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New machinery introduced at Natchez countertop business

NATCHEZ — Slowly but surely, a brand new 20,000-pound machine was moved by crane inch by inch into The Rock Shop on John R. Junkin Drive on Thursday.

It was a multi-man job moving in the new equipment — two crane workers, two maintenance engineers to guide the machine while it was suspended in the air and at least another five Rock Shop employees to help.

The Rock Shop has been producing custom granite countertops and kitchens in Natchez for a total of 8 years as of this month, owner Gibson Reeve said. However, once the new machinery is up and running, this will be the first time the entire cutting and polishing process will be done 100 percent digitally, he said.

Even the measurements are done digitally using a laser-scanning tool that is set up inside the client’s home on a tripod.

“We don’t even use a tape measure,” Reeve said. “It’s all done digitally.”

The Rock Shop’s computerized cutter uses numeric control to make precise cuts of granite slabs to the exact measurements to fit specific client needs.

A hydraulic table rises up to a mechanical arm with a saw attached that moves and cuts the rock “like Swiss cheese,” Reeve said.

Before the addition of the new $270,000 computerized, American-made machine, workers would have to round off and polish the edges of granite slabs by hand.

At times, the hand-sanded edges would not be as perfectly rounded or as smoothly polished as a computer can produce.

“With the machines, it’s a perfect cut and fits the kitchen like a glove,” Reeve said.

While some businesses have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic, Reeve said the more time people have spent at home increased his business.

“Our business has increased quite a bit since the virus,” he said. “When people are bound at home, they want to remodel a bit and fix it up more.”

Reeves said he has been planning to expand and move to a fully digital process from the beginning. However, the increase in demand sped up the process.

The new technology not only produces the countertops more efficiently but also reduces the wait time for clients from two months to approximately two weeks, allowing The Rock Shop to fill more orders in less time.

“That’s what it is all about,” Reeve said, “producing as much square footage in the least amount of time with the best quality possible so that you can have competitive prices.”

Reeve said jobs can range from approximately $39 to $100 per square foot depending on what material is used and the thickness of it.

The yard outside of the shop has a selection of 400 rock slabs for clients to choose from. Their selection can also be done online, but most clients prefer to see the look and feel of the texture of the rock in person.

“We’ve invested heavily in the material so our customers don’t have to drive an hour and a half to two hours to pick something out,” Reeves said. “Most of the time they can pick it out here.”

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