The Bedrock of the Business

Qualey Granite & Quartz president Matt Qualey in his slab warehouse in Veazie.

Statuetto marble is on display on an island and backsplash in the Maine Stone Design Center's showroom in Portland.

A walk-in shower installation features Amphritite granite on the right wall, Cambria Parys Quartz on the left.

PROFILE – March 2014
by Penelope Schwartz Robinson | Photography Sarah Beard Buckley

Qualey Granite and Quartz President Matt Qualey believes in a business model that isn’t cast in stone

Before Matt Qualey was the Small Business Administration’s 2013 Maine Small Business Person of the Year, he was a Wyoming Technical Institute–trained professional car painter. He also delivered Aston Martins in the Boston area, drove a dump truck for upscale landscapers in Brookline, and studied for a Ph.D. in clinical neuropsychology. Not necessarily in that order.  

“I wasn’t cut out for staying in a lab,” Qualey says now, sitting at a stunning granite table in the Maine Stone Design Center in Portland, his newly opened wholesale showroom for his Veazie-based company Qualey Granite and Quartz. “We have the largest selection of natural stone and Cambria-brand quartz in the state,” Qualey tells me, leading the way through a door into an adjacent 15,000-square-foot room housing more than 150 slabs stacked in rows all around the perimeter. There is no comparison between the small palm-sized stone samples available in most places and these mammoth 5- by 10-foot slabs. People like to touch stone. They like to be able to run a hand across the surface. The tectonic essence of stone is palpable in this room. Mass is more. 

Back in the showroom are samples of products in model bathrooms and kitchens to emphasize just what can be done with Qualey’s stone. Sitting again at the granite table, Qualey relates how he “edged” into this business when he bought a monument shop across from Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor. He was actually looking for a place to park his landscaping trucks, but the space was full of stone, and before long, Qualey found himself in Virginia Beach taking a course offered by Regent Stone Products in how to fabricate countertops. That was in 2002. “We didn’t have a clue,” Qualey laughs. “I was cutting stone with a Skilsaw, holding a hose with running water in the other hand to keep the dust down. Pretty primitive.”

It didn’t take him too long to realize they needed a CNC router about the size of a van. In addition to taking out a $500,000 loan for the CNC, Qualey Granite and Quartz also purchased software that would enable clients to see what the stone would actually look like in their homes. His commitment to such investments is the bedrock of the business. The next hurdle was hiring skilled help, difficult to find anywhere but perhaps more so in the nascent stone business in rural Maine. “We did a lot of in-house training,” Qualey says. Today, Qualey Granite and Quartz has 18 to 20 skilled workers and three CNC routers. All of the company’s fabrication occurs in Veazie. “We’re on the road a lot,” Qualey says. “There’s at least one truck a day coming down to Portland from the Veazie shop, if not to deliver stone then to do an installation.” 

“What I will always remember about Matt Qualey,” offers S.W. Collins Co. designer Marcy L. Whipple, who has worked with Qualey for the past four years, “is that when he came to call on us, he brought his grandmother. He’d pick her up in Benedicta for the drive over to Caribou. It was their chance to talk and be together. Then she’d sit by the pellet stove in our showroom while Matt did business. Matt’s a County boy. Family means everything to him.” Whipple also related how important it is that Matt owns the business, that she can pick up the phone and speak to him directly any time she needs to. “Stone,” Whipple continues, “is expensive. A lot of people want it but get sticker shock when they realize not only the cost of the product but the intricacy and skill required for the installation.” One time, she bid a job that was just too high for the client. “I talked to Matt,” Whipple tells me, “and he said, ‘if I buy six slabs of that granite, I can bring the price down.’ He was willing to take a risk spending money on inventory in order to serve us. He’s just an overall great guy.”

Anyone associated with the Bangor Humane Society would agree. Qualey and his wife, Laurie, created Rescue Pets Rock, an organization dedicated to finding homes for animals. The logo appears on Qualey Granite and Quartz promotional material as well as on their website and trucks. Matt and Laurie Qualey currently have five rescued dogs, including the greyhound, Baron, who accompanies Matt everywhere. The Bangor Humane Society’s Top Dog Donor program tracks financial commitment: the Qualeys and Rescue Pets Rock are the Top Dog Donors in the state, having donated and raised over $30,000. 

Qualey’s career indicates a willingness to take risks as well as an ability to seize the moment. When he was painting cars in Bangor, he found (his future wife) Laurie’s name on a work order. The rest is history. And when the retail market for stone began to slow down a little in northern Maine, he took a huge leap of faith and opened up the new wholesale facility in Portland. A recent article in the Portland Press Herald revealed Qualey’s untraditional method of making business decisions: “I’ve never had a business philosophy. I’m a counter-indicator for traditional business decisions,” he is quoted as saying. “We kind of plan on this failing. We brace for the worst, just in case.”

In the field of geology, the world of stone, the “angle of repose” is the maximum slope at which material will stand without sliding. The Maine Stone Design Center appears to be pretty solid. In its official statement naming him its 2013 Small Business Person of the Year, the Small Business Administration writes, “Qualey has done an outstanding job growing his company through hard work, determination, and meeting the needs of an ever-changing market.”  

Qualey smiles and gives Baron’s head a rub. “It’s all about the dogs,” he says.  

Qualey Granite & QUARTZ:, 207.947.7858

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