Commercial Countertops: They’re Lovin’ It


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Most commercial stone jobs are like banquets: the fabricator needs to cook up a large order, often of the same design, but may have weeks before the final product is needed.

That is, unless you’re supplying one of the world’s restaurant giants. Not surprisingly, no order is huge – but as one British Columbia shop found, the jobs have to be turned out, well, like fast food.

Anthony McGillvrey, vice president of marketing for Abbotsford, B.C.-based Valley Countertops Industries Ltd., has been in the countertop business for two decades, and had experience working with McDonald’s as the restaurant would replace its countertops with Corian® or other solid-surface materials.

However, Valley Countertops was exhibiting Cosentino’s Silestone® at a design show in Vancouver in 2003 when the quartz material caught the eye of a McDonald’s regional operations manager.

At the time, the operations manager told McGillvrey that solid surface lacked the sizzle the restaurant chain wanted, and the material would often looked used soon after the installation.

Still, another year went by before Valley had a meeting with the design firm responsible for the look of the restaurants’ interiors in Canada.

“They had though the Silestone, at first, was granite; they had looked at granite in the past and rejected it because of its wearability and, particularly, staining issues,” says McGillvrey. “Silestone’s consistency of color was also very important to them. They wanted to be able to specify a color and work their metal work around that color, so they couldn’t have too much fluctuation. That was a big driver for them.”

Also critical to McDonald’s is Silestone’s built-in Microban® antimicrobial product protection. The chain wanted a product easy to clean, and one that would stay cleaner between cleanings.

In 2005, Valley Countertops got the go-ahead to fabricate and install Silestone in 40 McDonald’s restaurants in western Canada. The Silestone program has since been expanded to the remainder of Canada, and is being tested in the United States. (Editor’s note: McDonald’s Canada declined to participate in this article and provide further details.)

McGillvrey says the biggest challenges with the McDonald’s contract are the time-sensitivity of each job, and its uniqueness.

The days of a McDonald’s restaurant being a standard glass and red-and-white tile structure with plastic fittings, sitting in the middle of a parking lot, are long gone. Many of them are going into preexisting spaces in malls and downtown buildings. The company is also remodeling many of its existing buildings.

“You’d think they’d have a bunch of cookie cutters, but I haven’t seen two that are similar,” says McGillvrey. “I don’t think I’ve been in two McDonald’s restaurants in recent times that even look the same.”

Along with the uniqueness of its McDonald’s jobs, McGillvrey says they were extremely time-sensitive.

“The millwork is pre-designed and installed, and they want the countertops to be installed on top of that millwork just as soon as possible,” he says. “The conventional timeline of sending somebody to template the work, cutting it, and then installing it had to be modified.”

Just as Valley Countertops isn’t the exclusive supplier of Silestone materials to McDonald’s, no one company had the contract for the cabinets. Consequently, McGillvrey explains that his company goes out of its way to establish relationships with the millwork companies contracted by McDonald’s.

“We’d work very closely with them on their drawings and their specifications,” he says. “If it was somebody we hadn’t worked with and we needed to, we’d send somebody to the millwork facility to template the work in their shop before it was installed.”

Then, once a relationship was established, it was possible to work off the millwork-company’s specification because they understood Valley Countertop’s needs.

That’s been critical, since a normal turnaround is 48 hours once the millwork is installed. Only in a few cases, where there was a problem with the millwork, has the company had to send someone to template at the restaurant.

“We still had to fabricate from scratch and install in 48 hours,” he says. “It’s a whole different world when you’re putting in 300 ft² with two days’ notice. Fortunately, we’ve been able to do that.”

Certainly a key element of that ability has come from the fact that Valley Countertops has installation crews in 26 remote locations around western Canada. In a few cases, the company has had to have a couple extra days to incorporate shipping into the schedule.

The furthest the company has shipped fabricated pieces to a McDonald’s is Winnipeg, Manitoba – almost 1,500 miles away.

“We rely a lot on electronic drawings and electronic templates in those cases,” he says. “We couldn’t do it without that and being able to ship within 24 hours.”

While countertops have certainly been a major part of the McDonald’s project, McGillvrey says they’re not all the company has been cutting and installing. Depending on the restaurant, Silestone has been installed on service counters, tables, eating bars and condiment areas, as well as bathroom vanities.

In fact, about the only place they aren’t making an appearance is in the sandwich-preparation area.

“We had one McDonald’s in Vancouver where a wall section 20’ wide to the ceiling is covered in Silestone,” McGillvrey says. “There’s a built-in fireplace and leather chairs. You’d never have seen that in McDonald’s a few years ago.”

While a fireplace wall may not be coming to a McDonald’s near you any time soon, McGillvrey says the restaurant chain is definitely vying for a higher-end dollar than in years past, and while it’s been a challenge, Valley Countertops is happy to do its part in updating the look for this dining icon.

“We’ve done quite a few restaurants and hotels,” he says. “We’ve done this scope of work before, but this has been an entirely different job.”


Original publication ©2007 Western Business Media Inc. Use licensed to the author.

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