No Stone Unturned

Posted on Nov 1, 2010 :: Small Business Spotlight
Sharon Verbeten
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Rob Ripley of Carved Stone Creations, photo by Sharon Verbeten

Robert Ripley has a pretty confident boast for potential clients who have never set foot in his Carved Stone Creations showroom in Kaukauna. “We never lose them once they’re here.”
Ripley, owner and president, is likely not exaggerating. Those who drive by the business, located off Hwy. 41, often marvel at the massive monoliths of animals, angels, arches and all things stone surrounding the building. Entering the massive showroom is not unlike ascending a stairway to heaven – into worlds that exist in the creative minds and imaginations of Ripley’s customers.

“Our true client is the person building his dream home,” says Ripley, “or where you think home is.”

Ripley’s 12,000-square-foot showroom features millions of dollars of everything from hand-carved elliptical stone bathtubs and a winding travertine staircase to castle-quality pillars, columns and water fountains, all carved to precise custom specifications with the highest quality, often imported, stone.

“Our client already knows what good stuff is,” Ripley says. “They want their homes to be like five-star resorts.”

Ripley is no stranger to building dreams. With a degree in structural architecture, he previously worked as a homebuilder, and that knowledge helped him launch Carved Stone Creations six years ago.

“I know what the builders are up against,” he says.
His knowledge of weight and structural considerations is paramount, especially when a house must be created to accommodate an Amazon-sized fireplace or when walls and floors must be designed to bear the weight of pillars or other structural additions. To that end, Carved Stone Creations works with builders, engineers and architects – in addition to homeowners and corporate clients – to meticulously plan for such sizable stone amenities.

Chris Renier of C. Renier Architects in De Pere has worked with Ripley on several projects.
“What I appreciate about them is their passion,” he says, adding that Ripley’s expertise allows all the parties involved to realize “what can be done,” rather than focusing on what can’t be accomplished. “Everything works better as a team,” Renier adds.

That sentiment was echoed by one local client, who wished to remain anonymous due to the scale of her home. More than 90 percent of the stone in her Greenville mansion’s interior and exterior was done by Carved Stone Creations.

“The best possible outcome is to work as a team,” she says. “If I had an idea, 90 percent of the time, he could do it.”

“If you have an imagination, you can create beauty,” adds the client, who worked as her own interior designer, “if you’re willing to put forth the effort.”

For a business that caters to the “ultra-affluent,” as Ripley describes them, many wonder why the company is located in Kaukauna, and not in a larger, more cosmopolitan national venue, such as New York or Los Angeles. While Ripley isn’t ruling out a satellite office in California down the road, for now, he’s happy, willing and well-positioned to do business from his frontage road location.

The extensive computer design work and plans are done in Kaukauna, but most of the stone is sourced overseas, with much of the carving done in China. Even though the logistics of installations can be sometimes challenging, Ripley insists, “It’s not where you are, it’s can you give clients what they want?”

He advertises in high-end publications, such as The Robb Report, to cater to his targeted audience of builders, architects and, ultimately, those builders of dream homes.
For example, those ultra-affluent clients he caters to might have a net worth of $30 million or more. And while he has done pricey projects nationwide – including installing a $250,000 exterior fountain in Chicago, Ripley has also worked on a castle in Algoma and other local luxury homes.

He’s also looking to expand internationally. He has done some installations in the Caribbean and will be traveling to Portugal for a project. For far-flung clientele, Carved Stone Creations flies in potential (and well-qualified) clients to visit the showroom where – you guessed it – Ripley plans to wow them and seal the sale.

And while an oppressed economy has impacted some of the company’s “small projects,” Ripley says once people gain more confidence in the economic turnaround, he foresees those smaller-scale projects coming back. It’s part of what he calls the evolution of his business.
“You never know what’s next,” he admits.