Luxury is in each detailHubert de Givenchy
I never thought about stone as a luxury item when I was younger. I had a much more utilitarian view of it. It was used for building masonry walls, retaining ground in a hillside, and just happened to look nice. Of course it was beautiful and unique, but I saw it having a functional purpose. The word luxury for me was something unattainable like a Rolex watch, a private jet or yacht, or a vacation stay at the The Four Seasons. I now realize I didn’t understand what a luxury item was.
As I’ve gained more experience, I started to realize stone – our stone specifically, is a luxury product. It’s not just about the product, but what the product represents and how we were always working to be a company based on best experiences, not just a stone company. A while ago The Home Trust asked Buechel Stone to become a member of their “prestigious network of the world’s finest brand resources for your homes.” At first it was viewed as just another marketing firm trying to sell a service. As time went on and Tracy Lisowe and I were working through marketing strategies, I realized we were missing something and they would be a good partner. Our stone, as great as it is, is really just a small slice of what a client is purchasing. A luxury item is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary”. Centuries ago – stone homes were much more of a necessity. Homes, sheds, foundations, and important structures were built with stone from the inside out. Today, no one needs stone on their house or commercial property. It is a symbol of accomplishment and permanence, and provides pride few other building materials can match.
I’ve done some stonework for others throughout the years and even some for myself, so I’ve seen the impact it has on a person when the job is done. People are just giddy about it. They have extreme pride, and it doesn’t have to be a lot of stone. Just to have it be part of their project gives them a sense of accomplishment. It’s really cool to be a part of that experience for them.
When Buechel Stone joined The Home Trust I did an interview for Chris Ramey, President of The Home Trust. As a member, it is important for their community to understand why Buechel Stone is a good partner, and what sets us apart from the rest of the noise going on in the market. Below is that interview.
The Home Trust (HTI): What first compelled you to enter your business field?
Mike Buechel (MB): It was never really a question. I was hooked at a very young age and loved so much about the family business. I had a sense of pride in being part of something bigger than just a job, and creating an amazing place for people to work and do business. It’s driven me to be better every day.
HTI: Who or what has been the strongest influence on your career and why?
MB: I would have to say my Grandpa. When I was about 12 or so I put stones into wooden crates for him to cut into veneer stone. He gave me five dollars a crate. One time I was able to lift a fairly large stone into a crate and was so proud I could lift it in. I moved the crate to his shop with a forklift and was excited to show the stone to him. His response was, “You know – if you keep putting big stones like that into the crate, I might not be able to pay you five dollars for each crate.” Moral of the story – stick to the specs!
HTI: If you could have told your 20-year-old self one thing, what would it have been?
MB: Trust your gut. You know when you’re right.
HTI: Please tell us about your family and your personal life.
MB: We have a family business, so family, personal life, and everything else can kind of meld into one. I took over my Dad’s share of the business and am partners with my uncle Scott.
My wife Nikki and I have been married for 20 years, and were high school sweethearts. We have five kids; Adeline, Mason, Landon, Garver, and Laney, and they keep us busier than I would have imagined. We’re a “spirited” bunch and tend to be each other’s worst critics wanting the best for each other.
HTI: What is the best advice you have received and who was it from?
MB: It would have to be from our VP of HR & Operations April Dowland. She recommended I sign up for a quarterly coaching class called Strategic Coach. It has really helped me become a better leader and owner. I have an entrepreneurial mind, and it tends to wander in a lot of different directions. These classes help put a method to my thoughts so my ideas can be explained in a systematic way.
HTI: Is there a common thread that runs through all great products? This need not be specific to your category.
MB: I feel great products enhance the consumer’s level of personal achievement through a greater means than being “just a product or company”. Take a Casio keyboard and a Steinway Piano. A pianist can create great music with either, but the Steinway owner’s personal image is, “I do not comprise and want to own something that is not just desired by the elite pianists of the world, it’s an heirloom”. It helps express the image of the owner.
HTI: Do you prefer the country or the city?
MB: I am a country boy. I enjoy visiting cities from time to time just because of the energy they give off, but only for a couple days. I love that country living gives you the ability to have a full sensory experience in a very peaceful way. We live on a dead-end road in the middle of a woods. Out there the kids have grown up experiencing a world where their imaginations and creativity are out in full-force; building tree forts and mountain bike trails, feeding the chickens, and target shooting. It’s our own little slice of heaven.
HTI: What recent project or transaction are you most proud of?
MB: Hands down adding our North Carolina location to our product offering. The stone is very beautiful and helps round out our color palette with domestic options. On top of that, we are enhancing our Rockstars work experience so they can feel good about their place of employment. At the end of day, it is important to our business for them to know we care and respect them for their contribution to the company’s success.
HTI: In what ways has your company or your industry changed over the years?
MB: The industry has a lot of companies entering the market focusing on price only. Some of this is from an imported stones and some is from businesses trying to commoditize a product that is special and very personal to those who select and use it. More than ever businesses are trying to sell natural stone along with a myriad of products, and in many cases are giving an experience where clients just do not feel as confident about the selection process. Clients are smarter than ever, doing more research on their own than at any other time I can remember. It used to be that people would come in with a magazine article and one or two ideas they wanted for their stone. Designers, architects, and even end users have whole Pinterest boards showing what they like – by room and elevation! Now more than ever, clients need an expert to make the selection process one of the most exciting aspects of the building process.
HTI: The one thing I’ve had forever is:
MB: My ability to be frank. It’s not always been helpful, but everyone pretty much knows my thoughts and where I stand.
HTI: What do you miss the most?
MB: My brother. I lost him when we were in high school to an accident. Just to think how different life may be knowing who he would have been as an adult.
HTI: What do you feel when you’re in the field or on job sites?
MB: I’m very tactile – I have to touch buildings all the time, and the ones that I fall in love with are almost always constructed by true craftsmen. I love projects where a mason understands his art and what a good installation should be without skimping. Following details like copper flashing and mortar joints selection to hand trimming and fitting pieces together making masonry magic.
HTI: What makes a building design sing?
MB: I’m a big fan of mixed material buildings. Don’t get me wrong – a full stone home is still the most impressive building you can design, but there is something about a project where someone has the vision to use three or four different materials. It takes talent and a good eye, plus being a bit of a risk taker to make it all come together.
HTI: What place most inspires you?
MB: This might seem a little odd but it’s probably the airport. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m going somewhere to meet people or to help out in some way, but I know wherever I’m going, I’m going to make a difference. I actually get a lot of outside the box ideas waiting at the terminal or while in flight.
HTI: Please tell us about your taste in music or books. Do you have a favorite author or artist?
MB: I’m a fan of most music. When I’m focused at work it might be something instrumental like Debussy or Bach, and even movie scores. Outside work I lean towards country. No matter the music though, I find it best when it’s live. There’s nothing better than a live show to really help you appreciate the skills and talents of the artists.
HTI: When you’re not working where are you most likely to be found?
MB: Probably at one of my kid’s events. Five kids… we tend to be on the go.
HTI: What makes a great organization?
MB: One that puts employees first. Great client experiences only happen with organizations that take the time to know the client’s true concerns and worries, and do whatever is possible so those concerns don’t occur. Employees need to know you have their back when they make decisions. It doesn’t mean you give them carte blanche control over everything. Let them have the authority to do things to help a client when it’s the right thing to do. It’s a little cliché, but I think it’s true – take care of your employees and they will take care of the client.
HTI: Why The Home Trust?
MB: It is very important to me our clients get a great experience, and I feel the values of The Home Trust members align very well with our values and mission of being the best, most dependable experience in the natural stone industry – guaranteed! It just felt like a “natural” fit!
HTI: If you could be granted one wish. What would it be?
MB: There’s a reason people say “world peace” right? What else is there after that? We all tend to have so much more that really should unite us rather than divide us. It’s a shame to think how far and unlikely that wish really is to ever coming true.
HTI: If you weren’t in your current field, what would you be doing?
MB: If I were to guess, I would have started a marketing firm that had an emphasis tied to building a company’s business and marketing strategies. I love the challenge it brings. To be honest though, it is a little hard for me to consider anything other than what I’m doing. I’ve thought about the family business since I was young, so not much else really crossed my mind.
HTI: Anything final thoughts that reflect your personal philosophies?
MB: Never settle just because someone can offer you a value engineered option or something that’s less than what your heart truly desires. Your home is permanent, even if you sell it. So don’t sell yourself short on the look and design you truly desire. There are not a lot of do-overs in life.