When Brian Rocca and Chuck Martin decided to merge their individual stone counter top businesses into Eastern Surfaces five years ago, they didn’t expect an economic landslide that left the construction industry buried in the rubble of failed mortgages, lost jobs and shattered consumer confidence.
But buoyed by their combined strengths and a new, state of the art facility at Bridgeworks by the Creek in Allentown, the new company – which manufactures and provides natural stone countertop surfaces such as granite and marble as well as manmade quartz and Corian products– has chiseled its way through the economic debris by focusing on multiple markets to weather a 10 percent drop in sales brought on by the collapse in new home-building. Now, as the economy emerges from a four-year slump, Rocca is confident that better days are ahead.
“Sales-wise, we are very near our peak but the margins have tightened,” he said as his staff prepared for the annual October weekend remnants sale that attracts retail customers from throughout eastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey. “I’m an optimist. I feel it’s beginning to turn around. Once new construction starts again, I feel it will be a lot better.”
Rocca and Martin created the new company in 2007 when both men were looking for new facilities for their growing businesses. Rocca owned Eastern Granite and Marble and was operating from a building in Lehigh Valley Industrial Park 1. Martin Fabricating was located nearby on Airport Road and the two men had often worked together, which made the merger a natural step.
Working with the Allentown Economic Development Corporation, the City of Allentown and J.G. Petrucci Inc., they moved into their new quarters in early 2008 and focused primarily on wholesale to businesses such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, Costco and other big-box stores. The new location brought several benefits, including the Keystone Opportunity Zone that offered a tax forgiveness on local and state levies until 2010.
It also moved them much closer to their employees. The company now employs 85 people – up from 65 at the low point a couple years ago — including more than a half-dozen at second facility in the Harrisburg area.
“About 70 percent of our employees live in Allentown or close by,” Rocca said. “When we were moving, that was a major consideration in coming here.”
When the new housing market declined, they changed tracks and marketed to the remodelers, commercial builders and the multi-unit sector of the building industry and now they are looking to move more into direct retail. “We do it but we haven’t pushed it,” Rocca said of the retail market. “I think it’s something we have do more of and over the next year I think we’ll be concentrating more on it.”
They will also continue to add to their skilled labor positions as business improves, but Rocca said they will go slowly. The company, which does much of its own training for stone-cutters and other skill positions, prefers to move slowly and works to retain its people.
“I don’t want to just hire temporary workers. Our people are here a long time,” he says. “When we find somebody good, we want to keep them.”