Colt Industries develops a
proactive plan for Sustainable Growth

Longtime Corian distributor continues expansion in products, services

Expanding in the midst of a recession makes a powerful statement to your customers, especially if your company is in the building supply industry. That's exactly what Colt Industries did earlier this year when it combined its offices, its primary distribution center, its training facilities, and its showroom into a handsome new headquarters building in the St. Louis suburbs. “This is a great location and a very good building,” explains Charlie Hrebec, the surprisingly youthful looking chairman of the company. “We are poised and ready to go when the market comes back, which I hope is soon.”

Back in 1963, Hrebec founded Colt Industries as a kitchen materials outlet for builders. “We supplied most of the homebuilders in the Saint Louis Metro area,” Hrebec recalls. In the early 1970s, the company began distributing DuPont Corian and spun off their cabinetry business. As it turns out, that was a brilliant move. Over time, the company grew to cover 14 states today, with 4 warehouses – St. Louis, Memphis, Dallas/Fort Worth, and New Orleans.

“What drives this company is Corian,” said Gary Torrence, Colt's General Manager. “Dupont products – Corian and Zodiaq – are our flagship brands. Everything else is ancillary.” In fact, Colt Industries serves as a national DuPont training facility. Fabricators can come here to learn how to work with Corian or Zodiaq. “Our training facility is 7,000 square feet, which in many cases is larger than the fabrication space some of our customers have,” Torrence points out. “It's tooled very well, so we can really show that fabricator how to do things. If it's a small fabricator and they can't afford the CNCs just yet, we'll show them how to fabricate using hand tools. But we can also show the larger fabricator how to work with automation, because we definitely have it.”

Colt offers training on their other brands as well, and Torrence is quite enthusiastic about the Torzo line which the company began supplying to satisfy green clients. “It's really gaining momentum with the architect and design community because it is so sustainable, and it's really good looking,” he noted. “Archway Kitchens has it on a display countertop and from a distance it looks like granite. It is gorgeous!” There has also been interest in vertical applications, such as elevator interiors.

Torrence is also enthusiastic about the Luminore line of spray metallic finishes. “It's a great product because if you have something that's old and dated, you can sand it down and coat it with Luminore and you give a brand new look to it. It uses recycled metals, so there's less of an environmental footprint.”

Torrence has seen some interesting applications for Luminore. “One of the companies we work with that builds kitchen faucets and bathroom vanity faucets uses Luminore on its prototypes. They coat the mock-up with Luminore to get their chrome or bronze look, and then take it to their survey groups for feedback,” he said. “Well, the chroming process is very toxic, so this gives them a method for generating the same look without the environmental hazards you'd have if you were using the real historic finishes.”

When it comes to green, Colt Industries is very quick to remind clients that Corian and Zodiaq have some serious claims to sustainability as well. Both lines are GREENGUARD Air Quality certified, which means they can contribute credits to LEED certification.

The products also excel when it comes to Life Cycle Analysis. Hrebec enjoys telling about a bathroom fire in a house under construction back in the 1980s. “It had a double vanity bowl which meant maybe an 8 foot vanity top with a window in the middle,” he described. “Some vandals got in the house and built fires in the vanity bowls and actually burned the wall out. They ended up replacing the vanity and replacing the wall, but they just lightly sanded the Corian and put it right back in place,” he chuckled.

Meanwhile, Torrence warns customers that not all products making green claims measure up to the hype. “For a while, there was a lot of interest in countertops made from a concrete and glass mixture. There still is to a degree, but it's settling down because there have been some product failures,” he reported.

At the same time, Colt Industries remains open to fresh ideas in the green marketplace. “We continue to explore the scene to see what our customers are asking for, and what they really need,” Torrence declared. “We always promote Corian and Zodiaq first, but if that won't fulfill their needs, we can offer them Torzo or some of our other products.”

In the current economic climate, Torrence stays alert for modern trends. “There's a book I like by a man named Marshall Goldsmith, and I quote the title all the time: What Got You Here Won't Get You There,” he told us. “It reminds you that you need to continually be creative and look at market trends, the economy, what's going on in building and where it's going on, in order to determine what we need to do next – when, where, and how.”

Torrence believes that Charlie Hrebec and his son Paul, the company's president, have adopted that philosophy as their own. “Colt Industries has always been very proactive,” he observed. “One of the first things that caught my eye when I first joined the company was how far down the road this small family business planned for what was coming up.

“It's all about long term planning, determining what's coming up ahead, and being prepared,” he concluded. “And that's reflected in this new facility that you see today.”

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