By Debra Bell
BDN Maine Special Sections Writer
From potatoes to stone, Benedicta native Matthew Qualey, owner of Qualey Granite & Quartz at 1506 State St. in Veazie, has always been a hard worker.
And that hard work has paid off with a successful granite and quartz fabrication business as well as the honor of being named Maine’s Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Qualey accepted the award on Monday, June 4 at the SBA awards luncheon at Spectacular Event Center on the Griffin Road in Bangor.
“It took a couple of days to sink in [that I had won],” Qualey said. “It’s a big deal and lends another level of credibility to the business. I’m certainly [very] proud to have received it but it wouldn’t have happened without a lot of help and support.”
That help and support came from Bangor Savings Bank which helped him gain funding through a SBA-guaranteed loan, the hard work of a talented staff, a supportive family, and a tenacity to provide excellent customer service while producing high quality products.
“I nominated Matt because he has shown substantial growth over the last seven years due to his and [his wife] Laurie’s hard work, integrity and commitment to the highest level of customer service,” said Vicki L. Bessette, president of business services at Bangor Savings Bank. “The result of these efforts is a reputation in the marketplace that fuels their growth.”
Qualey got his start in the granite business a decade ago partly by accident. He was studying to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Maine in clinical neuropsychology.
“While I was preparing for graduate school, I started working for a stonemason,” he said. “I found that I really liked it and I pulled out of graduate school.”
The decision to leave graduate school was one of the hardest decisions he’s ever made, he said. With a loan from his mother- and father-in-law, he bought a lawn mower and a truck and started doing lawn work while he prepared to buy a monument shop on State Street in Bangor.
When the stone worker that had been working with Qualey abruptly left, he had more orders than he could handle. Declaring bankruptcy was never an option, and he knew he had to step up to fulfill client orders. He enrolled himself and his brother in training, sold the landscaping equipment, and dove in, Qualey said.
“A lot of our customers at the time were physicians doing renovations, buying houses and buying camps,” Qualey said. “The business just grew. We stayed [on State Street] until 2006 or 2007. The shop got small fast.”
So when it came to expanding, Qualey knew he’d need funding to take the next step. That’s where Bessette and Bangor Savings Bank came into the picture.
“We didn’t have any money and they were the only ones willing to work with us,” Qualey said.
He refinanced an existing loan and did a SBA guaranteed loan to purchase high-tech equipment and lease a facility in Brewer to serve as his warehouse and manufacturing center.
In 2010, the warehouse and home design center were merged into its current location in Veazie, formerly home to Gagne Precast. Today, Qualey Granite & Quartz employs 18 people including Matt and his wife Laurie. The company will be hiring more employees later this year when a Portland office opens. And the company is now wholesale only.
An important part of the Qualey brand is its focus on giving back to the community — namely in the form of supporting animal rescue.
Walk into the showroom and you’ll be greeted by beautiful granite and stone samples on the left and the Rescue Pets Rock! brand on the right. The Qualeys own three rescued Chihuahuas — the newest arrival 11-year-old Teddy, 9-year-old Penelope, and 3-year-old Gaius — and a 3-year-old retired greyhound named Baron. In fact, Baron goes to the office with Matt each day and happily greets visitors. The couple’s first chihuahua, Piper, is also part of the Rescue Pets brand which initially was started by Laurie to honor his memory. And then there’s Hannibal the warehouse cat “manager,” a feral cat rescued by the Bangor Humane Society.
They give back, through Rescue Pets Rock!, and by supporting pet adoption.
“We don’t have children, but wanted to do something socially- and civic-minded,” Qualey said. “There are so many dogs out there, why would you buy one?”
The Qualeys are ardent supporters of local animal rescues, including the Bangor Humane Society. Several kennels at BHS are sponsored by Qualey Granite & Quartz. That work comes at the hands of Laurie, he said.
“[But] we’ve taken it a step further,” he said. “Cambria Quartz is our premier product line and we’ve co-branded it with BHS. If a client purchases Cambria, they get a Rescue Pets Rock! mug and a bumper sticker and a donation is made to BHS. It’s a way for us to give back to the community and get our brand’s name out there to tie the two together.”
That co-branding helps to enhance the company’s image, he said. They are one of nine fabricators for Cambria in New England. Silestone is another major product that his business fabricates.
But a great product line isn’t enough to stand on, he noted. You have to offer clients something completely different to stay competitive. That’s where the robots and digital imaging come in.
Qualey Granite & Quartz uses technology that enables them to show a customer exactly what their backsplash, counter or other project will look like in the granite, marble, soapstone or quartz of their choice.
“Our templates are digital now,” he said. “Our programmers convert the design to a CAD file and the customer approves that. That’s important, especially with quartz. We still have plenty of skilled workers doing hand polishing but our waterjet and CNC machines take our production to the next level.”
To see how this works, visit the Qualey Granite & Quartz Facebook page and click on videos.
“There’s no doubt, without the SBA this wouldn’t have happened or terms wouldn’t have been as good,” Qualey said.
Looking ahead to the future, Qualey said he’s looking forward to opening another location in Portland later this year.
“We are just going to continue growing, creating new markets and offering better service to our clients,” he said. “We found that it was not that hard to get bigger, but it’s really hard to get better. We have spent the last year laying the groundwork to put good systems in place, with a focus on training and consistency.”
Learn more online at QualeyGranite.com.