On the Surface: Cambria Is Manufacturing Success Out Of Quartz

Founder and CEO Marty Davis pushes product innovations, manufacturing technology and worker development.

Marty Davis conceived of Cambria, then expanded and has now advanced his company so it is a premier manufacturer of quartz surfaces that are taking over kitchen countertops, bathroom vanities and other horizontal planes in American households coast to coast.

Davis is a dairyman and cheesemaker in Le Sueur, Minnesota, who diversified into making quartz products 21 years ago and now runs one of the industry’s major brands, with more than 1,800 employees in 30 facilities including a state-of-the-art, 1,000,000-square-foot processing plant close to his hometown.

Cambria and other quartz companies have seized the upscale kitchen countertop from predecessor materials that began with Corian, then granite and marble. In an approach that could enlighten other manufacturing CEOs, Davis continues to press the envelope with new product technology and manufacturing enhancements aimed at further consolidating Cambria’s leadership position in the market—at the same time he’s creating workplaces that help his employees enjoy the ride and embrace their roles.

Quartz is the main raw material in granite slabs. But Davis refined a manufacturing process originally developed by a chemical engineer in Italy, to fabricate quartz plus 7% polyester resins into Cambria’s signature slabs. Their biggest advantage over marble and granite is that they simply don’t stain.

“We’ve got a compressive strength of more than 30,000 pounds per square inch,” Davis told Chief Executive. “It’s impenetrable. The integrity of the mineral agglomeration is tremendous.”

But Cambria didn’t stop there. Davis’s brand came up with the “veining” effect in quartz that mimics natural veins in marble. In 2018, Cambria acquired its own quartz mine. And nowadays, Davis said, Cambria is continuing to advance the technology to simulate in its quartz more of the randomness in appearance that is one of the main attractions of natural stone.

“We’re trying to advance where on one end of the countertop you can have a different galaxy of appearance than what’s on the other end,” he explained. In nature, he said, “that transition – born of glacial evolution—is mild and palatable to the eye. We’d like to go beyond where we are. We don’t want to create a painting, but we want to have artistry and emotion in the countertop. We want to have the right subtlety to it and the beauty of unique art in a form that’s digestible all day long—that’s in front of people all day long.”

Davis also has been harnessing more robotics in Cambria’s operations “to remove some of the physicality out of manufacturing requirements” for creating quartz slabs that weigh hundreds of pounds. “The things going on in robotics might lessen some of the numbers in our labor, but they really transition the jobs to interfacing with analytics and diagnostics,” Davis said. “People still have to be there to intervene. But robotics is a key to elevating and achieving higher levels of quality and safety.”

Cambria employs about 900 people at its plant in rural Le Sueur, and Davis said he feels “pretty strongly about the people we have in this area, and we invest in them.” For one thing, Cambria established a program four years ago to teach English as another language to the company’s large population of Hispanic employees, investing some $400,000 to $500,000 in the program each year.

But Davis’s dedication to his employees can be as simple as outfitting the lunchroom in Le Sueur with some significant amenities including plenty of windows to the outside, televisions, picnic areas, a grill and a varied menu. That’s much more than boasted by many manufacturing plants.

“I don’t want our employees to be in a vacuum for the entire time they’re here,” he said. “We want them to be able to relax and calm down during their breaks. Many people don’t realize how tense a manufacturing worker is during their shift—your body is moving and your feet are jiggling. It’s 10 hours of intensity.”

Davis also tries to protect Cambria and his employee base by striking back at what he alleges is unfair trading of quartz-surface products from China. In 2018, Cambria’ s petition before the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission charged that Chinese imports displaced more than $1 billion a year of domestic product. Under a Trump administration that was extremely hawkish on Chinese trade, U.S. Customs responded by levying duties of up to 500% to halt the Chinese imports.

All of these developments have led to a business that Davis said is “very robust, very strong,” including through Covid. “We were deemed essential because people had to have their kitchens.”