we knew it was working. Now, people are ‘rock-a-holics.’ Some people visit our center every Saturday just to see the newest stone.”
The experiential displays have played a major role as part of the Stone Center’s unique offering. “We’re one of the few places that’s a one-stop shop to select stone for the exterior of your home and your backyard,” Smitson says, “Where our company shines is in the way that we’re there when you build your project, and again when you add on or improve your outdoor living space.”
The one stop shop philosophy has also applied to the Stone Center’s partnerships with custom home builders and StonePro certified landscape contractors. “Those partnerships work for us because they understand the value of the service level we can give them to help make them more profitable.” Smitson says.
Not surprisingly, the Stone Center has mastered the art of specialized service. This is evident in its mission statement: “Driven to provide equitable solutions through integrity and teamwork.” Says Alan Drane, “It’s just as critical for us to help an end-user find the right solution as it is a contractor. We look at each project as an opportunity to establish a fair and equitable solution for the customer and the contractor.”
Finding that solution is a journey. The sales staff at the Stone Center has years of experience in navigating the distance between wants, needs and budgets. “When people come to us, they’re overwhelmed with the choices, but they have a certain budget. They have an emotional investment in their homes, so they’re making an emotional decision,” Matt Riester, Director of Cut Stone and Architectural Sales says, “We’re really good at understanding both the emotional side and the budget side. We take the customer through the journey by helping them sort out the best choices for their home and work within their budget, which sometimes requires that we develop a custom blend. We help make the decision-making process less overwhelming.”
The Stone Center has gone a step further in supporting the relationship between contractors and homeowners. About fifteen years ago, it created a program called StonePro™. The program connects contractors with customers who are looking for a contractor that can get the job done right. For contractors, joining the StonePro™ program is generally by invitation, but all contractors are encouraged to inquire about it. Once selected, the contractors go through an evaluation by the Stone Center to ensure their projects meet ICPI guidelines and standards. “We developed the program because we wanted a win-win-win,” says Alan Drane, “We wanted to give the contractors the leads they need, and customers the service they need. Since they buy our products, we win too.” Through the years, the contractors participating in the StonePro™ program have developed a strong community amongst themselves. “These folks have a healthy competition between each other, and at the end of the day they know that they are competing with others on an “apples to apples basis.” Alan Drane says, “It is not uncommon for StonePro™ to subcontract work to another to make sure his/her customer gets the perfect result.”
Having loyal partnerships requires showing appreciation, and the Stone Center knows how to show its customers how much they value their business. Every year, the Stone Center invites around 80 of its best customers to its Shots and Shells event at the Indianapolis Gun Club. It kicks off with a sporting clays shooting event followed by drinks and dinner, complete with fresh lobster flown in for the occasion. “We want to show our customers that we appreciate them,” says Riester, “At the same time, when we have the opportunity to mix with our customers outside of a business setting, it often leads to more loyalty.”
Working with stone is serious business, but everyone at Stone Center knows how to have a lot of fun too. The Stone Center team started Curbside Cookouts around ten years ago as a fun way to build goodwill and mix with the crew at a job site. The men will load up the grill in the truck, bringing burgers, dogs, chips and drinks to a job site. The mission is to give the workers a break, and during the break, the Stone Center guys take the opportunity to make a YouTube video of the job’s progress. Proving that there’s never a dull moment with the Stone Center, the guys often interject humorous scenes with people pretending to sleep on the job and doing various wacky antics. “In the beginning, when we’d call and ask if we could show up, the foreman wasn’t always keen on us interrupting the work,” Alan Drane says, “But, then they saw the videos and realized how much we were promoting their work, and soon some of the builders were calling us asking when we were going to come out to do a Curbside Cookout with them.” HGTV might just be dialing their number soon!
Get inspired to plan your next project with stone. Check out the Stone Center’s website at stonecenterofindiana.com to browse its vast selection. To get really inspired, visit the Stone Center’s Great Wall at 5272 E 65th Street, Indianapolis, or showroom near Westfield.