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Member Spotlight - Alpha Granite & Tile

Member Since 2017

Alpha Granite & Tile (AG) is a sizable and successful fabricator of hard surfacing materials based in Austin, Texas. The company works with both natural and engineered stone, including but not limited to granite, marble, soapstone, quartzite, quartz surfacing (mostly Cosentino’s Silestone and Caesarstone), and large-format porcelain/sintered stone. Going through, on average, 15 slabs a day, most of its work is in the residential sector (90 to 95 percent), with a good portion of that being high-end custom work.  Denis-Sonia Phocas

However, reaching the level of business it operates at today, the company had a very unique origin. In the beginning, it wasn’t meant to be a fabrication business at all, but rather a stone importer and distributor. How it switched gears and came to be the fabricator it is today is an interesting story that actually began in Africa, where the owners of Alpha Granite, Denis and Sonia Phocas, were born.

Denis, president of AG, grew up on a farm in Zimbabwe growing tobacco, corn and paprika, and raising cattle. He traveled to South Africa to study electrical engineering, and in 1987 that is where he met Sonia, who was born and raised there. After his schooling and subsequently working in IT in South Africa for a few years, he and Sonia returned to his family’s farming business in Zimbabwe.

After about 10 years and gaining a lot of experience in helping manage a business, Denis had picked up an even more diverse skill set through dealing with the multiplicities of farming. That’s when he and Sonia began to think about starting their own company and moving away from the family business, especially with the political instability in the region.

Around 2002, after meeting some quarry owners in South Africa, Denis and Sonia got the idea to research the stone industry. With the granite boom going on in the United States, they soon realized there was a major opportunity to invest in an import/export business in North America. They spent several more months researching the American stone industry and took the plunge, moving to Texas, where they saw a need and had access to a large port, so they could establish an initial base of operations.

However, after going back and forth for a while with their intended partners, the business never materialized. That said, though, during their research they had been introduced to the countertop fabrication and installation segment of the stone industry, and felt that it may hold the opportunity they were looking for.

When a friend asked for their advice about new countertops, Denis saw it as a chance to test the waters and agreed to fabricate it himself. Thus in July of 2003, Alpha Granite was born. “Farming is a business where you become a jack-of-all-trades and this has turned out to be a great asset for me,” explained Denis. “I fabricated my first kitchen for a friend out of 2cm Tobacco Brown that was laminated into a 4cm bullnose. It took me a whole month to fabricate and install.”

Establishing the Business

Now with a much more thorough idea of just what went into the fabrication and installation process, they had the beginnings of the foundation they needed to start developing the business. They began investing in further developing their knowledge base, starting with a visit to the Coverings trade show. After attending numerous seminars and discussing the fabrication/installation industry in great depth with a variety of machine and equipment manufacturers, they put together a list of the most basic equipment they could use to get the business going and put together a budget and a business plan.

With a limited budget, Denis and Sonia purchased the minimal equipment they could get away with, including a forklift, large compressor, pneumatic polishers, hand=operated router and hand tools, as well as an old bridge saw that had to be rebuilt. They also rented a 1,500-sq.-ft. warehouse and started their fabrication business. Alpha Granite got its start, hiring two employees and working hard to get projects coming in.

Before long, they were doing one to two jobs every week and paying the bills. As word of their business spread, it wasn’t long before they were able to hire a salesperson. That’s when things really took off, and in just over a year they were handling a job a day. That’s when they landed a major account with a national builder and they could barely keep up. Still using a handheld router for fabrication was preventing that expansion because it was slow and wearisome, so the company purchased a Matrix Daytona single head linear polishing machine. While this allowed increased production, it also made it very difficult to fit into a the small shop, so AG rented the space next door to it and added it to the current space.

Even with the expanded space, there were problems. Their inventory and remnants were growing and they were forced to stow them in the parking lot. They were also forced to dump their shop water into the empty lot next to their shop, which was far from ideal and needed to be corrected.

So by the end of 2004, just over one and a half years after its beginning, AG needed to expand again. This time, it moved to a 6,000-sq.-ft. facility, adding the Moraware job tracking software system to combat problems with workflow. They also purchased numerous pieces of CMS/Brembana equipment, including a Concept 1700 4-axis CNC router, Flexa 625 Semi-automatic Bridge Saw and a Stealth Digitizer. Moraware revolutionized the management side of the business, whereas the CMS equipment proved to be rugged and accurate, with the bridge saw and CNC router still in use today having well over 40,000 hours of uptime on it.

To keep up with production demand, AG then instituted a second shift, but was still having problems, particularly with linear edging, even with the machines running pretty much nonstop around the clock. To further combat the problem, they bought a used Comandulli Omega 60 to polish linear edges faster and more efficiently and a Sawing Systems radial arm machine with a 3-brick COMES tangential head to polish scratched slabs or put on honed or leather textures. Even then, though, their water supply couldn’t keep up with their operations as volume continued to grow.

By 2009, they had purchased the 20,000-sq.-ft. facility with a separate office/showroom building and big yard for slab storage, and the business remains there today.

Upgrading and Modernization

After moving into the much larger facility, Alpha Granite had a lot more room to expand their operation, and after the great recession passed, and business started growing again, they did just that. “In our former shop, we could put out 300 sq. ft. every day running two shifts,” said Denis. “In the new location we wanted to accomplish the same amount of work, but in a single shift.”

However, the amount of product going out of the facility ebbed and flowed, with the amount of custom work that would take longer to perform. So, AG began upgrading and adding to its equipment again. After installing a water filtration system to be able to keep up with the supply of water it needed, the company finally was able to end its second shift by getting the equipment that worked best for its operation.

Today it relies heavily on its machinery to keep production steady. “We believe in using technology to streamline our process and minimize the need for labor that we cannot find,” said Denis. “We have a variety of equipment in our fabrication shop, including the traditional 3-axis Brembana Flexa bridge saw, a 5-axis double-table GMM Brio bridge saw, three CMS/Brembana 4-axis CNC routers, our Comandulli straight line polisher and a Marmo Meccanica LCR straight line polisher. The 5-axis saw helped us speed up cutting and eliminate the use of vinyl templates, and we also bought a Marmo Electro Meccanica LCV 711 M to speed up the polishing of backsplashes.”

In 2012 Alpha Granite also added a Shah Stone Machines SPL 2200, which allows the company to resurface slabs. The polisher has proven to be a life saver for us, in that it can polish, hone and leather almost all types of materials,” explained Denis. “We not only provide our customers different stone finishes, but are able to repair damaged slabs and we offer this service to fabricators and distributors in Central Texas.”

Early to recognize the growing trend for large-format porcelain and compact surfaces, the company faced a new challenge. “In the past decade the tools and equipment to fabricate natural stone and engineered stone have become almost identical and this enabled us to process both materials through our fabrication shop seamlessly,” said Denis. “But, the inclusion of large-format porcelain and compact surfaces and miter edge profiles certainly created a major challenge to our process. These materials are handled and fabricated differently and do not mix well with natural and engineered stone.”

That said, AG did find a suitable solution. “We believed in this newer material for both countertops and vertical surfaces so we traveled across the globe researching the process and determined a dedicated 5-axis waterjet cutting machine was the solution,” said Denis. “We bought CMS 5-Axis Technocut Aquatec waterjet machine and it allowed us to embrace all of our main large-format slab products, such as Dekton, Neolith, MaxFine and SapienStone into our product offering. The waterjet simplifies the cutting of miters and complex pieces and enables the assembly of the parts to be much more simplified with little to no adjustment to the parts.”

Since overcoming the challenges of these materials, they have become 10 percent of the company’s output and growing. “Our long-term goal is to relocate our large-format porcelain and compact fabrication to another facility in the future,” said Denis. “This will enable us to streamline the process and have fabricators specialized in this unique field. This new surface is gaining popularity in leaps and bounds and we are proud to say that we have exploited many avenues to succeed in the way we fabricate and install it. ”

The company’s remaining product output mix is 60 percent quartz surfacing and 30 percent natural stone (mostly granite). But while over the years AG overcame its growing pains when it came to the processes and equipment, Sonia and Denis realized with all of the employees they now had, their company culture and vision had not progressed alongside of the rest of the business.

After discussing the HR challenges, they decided to bring in outside help to grow their management as well as they had grown the more tangible parts of their business. 

Mission, Vision, Culture and Philosophy

With an idea to improve company culture and limit problems with staff, Alpha Granite brought in G2 Solutions, a business consultancy, to assist. With the consultant’s help, AG created value, vision and mission statements as follows:

  • Values – “Integrity and Passion for Excellence infuses everything we do. Success is built by supporting an environment of Mutual Commitment, Teamwork and Appreciation for one another while ensuring long lasting customer relationships. Solutions are delivered by a Dependable, Dynamic and Creative team. Professionalism and a Proactive Approach are of prime importance along with an emphasis on Safety and Effective Utilization of esources.”
  • Vision – “To be celebrated as the finest creator of luxurious surfaces by leading the industry through innovation and best practices.”
  • Mission – “To provide our customers exquisite products through our responsive, dependable and highly skilled team.”

It was by thinking about these ideals and defining a focus for the business that AG was able to push its management style further toward the betterment of the business. “G2 Solutions has been instrumental in allowing us to stop working in our business and empower the great people we hire so that we can work on our business, allowing us the time to think of the future and plan accordingly,” explained Denis. “People are the one most important asset of any company and together, with a clearly defined process, one can achieve success. Every business has its own level of complexity and in our type of industry we are faced with many moving parts that exert so many challenges along every step of the way to success. When people understand their roles in any organization and have access to the correct resources to perform their tasks, it empowers them to connect the dots and perform at their optimum level.”

Part of fulfilling its mission has meant going above and beyond through such things as the intensive Natural Stone Institute Accreditation process, putting safety first and using technology and best practices to prevent health issues, such as silicosis, and developing a showroom that is as helpful as possible for their clients.

They also consistently seek out opportunities to grow and learn, attending conventions, roundtables and seminars, as well as being active in a number of groups and associations, such as ISFA, in which they are Booster Club members, the aforementioned NSI, the American Institute of Architects and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, on which Sonia sits on the Austin chapter’s board, serving as treasurer. “Sharing best practices has been instrumental in our growth as a business,” said Sonia. “As such, we feel it’s important to give back to the communities that have helped us succeed.”

“Know what you want and where you want to go with your company and how you are going to get there. Surround yourself with the right people and most importantly choose your technology partners and machine suppliers very carefully,” said Denis and Sonia. “Essentially your people and your technology partner are people that you will be working with for a long time, therefore be sure that you can work with them. You need them just as much as they need you.”

And it is through this sort of forward thinking that the company has lasted nearly 17 years and is still going strong and have management and staff that are proud of their roles within the industry.

For more information contact Alpha Granite & Tile at 915 W. Howard Lane, Austin, Texas 78753, call (512) 834-8746 or visit