You might say the Sztyber family’s work is rock solid and sits on a rock solid foundation – family. Their craftsmanship can be seen in homes and businesses across the Charlotte region, and each member of the family takes part.
Their work graces elegant homes in Ballantyne and Lake Norman, as well as popular uptown spots like The Capital Grille. Their 15,500-square-foot factory and showroom displays highly crafted marble, granite, and tile.
But ask Bogdan Sztyber about Eurostones and he’s quick to point out the foundation of family. His three sons all work in the company.
It all started in 1986 when the Sztyber family moved from communist Poland seeking more opportunity and a better life elsewhere. “We had good money in Poland, but that was not the reason that we left,” explains Bogdan. “We left because of communism.”
He had worked in construction in Poland since 1968, and had opened his own company there in 1978. Two of Bogdan’s several brothers had left Poland years earlier, while Bogdan had stayed to care for his parents and other relatives. It wasn’t until after his wife Dana visited a cousin in Sweden, and brought back stories of a different way of life there, that they began planning to move. They sold their company at a loss, and immigrated to Sweden with their two teenagers and three-year-old.
After three frustrating years there, it proved difficult to find good jobs or start a business, and the family decided to move again in 1989 for better opportunities in Canada.
In Canada, Bogdan’s stone fabrication business took off right away. Wife Dana opened a floral shop that also did very well. It was there that their oldest son Peter met and later married Alex, who had begun working in the flower shop in high school, and continued on to the Ontario College of Art and Design to major in Industrial Design.
In 1986, it had been Dana who decided the family should move to Sweden, and in 1989 it was Bogdan who made the decision to head for Canada. “You never think how far you will go,” remembers Bogdan. And certainly none of them dreamed that they would end up in Charlotte, North Carolina.
But that decision was made by fate. In 1992, the Canadian economy went into a steep decline, sending business after business into bankruptcy. “We still survived,” says Bogdan, “but it was a very difficult time.” Fortuitously, a visit to Bogdan’s two brothers in Charlotte opened his eyes to the potential for more opportunity available here.
So the family moved a third time in 1996, and Bogdan incorporated the Eurostones Company just outside of Charlotte in Fort Mill. Bogdan had his equipment and machinery transported from Canada and, by 1997, the company was fully operational. But that wasn’t the end of the trials for the Sztybers.
“In 1997, there were only two or three granite shops in the area,” explains Bogdan. “But there was only so much work of this type, not so many jobs available.” The existing shops were pretty tightly connected with each other and with construction companies, so that it was hard even to have an opportunity to bid on jobs.
As a result, though they priced millions of dollars in jobs in their first year, Eurostones grossed only $300,000. Tough times continued for the next three years.
Though they weren’t making much money those first few years, they were building something more important for their long-term survival – a reputation. Their first job in Charlotte can still be seen in the quality workmanship of the stonework at The Capital Grille in uptown.
Word of the superior quality of Eurostones craftsmanship spread, and new upscale developments increased demand for their product. Each year, by and large, the company has seen at least 25 percent revenue growth and more. In fact, since its inception, the company has posted total revenue growth of 600 percent.
Working together so closely, both Bogdan and oldest son Peter each instigate their share of quarrels and pranks, but both agree that Eurostones commitment to old-fashioned quality craftsmanship and exceptional, timely customer service.
As an example, Bogdan points out the high gloss on the polished, beveled edge of a slab of granite forming the surface of the conference table in his office. Many companies achieve a similar look by machine polishing the edge and then topping the granite with a sealant. Unfortunately, the sealant wears off over the years, leaving a dull finish on the stone. At Eurostones, after the machine is done polishing, each edge is hand-polished to a high gleam, ensuring a shine that will stand the test of time.
“We don’t cut corners, ever,” says Peter firmly. Adds Bogdan, “We train our people to do it right, the way it was done years ago before complex machinery, so that each product receives the level of craftsmanship expected.”
And as for customer service, Eurostones frequently finds that it is the only contractor on a new construction job that doesn’t keep anyone else waiting. “We do not overbook,” states Peter. Bogdan adds, “We take on only jobs which we can handle to meet the customers’ terms. If we promise that we’ll do a kitchen in five days, we do it in five days. Our clients trust us; they can count on us.”
As a result, Eurostones maintains established relationships with many of the builders in town who speak highly of the company’s workmanship and professionalism. “If the economy doesn’t change, we’re booked for another five or six years,” boasts Bogdan. The company employs 23 craftsmen, all of whom are full-time, permanent, and fully trained in the company’s high standard of workmanship.
Joe Mounie of New Wave Construction attests to the company’s service: “We build high end homes, and Eurostones does an excellent job of providing our customers with granite service and installation. We like the way they treat our customers, they’ve got a great selection, and they’re very nice people. That’s probably the most important thing – they’re just really nice people.”
The company’s reputation for excellence has led to growth in more than revenue. Currently, Bogdan and sons are working on a new venue by request from their builders – a cabinet shop. Because stonework must be installed after the cabinets, and is dependent to some extent on the quality of their installation, Bogdan and his crew must expect the best quality work done so each installation is top notch. So he says, “What better way to ensure that the cabinets are installed perfectly, then to do it ourselves”. He plans to have the $800,000 project complete within two years, financed with profits from the existing business.
Once the cabinet shop is up and running, and the company’s debts paid down, Bogdan plans to hand the business over to his sons and retire. This, he explains, is his big challenge for the next five years: “My sons, they have to run this company equally.” Laughing, he adds, “And for me, a small share – 50 percent. They will be running the company but I’d like to stay on top of the decisions.”
Currently, Peter is chief estimator and manages customer relations, while Bogdan’s next oldest son, Rafal, is production manager heading up operations. Sebastian, the youngest, is studying at the Art Institute of Charlotte and works on a contract basis with the company, predominantly with their computerized machines. He plans to start a Web development company soon.
But it doesn’t end there; the family behind Eurostones exudes entrepreneurialism. Both wife Dana and daughter-in-law Alex have recently opened an enterprise of their own, Studio Forma, a home décor retail business, just off Hwy 51 in South Charlotte, showcasing local and regional artists and designers. Alex manages the multi-merchant operation with the help of her mother-in-law. It suits both women’s talents and experience well. Dana enjoys working in floral décor and Alex uses her industrial design skills.
Ever since the family moved to Charlotte, they have been looking for ways to form such a business in a symbiotic relationship with the stone business. “What we found was that the home décor business and Eurostones had a lot of clientele crossing over,” explains Alex. “So it was purposeful to set up the companies in a cooperative relationship, and provides a legacy for future generations as well.”
Eurostones and the floral décor act as the anchors for the merchandise showroom where various merchants display their wares. While Studio Forma acts as a satellite showroom for several established businesses, one of the things Alex is proudest of is how it helps artists and craftspeople expand their home-based businesses without the usual hassles of establishing a full retail presence. Studio Forma provides the showroom, the synergy of complementary shopping opportunities, and many business support services, and artists provide the products and design their portion of the showroom.
The result is a beautiful and unique shopping experience for customers who can sample one-of-a-kind home décor options spanning the gamut of styles from shabby chic to contemporary and including everything from wall art to window dressings to furniture. In addition, Alex hopes to merge Eurostones and Studio Forma further with a new line of products that will use reclaimed granite and marble for high craftsmanship, one-of-a-kind furniture.
For Alex and Dana, the biggest challenge has been getting word out about the company and its location. The reward is being able to work among beautiful things, and participating in something creative.
Peter and Bogdan’s other sons agree the hardest part at Eurostones is “finding the right people willing to work at the level of craftsmanship we expect to deliver.” But the pay-off is seeing how beautiful their finished work looks.
For Bogdan, the reward and the challenge are the same: nurturing both companys’ growth and passing on a legacy to the family that has been at the heart of all his work for nearly 30 years.
“The most difficult part for me,” he says, “is to accept that Peter, Rafal and Sebastian are ready for the challenge.”
Peter, however, is confident: “I’ve been telling him for five years that we are ready.”
But regardless, Bogdan expects to see his sons at the helm within a maximum of five years. And he expects that to be a pretty big pay-off. Talking about his sons, he turns briefly to his native tongue. Peter translates, “They fill each other up.”
“Yes,” says Bogdan, “they fill each other up.”