Rock Solid


Presently, Kodiak Mountain Stone provides owners, builders, designers and architects with a diverse selection of manufactured stone, natural stone, brick, acrylic stucco and lightweight concrete fencing for their building needs. The company has showrooms in Lethbridge and Calgary in Alberta and a manufacturing plant in Springville, Utah. We spoke with its founder and President, Jeff Heggie, about the company and its products.

Mr. Heggie started out as a bank manager, but always wanted to branch out on his own (excuse the pun). He gathered up a few partners in 2005 and learned about the stone manufacturing business through an existing company in Missouri. “Initially the thought was to go with a small operation for the local market,” he explains. “So we set up a small factory in Cardston in the foothills of south west Alberta. A friend of mine had a shop out on his farm that we rented and that’s how we started the company.” It didn’t take long before the decision was made to expand into the American market. “I had a lot of contacts down in Utah, so we started looking at building a second factory in Springville, Utah which began our American operations.” Canadian sales then became the force that drove manufacturing through the larger Utah plant. The business was progressing rapidly and before long had to move into a larger building in Cardston as well.

The U.S. and Canadian operations were developed as separate entities with their own identities. Things were booming in 2007, yet in Canada Mr. Heggie was encountering challenges getting enough employees. The Cardston factory, being located in a small town, was proving restrictive and economies of scale combined with lower labour costs meant the Utah factory had a more favourable profit margin. The second plant was set up there with advanced equipment and increased automation. “We got to the point where we were really struggling to get enough employees in Canada. We were also not as efficient as the U.S. operation because of how we were set up. It came to the point where we decided to consolidate both of them.” The focus was on American expansion; the west coast served as the company’s main market but, through word of mouth, the company was also shipping product further afield to places like Guam and Hawaii.

During the recession, Kodiak Mountain Stone was still able to sell a lot of product throughout western Canada and the United States; competition, however, was driving down prices and margins on U.S. sales. A good business plan should be adaptable to the market and economic conditions, so recognizing that a shift in focus was necessary, the emphasis was put back on to the Canadian operations. Kodiak Mountain Stone decided to change the company’s direction in Canada and opened two showrooms in Alberta.

Kodiak Mountain Stone maintained a strong rapport with its dealers in western Canada, but opening its own showrooms in Calgary and Lethbridge enabled the company to gain greater control over the marketing and retail side. These showrooms also allowed the company to diversify its product range, carrying a wider range of materials beginning with a manufactured veneer stone from California, followed by the Cherokee Brick line out of Georgia and a concrete fencing called Rhino Rock. The Master Wall acrylic stucco line was a convenient relationship because its factory was close to Kodiak’s factory in Utah. Kodiak Mountain Stone now had a strong portfolio of products to rival anyone in the business.

In both the manufactured and natural stone businesses, there are trends to contend with. Recently one such trend has been in combining multiple products. “People put up brick, stone and stucco on their houses. It can look very elegant,” says Mr. Heggie. Even colours follow fashions and are largely determined by the geography of the area catered to. “The colours that we see in Alberta are often quite different than the colours that we see in Utah and a lot of it has to do with the environment.” In Alberta, for example, a lot of darker stone is manufactured, whereas in Utah much of the natural stone is red and so the manufactured stone follows suit. One has to have one’s ear to the ground in order to capitalize on what the customer wants.

As a result, Kodiak Mountain Stone is constantly refining existing lines and finding new products to carry for its customers. “During the winter months, installation of our product goes down which gives us the option of working on new profiles and colours,” Mr. Heggie explains. “Another trend that we are really seeing a lot of is a move toward the acrylic stucco as a siding alternative.” Unlike conventional stuccos, acrylic stucco is waterproof and has a measure of flexibility to prevent cracking, often seen on older stucco façades. Another innovative product the company distributes comes in the form of a painted on coating called Elastoflex which can be used over existing conventional stucco, has the same advantages of the company’s acrylic stucco and is intended to last for the life of a home. “One of the issues with stucco in our area and climate is that it’s got to be warm enough to apply the product, so that’s why a lot of our people are using the other siding products, but we are seeing a lot more people using the acrylic stucco.”

Man-made stone is what Kodiak Mountain Stone started with. This concrete product is lighter than natural stone and easier to install as it is a more consistent product. “We design the colours, which gives us more control as we are not dependent on what is coming out of the quarry,” says Mr. Heggie.

Some people, however, prefer that natural look. Much natural quarried stone is veneered – cut so it has a flat back making it easier to install – though some is still full bed stone which requires footers, ledgers and wall ties to support its weight and must be installed by skilled masons. Historically, natural stone has been more expensive then manufactured stone. The main reasons for this have to do with the skilled labour required to install it as well as higher costs to quarry it. Times, though, are changing; as Mr. Heggie explains, “Over the last couple of years we started to work a lot with quarries that are very efficient, and the spread between natural and manufactured has really tightened up a lot.” In certain areas of Alberta and British Columbia the trend is to go natural.

The company does not do any of the installing itself; instead it refers clients to a host of professional masons. At the same time, there are a lot of do-it-yourselfers who want to install these products themselves, so Kodiak Mountain Stone provides guidelines on its website. “Most of the products we have are quite simple to install yourself as long as you follow the right procedure. I would guess that 20 per cent of our clients will install it themselves. Recently I had a customer come in to refurbish a fireplace. He took the instructions on how to do it, and it should be easy because it’s a small job.”

A good business plan and its successful implementation depend on the cohesiveness of the organization as a whole. This of course includes its employees and their health and mental well-being, something Mr. Heggie takes very seriously. “We are being recognized currently on the staff side of things. Alberta Venture Magazine had a contest called Small Business Superstars and we ended up winning! We got nominated because of our efforts based on Google’s 20 per cent time initiative.” This initiative allows a company’s employees to dedicate up to 20 per cent of their work time to company related projects that interest them personally. “At Kodiak Mountain Stone we call it our Education Plan. Employees are given time to read and study books, magazines and different materials that they feel will help them in their professional lives or in their personal lives. When they’re involved in something they’re passionate about, people are enthusiastic and bring new ideas to a project. My beliefs in this company are that we need good, happy employees and we need to do things to make their lives better. We really are a tight team with some really good staff.”

Despite the recession that still lingers south of the border, Kodiak Mountain Stone is flourishing. Shrewd management and the ability to adapt have served the company well. Diverse product offerings have drawn clients and reputation has taken the team across the globe. With a healthy employee base, Kodiak Mountain Stone looks to the future with optimism and positive expectations.

June 19, 2018, 8:10 AM EDT

A Proactive Approach to Resolving a Longstanding Debate

About forty skilled Central and South American workers from Ecuador, Peru, Columbia and Costa Rica came to British Columbia, Canada as temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in 2006. This story incited Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) call for reforms to Canada’s TFW program (TFWP) and the International Mobility Program (IMP). LiUNA, a powerful voice within the construction industry with over half a million members – 110,000 of whom are in Canada – has been the only Canadian union to address the issue.