Nashville, Tennessee Shop Makes Customer Communication and Satisfaction a Number-One Priority

by Joel Davis

Photos by Matt Harrington and Courtesy Werthan Granite

Hover over photos to read caption

This towering Calcutta marble fireplace in a private residence is actually located in the master bath.  Designed by Landy Gardner Interiors, the fireplace stretches to the ceiling, with matching baseboards.Werthan Granite LLC provides solid quality built on the most intangible and important of foundations: the importance of its relationships with customers.

The master bath also includes vanity tops and backsplashes in Calcutta marble matching the fireplace, with classic refined details in the edging.  Photos by Matt HarringtonServing the Nashville area since 2002, the company has moved beyond a simple fabrication shop to become a provider of high-end custom services and a dealer in stone, tile, quartz, and solid surface materials.

Custom kitchen produced for a country music star in 2005 includes a two-level island topped with a glass counter, curved and shaped to harmonize with the custom cabinetry and woodwork.President and CEO Jeremy Werthan had a background in finance and investment banking before finding his way to the stone industry.

Custom kitchen produced for a country music star in 2005 includes a two-level island topped with a glass counter, curved and shaped to harmonize with the custom cabinetry and woodwork.“I was working in my family’s packaging business in Nashville,” he said.

“I worked there in the summers, but then I went to school and became an investment banker.

I did that about 10 years and got really tired of trading money around and decided to look for something to buy, something tangible.”

This combination of old and new includes a Carrara island with laminated Blizzard White Caesarstone countertops. The house is in the historic Richland-West End Area of Nashville. After a decade of being the steward of the myriad finances of others — dealing with stocks, bonds, and private equity — Werthan decided to invest his own career in something more satisfying, exploring the idea of investing in metal fabrication companies or other options.

“Simple industries where I could have a small business and make a living and not stress so much because the investment world was not easy,” he said.

“It was hard to sleep at night.”

The Durango stair treads and risers on these dramatic, cantilevered stairs were all fabricated by hand to fit precise specifications.Renovating a house sparked an idea.

The experience of installing granite countertops got Werthan thinking of the economics of the stone industry.  

“Granite was astronomically expensive in the late ’90s and early 2000s — $100 a foot or whatever,” he said. “It seemed like there was a lot of margin there.”

According to Jeremy Werthan, “The slab for this Gaya Green Quartzite Floor Inlay had to be craned in through the Penthouse window. We used Crema Marfil everywhere else on this residential bathroom.” Design by Landy Gardner Interiors.  Photography by Matt HarringtonThe first possibility in investing in the stone industry that came up proved to be a dead end, but that didn’t stop Werthan.

The clean, modern lines of this guest bathroom created for the Greenbaum residence features a contemporary floating vanity using Ambrosia White Granite. Photography by Matt Harrington“There was a franchise where you could buy blanks from China and rip down the back of them, and you’d have a top and a backsplash,” he said.

Werthan created a unique, offset- angled  Lagos Azul Caesarstone island and kitchen for this Craftsman-era bungalow located in fashionable Mid-Town Nashville.“It was a whole program. I looked at that and thought, ‘Maybe I can do this.’

Turned out they were shady, but it got me interested in stone.”

Interest piqued, Werthan began investigating the industry in earnest and liked what he saw. 

“I went to a Coverings show in ’01 in Orlando and saw the equipment from Park Industries,” he said.

“I bought basically a whole shop at that show, and I came back to Nashville, and I had to think about where the hell will I put this stuff? I didn’t have a building, a business plan, nothing.”

Werthan got to work, though, and had soon pulled a business together.

“By the time the equipment came, I had a place and started with three people.

It was an about 9,000 square foot facility, but for the rent it was a great building, and my landlord, who is since deceased, was just fantastic. That was how we started.”

Lessons from the investment banking world could be applied to the stone industry, too, Werthan said.

“I was used to the marketing part of it. I courted investors and all the different things. I tried to do that in the stone business. It seemed to work. I’d market directly to people. I faxed them when I saw their names in the paper.”

There were a lot of subdivisions built in the late 1980s in Nashville.

Werthan said he would find subdivisions that were built before granite countertops became available and would send postcards to all the owners. 

The business grew slowly.

“We started hiring people,” Werthan said. 

“I would hang out at slab yards and slowly get to know one or two good fabricators, who would know somebody else, and I’d hire that one. I hired an operations manager from a slab yard. He knew people and brought people in and, slowly, organically, we grew in size.”

As the years passed, Werthan spent his efforts on cementing relationships with his customers.

“It’s all about the relationships,” he said.

“When you are able to manage tens of million of dollars for clients, you have to give them the good and bad. That’s not easy. This is a lot less substantial of an investment, but the same principles apply.”

Being honest is of utmost importance, he said.

“I always say, ‘We are going to screw up, we’re going to mess up really badly at some point in this relationship.’ What sets us apart is how we deal with that.”

Customers deserve to know the full picture about a project even if they’re not going to like what they hear, Werthan said, but such transparency leads to stronger relationships with clients.

“Like a marriage, when it’s good, it’s great, but when it’s bad it can still be good,” he said.

“We always do the right thing and admit when we’re wrong. We want to maintain good relationships and communication. That’s all business is.”

Pretending to be infallible will get a business nowhere over the long-term, Werthan said.

“If you say it’s going to be perfect, and you screw up, they’re going to be disappointed.  It’s managing expectations. It wouldn’t matter if we were selling widgets or ball bearings, it’s all the same. It’s how you deal with people.”

Werthan Granite now has 37 employees and an almost 35,000 square-foot facility.

Equipment in the shop includes a USG Robotics saw, Sasso Flying Flat Edge Polisher Machine, a Northwood CNC, and a Proliner.

“I still have my Park Industries Bridge saw that I had day one,” Werthan said. “It is a phenomenal workhorse.”

The company specializes in the high-end of the industry. 

“We do a lot of everything,” Werthan said.

“What we do that sets us apart is real high-end custom work. We’ve made stereo speaker components out of quartz. We made a statue for the president to give to the prime minister of France. We’ve done some crazy stuff recently. We did a bunch of stuff for Loretta Lynn’s farm. We don’t just do fireplaces and countertops. We like to take on challenging projects and see if we can pull them off. “

“Right now we’re working on creating a backsplash that looks like door paneling. Somebody saw it in a magazine and wanted to see if we could do it. “

Run-of-the-mill, cookie cutter projects don’t appeal to Werthan.

“I don’t know how to price cheap work,” he said.

“I just don’t know how to even start with that. We don’t work that way. We have to price every single job separately and carefully. I’m not really looking for that kind of business. It’s not where my heart and head is.”

Although some customers might pass on Werthan’s services initially because they’re looking for the cheapest alternative, they end up coming back to the company, he said.

“People are trying to get stuff from China to put in these hotels. They are finally learning their lesson that it doesn’t work. The time they spend on it costs them on the back-end. If you bang your head up against the wall enough, you figure it out.”

Werthan Granite is currently working on a job for a cafeteria housed in a museum in New York City.

The company also contributed to the One World Trade Center and the Kirkland Cancer Center in Jackson, Tenn. 

To truly serve customers, businesses have to look beyond decisions based solely on maximizing the bottom line, Werthan said.

“If you’re making a lot of money in this business, you may not be servicing your customers. Because the margins are so thin, if you’re making a ton of money something is amiss.”

Werthan employs a large percentage of people on the administrative side of things.

“Half are office people doing sales and quality control,” Werthan said. “The rest are doing the work.”

The importance of the support staff cannot be understated, Werthan said. 

“For us, the back office is the heart and soul. There is a lot that goes into it. Taking care of your customers is the most important thing to us. It’s how we do our business.”

This leads to the most important lesson for succeeding in the stone industry as Werthan has learned over the past 12 years. “Cross your t’s, dot your i’s, and have a good staff behind the scenes,” he said.

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