My Name is Tony Xenos, son of “Old World Master Marble Craftsman” Spiros Xenos. Many know Spiro through his former company Acropolis Custom Marble & Granite Inc. His unsurpassed craftsmanship and artistry can been seen in Hi-Profile work such as the The St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis Galleria, Carnival Cruise Lines, Union Station, Chase Park Plaza Lobby, Adams Mark Hotel-among many others. Spiro was also featured on HGTV as well as the St. Louis Post numerous times for his accomplishments in the trade.
Attributing all I know on the labor side to my father, meanwhile, always keeping up with technological advances, products, and procedures that help us achieve our excellence in fabrication, we pride ourselves on the steps we take to achieve that excellence. The excellence we speak of can also not be achieved without the proper steps necessary in translating our customer wants/desires into a language that can be understood by everyone on our team. The past few years have been spent outlining procedures in a standardized way to achieve that goal of bridging the gap between my customers expectations and industry norms while maintaining financial goals (finaincial goals are met when there are no hiccups/error in the process).
My obsession with perfecting the fabrication process and bridging this gap began way back in the early 90’s while working at Acropolis Marble. In the late 90’s 5(five) granite companies in STL suddenly turned into 50. Demand for the product went through the roof as technological advances in quarrying and tool manufacture helped drive the price of Granite down. This lead to granite prices falling, substitute surface products being pushed out fo the market place, and granite sales going through the roof. Before the Granite countertop explosion, the average stone company would produce 5-10 kitchens per week. As demand grew suddenly many companies were faced with the need for a new organizational structure and procudeures necessary to handle increased workloads. Atthis time demand for the product exceeded my father’s ability to do all the work himself as was standard practice for him in the good old days. The influx of corporate amaerica execs into the industry lead to increased competition, lower margins, higher volume necessary to handle the demand and pay the bills. The corporate newbees to the industry struggled to manage the labor side of the business while the “old Schoolers” like my dad, struggled to manage the business side.
Understanding the labor side, and fresh out of Highschool (Parkway West ) I began an 8yr plan of educating myself in business to combat Corporate America Execs in the industry I grew up in. With an educational background in Accounting, Finance, and Operations Management, my involvement with the business side focused on product design, cutting costs not typically seen from an accountants view, implementing procedures and making employees accountable for their actions and minimize mistakes, setting up business models to help determine progress in achieving goals, and as I said before bridging customers expectations with industry norms based on each of the wide variety of stone applications. Seeing the industry develop from a “Old School” train of thought where man power and a hand shake was the way my father conducted business to a conversion towards full automation and multipage contracts in dealing with numerous Big Box stores, Aphrodite was developed using the trial and error experiences which lend themselves in establishing us as one of the newest and most qualified stone fabricators in the area. This is something that cannot be said for many newcomers to the industry who may have worked for someone in an isolated position but had not run all aspects of a fabrication company .
A little more on my past
Having began an apprenticeship with the training conducted by my father Spiro, as early as I could remember, I first began laying floors, setting cast stone especially fireplaces, and other such projects. Now of course I didn’t pick up a large piece of stone by myself at such an early age, but i did assist and watch since going from job site to job site and meeting new people each day during summer breaks, was what i looked forward to each year. When I became of age, I dove into the fabrication of intricate furniture work – when marble was the material of choice- installation of wall paneling, tub decks and finally, of course, Granite/Marble countertops. The diversity of the projects handled in my early years brought together an arsenal of experiences handling projects most companies in the stone industry neglected over the years (Shower Wall Panels, Tub decks, Monuments, Intricate Furniture Creations) . The experiences lend themselves to recent acquisition of a sales/projects that are typically to difficult for many other companies to handle. We are here to take on the most difficult projects our customers have to offer.
Prior to 1998 my career was primarily associated with that of the labor aspect. In 1998, while working fulltime for Acropolis, I proceeded to pursue a multitude of degrees at night school (UMSL). Sales became my first focus as did getting my feet wet in the finance/accounting side of the business. My plan of attack was to focus on the business side, focus on what the competition was doing successfully, meanwhile my father was to focus on the labor side. Due to a boom of competition within the next 2 yrs, and the influx of Corporate America Execs, I geared my studies to Accounting/Finance/Operations Management as sales began to fall in the yr 2000. It seemed very apparent in these early years that we had a-lot to work on (quality due to increased demand, employee training, standardization of procedures, paperflow, processes, etc etc). Accounts were being lost, and my urgency in acquiring as much knowledge in night school could not had been stronger. While working at Acropolis Marble it became very apparent that customer loyalty was quality and price driven neither of which on their own made any sense to the average customer on the street. “Accounts that used us religiously left us, but luckily new ones were acquired due to increased demand for product. It seemed everyone was going through growing pains as the industry was growing. This was a scenario I was not happy with at all. If implementation of procedures, bridging the gap between customer expectations and our way of doing things, and keeping price down were the keys to success, we needed to get there before the competition. All Companies during these years were facing similar issues as the industry was booming but control and procedures were slow to catch up to demand.
As a salesperson, I decided to first standardize the ordering process by first focusing on the Sales/Estimating procedures necessary in closing a sale and keep price discrimination from occurring. I also created a budget/model to follow in order to keep track of financial goals, and from their gearing up a knowledgeable sales force was of top priority.
In 2002 we decided to be one of the first Granite companies to open in the Chesterfield Valley. The aura of quality associated with the move to Chesterfield combined with our advertising strategy focusing on stone work as an art rather than another construction input helped differentiate us in our customers minds and lead to greater than average sales. As sales went through the roof, the variance in customer expectations seemed like a losing battle. I then focused on the theory that involved gearing my efforts towards perfecting and systemizing the templating (process of translating customer want into a language understood by our workers in producing the end result)process and proactively handling potential customer concerns. From 2002-2005, templating was the name of the game for me. One thing we prided ourselves on was that when you are a granite company working with a builder you would answer to that 1 builder for multiple projects, they could throw as many as 200 projects a year in your direction. Acropolis, being one of the largest granite companies to deal with retail/remodeling customers rather than new construction, dealt with up to 6 homeowners/new bosses a day. Having 6 different bosses a day with 6 different expectations could result in problems even when none (by MIA Marble Institute of America Standards) were to be questioned. It became very apparent that all customers needed to be informed of every potential issue that could arise which would need to be dealt with after the install. Customers being able to plan and budget for these otherwise unforeseeable events, rather than be caught by surprise, were more tolerant of really any issues, even the big ones if they were told up front. The development of our Template Detail Form, lent itself in accomplishing the mission of bridging the gap between customer expectations and our own ways of doing things. There are many companies out there that customers use because of price alone and later end up spending more money than they could have imagined. EX)1. A customer may have the intention of having counters replaced with granite but if the splashes are not brought up past the old splashes deformities in the wall may be apparent resulting in a situation where customer would need a carpenter to patch walls and repaint….little things like this is where our experience now saves the customer money$$ in the end. EX2) Informing a customer that their existing fixtures will not work saves customers time and money if they planned on reusing these items (Faucets that don’t work, fireplace doors that no longer fit, etc). Our proactive systemized approach in informing customers of potential problems that could occur as well as solutions to those problems is handed out during every job.. In 07, changes to our “Template Detail Form” stopped, we have stuck with it since and have yet to add another note in 4 yrs-I guess you could say we have figured it all out…but continuous improvement is at the forefront of our minds always.
By 2007 sale growth came to a halt and equaled off. My assumption was that referrals were suffering due to the day to day quality issues that went beyond templating-the Shop. My final focus for the first time then became the shop-something left to my father who had all but given up as the quantity of work was more than he could handle. It seemed consistent quality out of the shop and employee personnel issues translated to missed appointments, installation error, OT, increased costs, and quality concerns translating to sales reaching a plateau. Turning to the promises of automation as a quick fix, we realized we traded 1 set of problems for another. In Dec 2006/Jan2007 Acropolis made an investment of over $1,000,000 in automated technology. CNC Machines, Line Polishers, Computerized bridge saws, Digitized templating equipment, cad based Template printer plotters, Additional showrooms-Clayton, Columbia Missouri, Chesterfield, The Hill. The investment helped us close a larger % of leads when selling value added options at no additional cost, however quality and scheduling issues grew 2 fold even though sales began to increase again. Two years were spent solving the new set of problems; Translating inputs from the salespeople/templaters to the shop, machinery reliability problems, human error in programming machinery, inflexible nature of the machinery involving the production chain. By the time it was all figured out 2008 arrived. With losses over the prior two years we were hoping that 2008 was going to be a good year to get back ahead. In 08 due to a slump in sales of roughly 60% for 8 consecutive months combined with the accumulated losses, Acropolis closed it doors after 30 yrs in business. We still pride ourselves on saying that not one customer was burned during the close-all customer obligations were met.
In mid 2008 I finished my degree in Accounting/Operations management/Finance with the intention of starting my own business. I began a tour of work to gain a new perspective of any missing knowledge I might acquire in the stone industry by working for some of the largest fabrication shops in the US. The sole purpose being information gathering, holding titles as Operations Manager, Template manager, Installation Manager help seat me at the Managers tables overseeing hundreds of employees. Acquisition of knowledge gained through these experiences lent toward filling in the few missing pieces I had always wondered about and had hoped to work out on my own if sales were to have hit 10million +. Aphrodite was then created as a compilation of the greatest minds in the industry. At its inception /planning stages; an underleveraged company, flexible in taking on any level of work while producing a quality product at an affordable price, became the companies vision. Only 1 year into the establishment of Aphrodite Granite, We achieved a 7 figure sales year. Relying heavily on quality fabrication through talented individuals rather than machinery and automation, Aphrodite has the flexibility to role with the punches of the economy meanwhile gear up production for large projects.
Lately, Most people ask, “What kind of CNC are you working with”. What they are surprised to find is the quality we produce is done without the need of CNC (computer numeric control) automation relying on skill and hand labor. Companies using CNC’s are only throwing money down the drain. The customer needs to become aware that CNC’s are finely tuned machines requiring continuous human calibration and inputs. In the event of 1 incorrect input, this creates catastrophic error, usually irreparable, whereas hand fabrication used for thousands of years is more forgiving. Not adjusting tooling on machines on a daily basis, programmer error, and different characteristics of stone (some more dense others less) lead to Hand Fabrication in even automated shops. Nearly 100% of pieces coming off a CNC machine are finished by hand where the final polish and defects exposed through polish come through and need to be addressed by skilled tradesmen. The thought that CNC’s produce no edge waves (waviness of edges in direct light), tighter seams, or more precise shapes is completely false 95% of the time. A brand new machine, tweaked so that every variable programmed into a machine is executed as perfectly as possible will produce a difference only known by a trained individual and completely ignored by the average person. What many people don’t know is that some of the largest companies in the US primarily rely on hand fabrication solely. The rule of thumb regarding automation is that it is required typically in only NON Custom-Repetitive stone applications. If you want 1000 tables tops automation is effective, in most other applications it is not. Set up time on machines tend to slow the fabrication process down to the point where completing a project by hand is faster and reduction of potential error is less.
With the closing of Acropolis in 2008, I was able to sift through a number of employees and setup Aphrodite as a company employing the best of the best in the stone industry. As many companies have let go many of their high paid workers and try to offload hi priced machinery in light of productions/sales slumps, Aphrodite has picked them up at pennys on the dollar. Down from Acropolis 80 employees and near $4.5million in yearly sales. Aphrodite, having the same capacity as Acropolis, and only 5 years in business, benefits from sales approaching $3,000,000 a year, and a sifting of employees from Acropolis who were only considered the best of the best. Of course we make mistakes from time to time, but we are always timely in taking care of customer issues, and go beyond the call of duty for builders and repeat customers.
Aphrodite Granite is a company focusing on the one stop shop mentality with quality at the forefront of every employee’s actions. Whether it is Granite Countertops, Furniture Pieces, Tile Flooring, or any Natural or Synthetic High-End stone covering product, Aphrodite delivers with excellence through experience of its team.