An inside look at the development of MSI Surfaces U.S. quartz production plant
Rup Shah and his brother Raj Shah are co-presidents of MSI Surfaces, managing all aspects of the company together. The family business has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1975, when their parents ran the business out of their basement in Ft. Wayne, Ind.
Now headquartered in Southern California, MSI Surfaces has more than 3,000 employees working in 40+ distribution facilities and a U.S. quartz surfacing manufacturing plant that came fully online just this year. Rup was kind enough to share his bird’s eye view of the hard surface industry and the trials and successes involved in developing the new quartz production facility.
While it has been a successful path, it was never Rup’s plan to work for the family business. After several years as an investment banker in New York, he changed his mind. “I think I got tired of it,” he said when asked about his motivation. “I felt like I wasn’t creating anything, and I saw that opportunity at MSI. So, my brother and I joined the family business in 2003.”
“Since that time, we’ve been very driven by the quest for growth. We have a desire to grow the business, for our employees to grow, and for both our geographic and online presence to grow,” he explained. “Quite frankly if you can grow, you can keep most of your employees happy despite challenges, and it really motivates me.” The company’s ever-expanding footprint, along with the quartz plant, easily validates that motivation.
“We have more than 40 distribution centers covering most of the top markets, and we’re continuing to add five to 10 more per year,” said Rup. “We think we could easily have 70 to 80 U.S. distribution centers based on our current model.” The size of each is designed to match the market it serves, ranging from 70,000 to 700,000 sq. ft. or more, depending on customer needs. Regardless of size, each has large slab storage areas with overhead cranes, offices and showrooms.
“At MSI we literally approach everything with a micro-focus on execution,” said Rup when asked how they have driven that level of growth. “You have to distinguish yourself better than all of the other distributors. There are more than 50 distinct processes involved with being a distributor and you have to try to be the best at each one of them.”
Adapting to the Customer
Just being great at what they do isn’t enough for the leaders and managers of the company. MSI continues to evolve its product offerings driven by prioritizing customer needs and design trends.
“We need to be in the right product categories and geographic areas,” Rup said. “You can be great at execution, but if you’re working with a product that’s not growing, you’re going to struggle. We’ve been very open to adaptation, starting out as a natural stone company and evolving into manufactured goods, which has seen the evolution from one surface to another. People thought we were crazy when we first got into the quartz business in 2008, but we saw the potential and it was one of the smartest decisions we’ve made. This business is driven by having the product categories the customers want.”
That anticipation of customer demand is one of the factors that led MSI to invest in a quartz production facility, which is the result of a joint venture with Spectrum Quartz. Rup also attributed the decision to the importance of having a domestically made product, having more control over the process, improving lead times, and taking advantage of newer technologies that can produce unique designs.
The location of the quartz facility is Latta, S.C., near Florence. This particular place was selected because an existing building there could be retrofitted more quickly than starting from scratch and the local government was accommodating. Once the site was determined, in 2019 they kicked off the project.
“We started off big. We have four quartz lines with two of them fully operational. We hope to have all four up and functional by the end of the year,” explained Rup. “It’s basically been three years to get to this point. We’ve dealt not only with the growing pains of developing it, but we did so during COVID. We could not have been unluckier.”
A unique design based on the desired outcomes was created by utilizing technological advancements from multiple manufacturers. Typically, when installing millions of dollars of equipment, machinery suppliers are on-site assisting, but with travel shut down by the pandemic few were able to help. “Our team had to figure out most of it on their own with a very skeleton staff,” he said. “To their credit they did an amazing job given the circumstances.”
The labor shortage has been also been a big challenge. “Not only has it been problematic finding the right staff, it’s also been difficult, hiring, onboarding, training and retaining them,” offered Rup. “However, we’ve made solid progress and the team is doing a great job. The facility has more than 100 employees today, but you can’t go from zero to full production overnight. We continue to build and train the team to stabilize production levels so we’re consistently churning out quality product. At full capacity using all four lines, we will be able to produce 1,000 slabs a day.”
Just this year alone, the company has opened at least eight new facilities not including the quartz plant. This vast distribution network will allow the company to get its quartz in front of a large customer base that is hungry for it.
“Quartz is the No. 1 countertop surface in the U.S today and it plays to every segment of the market,” said Rup. “Our mission is to be one of the largest domestic manufacturers of higher-end luxury quartz. We now have a system that takes advantage of the latest technology so we can control the design, employee needs and costs over the long term.”
It is this utilization and control over ever-improving processes and equipment that MSI believes will give it an edge. “We can manufacture some of the most natural looking veined quartz on the market. We can produce some of the whitest, most transparent quartz, you can get domestically,” Rup expounded. “With two lines operating, everything we produce is largely already sold. The demand has been spectacular because the designs are so beautiful and unique.”
While he expressed excitement over the next step of the company’s journey in the quartz market, Rup also acknowledged that trends change over time and the company offers numerous other products. “Today it’s quartz, who knows what it will be in 10 years,” he said. “We’re product agnostic. We deliver what the consumer wants based on the design trends and technology that helps to dictate those trends …”
Editor’s Note: Rup Shah also shared his insight into current and developing product and color trends. This information will be presented in a forthcoming follow-up article.