Atlantic Granite & Marble Inc. Rochester, N.Y.
"Everything still gets finished by hand."
By K. Schipper
ROCHESTER, N.Y. – There’s a long history of stone in the Scarlata family. Salvator “Sam” Scarlata, the founder of Atlantic Granite and Marble Inc., learned to work stone while still a boy in Sicily from his father – who owned his own business -- while still a boy in Sicily. Just as he learned the stone trade from his father, Scarlata’s children spent time in the shop as they were growing up, and daughter Kathy Frank continues there. What he might not have anticipated is that today the company is run by Frank and her sister-in-law, Cathy Scarlata. And, they have plenty of other family members to help.
GETTING IT DONE
By the time he decided to follow other family members to the United States in the early 1960s, Sam Scarlata had become quite a craftsman. Unfortunately for him, it was also a time when stone was being used almost exclusively in large commercial projects, and to support himself and his family he took a job as a commercial tile setter. It wasn’t until 1987, after taking early retirement from his installer’s job and with the help of a couple investors, that he was able to open the doors of his own business. Scarlata re-entered the business just as a major transition was about to happen in the stone industry. Working by himself the first year, he did strictly commercial work. The next year, he found himself doing a kitchen or two a month. More than 30 years on, approximately 90% of Atlantic Granite’s work is residential. That’s not the only thing that’s changed over 33 years. However, the firm base he laid down, with an emphasis on family and a quality product continues to keep the business strong. “Cathy started working here in 2005, and today I’m the president of the company, and she’s the vice president,” Frank says. “We share the ownership and we pretty much share in the responsibilities of everyday management and do whatever has to get done.” Frank’s husband, Doug Frank, does the templating and manages every jobsite to ensure that each job is completed to company standards. Her son, Brandon Miller, programs and runs the shop’s CNC machine and Cathy Scarlata’s son, Steven Scarlata, is one of the installers. Although Sam Scarlata was semi-retired before he passed away in 2014, that’s not the only way his presence is still felt at Atlantic Granite. For one thing, it was his business model and management that got the operation through the 2008 recession, despite some monumental changes to Rochester. While Scarlata was proud to do work for Eastman Kodak Company, today it’s known for technology, rather than its cameras, and its workforce has shrunk accordingly. Frank says the recession was a difficult time, more for her community perhaps than for Atlantic Granite. “It was still pretty rough on us,” she says. “Luckily, my father ran this company in a way that we were still okay. We didn’t have any bills, and we didn’t have any debts. We just basically had our overhead and we were able to get through it.” Although the type of work Atlantic Granite does has changed over the years, one thing that’s remained constant is its location in an industrial neighborhood. Sam Scarlata originally chose the space because he saw it offered the possibility for his company to expand as other businesses moved out, and that has indeed been the case. He also recognized the need for an outstanding showroom to bring them to his location, and Atlantic Granite recently completed an expansion and remodeling of its showroom space to almost 8,000 ft². Over that time, the shop has also grown to take in almost 20,000 ft². And, Frank has continued her father’s practice of keeping hundreds of slabs on hand and under cover. However, the days when many of them were imported directly from Europe is in the past. With personal and professional ties to the Old World, one of Sam Scarlata’s pleasures was traveling to Europe to buy stone from Italy, as well as Greece and Spain. His daughter says these days it’s just not as convenient for her to make those trips. “He loved doing it that way because he got to go,” she says of her father. “Now we buy from large domestic suppliers who do the importing. I get the opportunity to hand-pick what slabs I want to bring in from each supplier, allowing me to have a large variety of colors in stock at all times.” What might shock the company founder is the amount of work the shop does in quartz. Frank says Atlantic Granite is still fabricating more of its namesake, though, probably due at least in part to the recent price increase in quartz. “A lot of it is because of the white trend right now,” Frank explains. “People want white cabinets with white-and-gray countertops. Not only is that the trend, but you can’t get the durability people want in a marble, and granite doesn’t have that pure white look.” She adds that the imposition of tariffs on imported Chinese quartz had been a major challenge for the business, although the situation continues to improve as suppliers have turned to other countries and those with U.S.-based factories to source the material.
Atlantic Granite and Marble founder Sam Scarlata on a return trip to Palermo, Italy.
“I want everything to be perfect before it leaves here.”
AN EYE FOR DETAIL
As for doing all those kitchens, she says there are a couple reasons for that. One is simply that Atlantic Granite just isn’t what she calls “a commercial-work kind of company.” “We’re very detail-oriented,” Frank says. “I want everything to be perfect before it leaves here. We spend a lot of time on the pieces. With commercial jobs it’s more of a factory sort of situation. It’s ‘get this in, get this out and hurry up.’” That’s not to say the company won’t take on the type of commercial work for which it’s best suited. Although Atlantic Granite primarily serves the Rochester area, over the past 18 months it’s done work as far away as Pennsylvania and New York -- more specifically, Wall Street. Frank explains that job was for a large law firm headquartered in Rochester. “We did the homes of several of the attorneys and then they had us do the conference tables at their headquarters,” she says. “After we did the conference tables here, they wanted us to do the same in their offices in Manhattan. It was a fun project.” That’s also the sort of building on relationships that has kept the company going and growing over the years. Frank says her marketing includes ads in the local newspaper and on the cable company’s local news channel, as well as flyers. As for electronic marketing, Atlantic Granite has a Facebook presence, but an older website is down while another one is being built. Frank says it should debut later this spring. Perhaps not surprisingly given how long the company has been in business, a lot of work comes through the door due to word-of-mouth. “A lot of our customers are repeat customers or those that have been sent to us by family members, neighbors or friends,” Frank says. “We’ve had some customers where we’ve done kitchens three times for them over the years. They started with us, and every time they get a new house, they come to us and get us to do a new kitchen for them.” The scope of work the company does isn’t the only thing that’s changed over the years. Perhaps surprisingly for someone who learned to work stone by hand, Sam Scarlata wasn’t afraid to add technology to his business, and while he started out with just a skill saw, over the years the company has had its share of automated equipment. Initially, all of it was from Italian manufacturers, but Frank says in recent years the business has switched to American-made machines, with the company’s most-recent major purchase a state-of-the-art CNC from Northwood Machine Manufacturing Co. “The Italian machines we were using were great, but when anything went wrong with one, the only people who could help us were in Italy, and sometimes it took days,” she says. “And Heaven forbid if anything would happen in August because they shut down in August. With Northwood we have local support.” One thing that hasn’t changed is the hand-finishing that adds to the perfection of each piece. “Everything still gets finished by hand,” says Frank. “With the new CNC we have the capabilities to get the edge details and things we weren’t able to do with the old equipment done on the machine, but we still finish everything by hand.”
“I try to make sure that family comes first.”
A FAMILY LEGACY
These days, perhaps the other thing that keeps customers coming back is the company’s general level of service, which begins with quick turnaround times. Frank says it’s nothing for Atlantic Granite to turn around a kitchen job in a week. “If we’re really busy it could take longer, and of course if it’s a huge, very involved job, it will take longer,” she says. “But, for your average kitchen, we can turn it around it a week.” Possibly it’s the fact that these days it’s a women-run business, but Frank says she believe women are often more comfortable dealing with the shop because of that. She’s also sensitive to the fact that on a remodel, the countertops are generally the last thing to go in “and by the time they get to us they’re anxious and in a hurry.” In the same vein, she says she’d never send anyone out to do an install that she wouldn’t have in her own home. “We guarantee our customers that their home will be left clean and neat,” Frank says. “I’ve always heard nothing but great feedback about our guys; they represent our company the way it should be represented.” But, then like the Scarlata family itself, the company’s six other employees are in it for the long haul. The last time she had to hire someone new was four or five years ago, and at least one employee has been there almost three decades. She attributes that longevity to the fact that it is a family business. “I try to make sure that family comes first,” Frank says. “If they have something they need to do with their family, or a kid has to go to the doctor, we’re very flexible. They can always leave to take care of what they need to do for their family. We treat everybody with respect and make them know and understand that we really appreciate everything they do for us.” As for the future, Frank says she expects the showroom expansion and remodel will be the last major change the company sees for a while, although the two women are working on earning WBE (women business enterprise) certification through the state. Further down the road – within the next 10 years – Frank believes it will be time to start looking at handing the business over to Brandon Miller and Steven Scarlata “but there’s a lot we’re not done doing here yet.” Frank, who came up through sales and managing the showroom, adds that she still takes a lot of pleasure in working with people. “I just love seeing the whole transformation on a project from start to finish, and I really enjoy their enjoyment,” she says. And, while there’s more competition than there was in the days when Sam Scarlata first opened the doors of Atlantic Granite, Kathy Frank believes what sets the company apart from its competition is her father’s legacy. “This is a family business, and we’re all very emotionally tied to this company,” she concludes. “We want to continue and hopefully make him proud.”