No Stone Left Unturned: Armina Stone Sets New Standards With Capacity and Care
Camped out on a mountain peak in Italy’s Apuan Alps in northern Tuscany, Emre Basman knew he’d found a focus for his entrepreneurial heart. At the time, the then 25-year-old was a buyer for a stone company in the U.S.
“As a representative for this company, I traveled the world meeting quarry owners,” says Basman. “I often slept at the top of mountains where the world’s top quarries are located in order to be the first to pick the best stones for our customers. The first years were a learning process, very challenging, but I enjoyed it a lot.”
It was one of many adventures that Basman would embark on over the next few years, as he learned all he could about the stone business from selection to installation, built relationships and shaped his vision for his own operation that would become Armina Stone.
A Place to Call Home
Soon after earning his business degree in 2001, Basman began his career as a buyer in the specialty building supplies space.
A few years later, while earning his MBA, he took the first step toward independence when he bought four containers of slab, each container holding about 42 slabs, from a supplier in Turkey. He then sold them to fabricators, all the while learning about the fabrication and installation process. He further worked at Europa Stone for a few years and then opened Stone & Tile Expo, a distribution center in Chantilly, Virginia, in 2008. In 2014, he moved to Pittsburgh, ready to venture in a new direction.
He says, “I chose Pittsburgh because of its underlying resilience. To survive, the city has had to go through a major transition from a predominantly steel and industrial city to one that is now known for information technology, finance and health-care expertise, to name a few. It caught my eye. I got in touch with the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce and the University of Pittsburgh economic development department to develop a business plan for my company.”
Basman also joined the Builders Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh and now serves on its board. At the same time, he formed the Pittsburgh-based Stone & Tile Expo wholesale operation located in an 11,000-square-foot warehouse and set out to build relationships in the community.
Beyond the Supply Chain
By 2015, Basman was ready to establish his vision, Armina Stone, as an import, fabrication and installation retail company.
Today, Armina Stone is Pittsburgh’s largest stone gallery and Basman is well on his way to building a dominant presence as a premier stone importer, fabricator and installer in the Northeast. Only three years old, Armina Stone boasts over 5,000 slabs and almost 500 colors and serves a diversified customer base that ranges from small residential customers to high-rise condos and commercial buildings to big box commercial ventures. His company’s work has been featured on high-profile television and in print media, such as HGTV and Pittsburgh Magazine’s Ultimate House.
While the products and services are certainly remarkable, it’s Basman’s energy that is immediately visible to all those who visit his warehouse or talk with his talented team.
Not long after forming the company, he hired Kathy Balsamico as the Accounts Manager. She recalls, “Emre was looking for someone with industry knowledge, sales experience and accounting skills. I really liked his energy and his potential in the market. There wasn’t anyone doing what he wanted to do in terms of scope and scale for wholesale and retail supply, fabrication and installation in the stone business.”
With more than 30 years in the stone business, Balsamico soon took over as General Manager of Armina Stone. Around the same time, Basman hired Mike Renaldi, a contractor with more than 20 years of experience, as his Operations Manager to handle the construction side of the business.
Renaldi says, “I met Emre when my former company refurbished his warehouse. He needed someone to handle the logistics of installs, which ranged from small rehabs to new construction. The company atmosphere just felt good. So many companies, especially ones as large as Emre’s were becoming, treat employees like numbers. With Armina Stone, I feel like I’m part of and contributing to something bigger.”
Two other members of his team include Taylor Noe, Sales Manager, who has a degree in Interior Design and Dave Nowak, the Fabrication Manager with over 15 years of experience running a fabrication shop.
In 2016, Basman, with help from his expert team, expanded the warehouse and fabrication shop from 11,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet and bought another 100 containers of stone products—including granite, soapstone, travertine, quartz and marble—from Italy, Spain, Brazil, Turkey and India. He also built a slab showroom alongside the warehouse.
As well, Basman made a huge investment in technology for his fabrication shop, including robotic technology, waterjets, CNC machines and LT55 laser templates—all managed by Randy Morgan, one of Basman’s first employees. Morgan is a 19-year veteran of fabrication operations and serves as the firm’s Robotics and CNC Manager.
“Most fabricators don’t have the array of machines that we have,” explains Morgan. “Stone fabrication is all about precision. Manual cutting simply can’t achieve the curves and shapes that some of our customers require within the cost and schedule requirements. Our robots and waterjets can cut to within one-sixteenth of an inch and our CNC routers polish edges to an extraordinary shine.”
“We set goals and work hard to achieve those objectives—and we’re just beginning.”
Reaching Ever Higher
A year ago, Basman and his team had to expand the warehouse again from 40,000 square feet to 60,000 square feet to accommodate the growing number of colors and styles. In the last year, the company has doubled revenue.
Just as important to Basman is the “feel” of the company. Armina Stone currently employs 60 people, who all know Basman by first name. He has local inspectors on retainer in Brazil, Italy, Spain and Turkey who send him pictures of products and samples to consider for purchase. He also travels to the international tile and stone conferences to meet with quarry owners, who have become his friends and colleagues.
Balsamico explains, “Emre runs Armina Stone like a small company, like a family, which I believe benefits our people and his customers. Every customer is greeted by him or by his leadership team.”
Basman, just 40 years old, has plans to further grow the company. He says, “Right now, our operation can satisfy any customer’s needs, from a homeowner on a budget to someone looking for an exotic, one-of-a-kind work of art, to a developer building a large complex. There is no job that we cannot do. We set goals and work hard to achieve those objectives—and we’re just beginning.”
Basman and his team have already taken steps to double revenue in 2018 by expanding their customer base beyond the Northeast, just as Basman envisioned while sitting on top of that mountain in Tuscany 15 years ago.