Stone Fabrication shops owned by Turkish-Americans sprinkle the east coast surrounding Washington DC.
Turkey plays an enormous role in the stone industry, where sometimes Brazilians or Italians get all the "street credit".
Early on in my carr, I sought to learn more about quarry origins. It fascinated me from the first time I sat in on a nomenclature discussion through the NSI. Many building products, blocks for slabs, and hardscape resources are quarried in Turkey while processed in other countries. Often, consumers (and industry personnel) have zero clue where their stone originates.
Over the years, many Turkish-American shop owners became great customers of mine; some are considered family. In fact, as a new business in 2023, Rep Methods' first boot camp is scheduled with a local Turkish-American company. I owe a debt of gratitude to the community in my sales career and hope this story can remind my readers that living the American Dream is not just a dream, especially for those willing to work for it.
I sat down with a good friend, Tony Kilic to talk about his family business Classic Granite & Marble, now located just outside of Richmond, VA, in Powhatan. Since I started this blog in January, I've wanted to tell CGM's story. The Kilic's are living this "American Dream", and it's undoubtedly a Turkish-American stone story for the record books. CGM is thriving in its new state-of-the-art facility in Powhatan, a suburb of Richmond.
Tony Kilic's story starts in 1993 when he came to the United States and landed in Towson, MD. He first dreamed of coming to the US when he was 10. While studying English at Towson State, Tony met several other Turkish immigrants. A new friendship formed with another Turkish immigrant who would later become one of the region's great stone gurus- Darian Ozdemir. The two met delivering pizzas together while trying to build a life in this country. By 1999 Tony moved back to Turkey, still needing to find his American dream and become more like his first mentor, his father. Mr. Kilic grew up around the furniture business and Tony wanted to become a prominent businessman like his father and more successful like his brothers.
Furniture is to Turkey like Ikea is to Sweden. Tony writes, "The Turkish people are known for their strong work ethic. They exhibit a relentless determination to see tasks through to completion. When presented with an opportunity, they seize it without hesitation, often favoring action over extensive planning. While it has advantages, this impulsive nature sometimes leads to a lack of thorough preparation. However, our ability to adapt and address issues as they arise is a valuable skill set." Entrepreneurship runs deep in my family.
"Growing up, I would start my day at 7:30 a.m., helping clean the floors of my father's appliance and furniture store. Work was a constant presence in our household, extending into weekends and late evenings. There were no set hours or predefined tasks; we adapted to whatever came our way. I learned to cater to immediate requests to avoid losing business, even if it meant going above and beyond. This adaptability and quick decision-making ability proved instrumental in my professional journey. As customers demanded immediate action, we were always eager to accommodate their requests to ensure we kept a job. This experience sharpened my decision-making skills and reinforced the importance of customer satisfaction. With these same values, both of my brothers were also able to succeed in the retail sector." Tony talks about being the last to find any success in his family. It drove him crazy to find that "thing" he could do and bring success to his family name. While spending another year and a half back in, Tony decided to try Furniture.
"Excelsior", is Latin for "higher"
"Onward & Upward"
In 2001 Tony returned to America representing a family friend's furniture manufacturer. He dreamed of selling furniture containers to distributors and wholesale companies. Tony remembers his first container sale: $67,000, sold to a local retailer. Landing this first deal led to confidence, and he began pursuing other, more extensive relationships.
Soon after, Tony sold a 15-container deal of two furniture models and colors. Still, the manufacturer back in Turkey couldn't support his sales efforts to high expectations. Their lack of organization let him down on multiple occasions. Often, he would need samples, and they wouldn't fulfill the requests on time. Sometimes they would package the containers haphazardly, creating havoc with his customer service. Many of these key customer satisfaction elements were out of his control & ultimately prevented him from meeting the client's expectations. Eventually, he lost the more extensive account due to those failures back home concerning production. Historically, as a country, Turkey has a reputation for being innovative and distinctive but often needs improvement in business organization and structure.
Over the next couple of years, Tony invested all his time and money into serving all the business roles: salesman, order processing, factory communication, logistics coordinator, sample coordinator, approval department, container unloader, delivery person, and accountant. Sometimes, he might only earn $1500.00 in one month's wages. Slowly building expertise, working to the bone, and seeing the minimal reward for his investment began to take its toll, and Tony grew frustrated and impatient. On a positive note, he met his wife & future business partner Rashan during this time. Introduced by their families, Rashan, the stunning daughter of a local judge, became the perfect fit for Tony's dream, and he was smitten instantly.
By 2004 he and Rashan were married and beginning their new lives in Maryland. Unfortunately, Tony struggled financially and emotionally drained, trying to make the wholesale furniture work for his family. Finally, after a last-resort failure, he turned the company over to an uncle and began seeking a new future. Until that future arrived, he hustled commercial vehicles and worked auctions to pay the bills. It was then he would reconnect with his friend Darian, now a partner in a large fabrication business in Jessup, Maryland. Needing a commercial truck for his granite business, Tony and Darian became re-acquainted. Darian's primary partner Andy Yavuzel offered Tony a spot working in the fabrication shop. Tony says it wasn't hard to see Andy's knack for business. "He was incredible to watch." Andy became Tony's first mentor in the stone business.
Tony recalls feelings of failure and loss even while starting work with Andy. After finding his mentor, it wouldn't take long for passion to find him. One day, traveling with Andy to provide a residential quote, he recalls being amazed a customer handed over a check for $3700.00. Tony couldn't believe it was that easy to sell something and make money right then and there! The furniture business often took him months to see any return on investment, and this guy made several grand in 15 minutes! Eventually, plumbing and Install would become Tony's specialty while working at the Classic Granite & Marble, Maryland. I have witnessed his craftsmanship firsthand on many occasions.
If I was visiting his office and a staff member came in needing clarification with a layout, in an instant, Tony identifies and teaches that staff member precisely how it should be crafted.
Sitting together, he also told me how he developed a passion for excellent customer service.
Through his experience, Tony formed a vision of customer service for his future business. While in Maryland, he was tasked to visit the home of a four-star general upset over an installation. The general was furious about seam lippage and uneven seams. Tony had to go back and fix the job and save the reputation. He spent eight hours crafting on site, grinding out and fixing every seam on the job, and by 10:30 that night, the general had ordered him dinner and invited him to have a whiskey on the patio. Tony had not only saved the job but also made a friend. Later, the general also requested an additional restoration of an Emperador marble shower and the two eventually became friends. The entrepreneurial mindset continued and slowly the employee and the student would soon become the employer and teacher.
We laughed quite a bit during the interview when he explained he almost gave up on the stone business in 2006. Still yearning for something of his own, Tony stumbled upon another entrepreneurial concept. Entirely over furniture, he drafted the finances and paperwork to purchase an $18,000 franchise for ServePro. All left was a signature when divine intervention rang over the phone. At that moment, a split decision became the future of the new CGM in Midlothian, VA. A friend offered him a chance in partnership for a new shop, and Tony jumped at the event. Leaving the paperwork unsigned, they picked up their little family and moved to Midlothian. The first Classic Granite & Marble (CGM) was born.
Tony recalls CGM's first countertop customer from 2006. "Our first client was a memorable one. The client lived by a prestigious country club in Salisbury and had unique tastes. Despite her extensive search at numerous granite shops, she could find what she sought once she made her way to us. As we walked her through our inventory, she stopped at a granite called "Mascarello ."We had just acquired four slabs from our friends over at Classic Granite Maryland, and the slabs were stunning, boasting these gorgeously huge mica flakes. She was captivated and immediately hired us to renovate the tops in three of her bathrooms. As she had already hired one of our competitors to do the tops in the kitchen before finding us, she immediately expressed her regret in not using us for all the projects in her home. Our first job taught us a valuable lesson: the significance of offering a unique selection. Even in the face of competition, having unique material can set you apart and make all the difference. At the time, the competitor contracted to do their kitchen countertops held a prominent position in the Richmond market. Yet, the client approached us solely because we possessed material that the only one had. We established and nurtured strong relationships with our clientele by continuously bringing exceptional, unique materials."
I have always been curious why he imports most of his inventory direct rather than from sourcing locally through distributors. When I asked Tony about his most tremendous success and failure in direct imports, he says over the years, while traveling to view materials and learn more about purchasing, he came across some opportunities that were too good to refuse. Once in Brazil, Tony came across a surplus of material sitting idle, covered in dust. "After asking about it, I learned its fate remained uncertain. I quickly recognized the potential value and made an audacious offer to purchase the entire inventory without requiring inspections or warranties. The deal was struck, and with minimal logistical hassle, the material was loaded and sent to us. This bold move proved immensely profitable as we capitalized on an opportunity others had overlooked. We ended up maximizing our returns and significantly bolstered our purchasing power."
On the other hand, "-In 2016, during extensive travel spanning Brazil, Italy, and Turkey, I made a critical error in judgment. Driven by enticing deals, I purchased many materials, specifically 57 containers. Regrettably, our company was not adequately prepared to handle such a massive influx of inventory at the time. The logistical challenges of managing over 2,800 slabs at once proved overwhelming. This experience taught us the importance of prudence in purchasing decisions. Merely being presented with a favorable deal does not automatically warrant its acquisition. We realized the necessity of assessing our capacity and only procuring what we genuinely needed. It is essential to balance seizing opportunities and ensuring that our operations can effectively handle the resulting demands." An excellent lesson for any stonemason going into business on their own: distributors remain the most reliable asset for any stone fabricator.
When I asked Tony about his most recent accomplishment, the granite playland in Powhatan, he said, "It feels great. It's truly been an incredible journey. I faced many unique challenges in my journey here. Being the last to achieve significant accomplishments in my family, many doubted my potential. However, this only fueled my determination to prove them wrong. I firmly believe in the timing of one's life and that everything happens for a reason. I have learned not to fear failure, as it serves as a valuable teacher. It was back in 2009 when I bought out my previous partner and started a search for a new building, as our business had outgrown its initial space, prompting us to search for a new one.
In 2011, after finding the best location to build a new space, I declared my intention to construct the finest showroom on the entire East Coast, much to the skepticism of others who doubted the feasibility of such a grand vision. However, by 2012, our newly constructed showroom left everyone in awe. 47,000 sq feet, It possessed a "wow" factor that surpassed expectations. This savvy business decision to expand and be unique helped secure CGM's foothold in the market and set a pace for excellence.
As you know, our ambition did not stop there. As we continued to thrive, we soon outgrew our second showroom. It was then that I was determined to build an even more impressive gallery—a space that would surpass any other in the country, and now here we are in our incredible 98,000 sq. Ft. Headquarters that we just moved into last year. This accomplishment resulted from hard work and our unwavering willingness to invest where it mattered most. We've elevated our business to a different league, propelling us to higher success. We've established our brand as a force to be reckoned with."
CGM has always been a proponent of giving back to the community. Over the years, with countless fundraisers, sponsorships, hosting events, genuinely embodying philanthropic efforts, and demonstrating poised representation in the local business community, CGM took giving back to another level after the earthquake. An article in Powhatan Today, written by Laura McFarland says it all. Please check out her full article from February 2023 as Tony describes the devastation he witnessed in detail: the graphic horror and turn of events from the 7.8 & 7.6 earthquakes from Feb 6th, 2023. Tony was there, visiting family. Since then, they have buried friends and family of friends in this tragic natural disaster.
CGM and friends in NOVA and Maryland helped raise thousands of dollars and gather food, & items to send to Turkey. Rashan and Tony's home in Adana is only about 150 miles from the earthquake's epicenter, and CGM has some remote staff still in Turkey who lost their homes that day.
Tony & Rashan strive to be leaders in their American home and community and back home in Adana, Turkey. They continue to support the recovery efforts wherever possible.
Tony Kilic: Favorite natural stone: Quartzite Michelangelo. Favorite equipment: Baca Robo Saw Jet.
CGM now has four double-bed robot systems plus a recycling water filtration system in operation at the 98,000 sq ft Powhatan, VA facility.
You can find more information about CGM @ www.classicgranite.com We've got great footage of their awesome equipment and mega showroom during the "large fabricator segment" in Rep Method's "How to select a Countertop Fabricator," video, available on our YouTube Channel. Check it out!