November Small Business Spotlight - Against the Grain

For this month's small business spotlight, we talked to Schuyler Clark and JD Patterson of "Against the Grain," specializing in countertops and fine craftsmanship. They have an incredible story and we're glad to have them in Doraville!
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Question:
 
What’s your story, and what’s the story of your business?
 
Answer:
 
We’re Schuyler Clark and JD Patterson, we've worked together since 2004. We actually met at a business very much like this in Midtown, Kraft Art, which built wood countertops. We hit it off immediately and always saw the potential in doing business like that.
 
But it takes a lot of money to make money. We set off on our own and started installing cabinets for a lot of high-end designers and cabinet shops around town and did that for a number of years until about 2013, when we built our first wood top under our name. We worked out of a shop in Midtown for a while, where we shared space with another cabinet shop. In the last three or four years things really started to pick up for us, and we’ve done really well in the last year, mostly unrelated to COVID. We just found we were running out of space in that shop, so we needed to move someplace and get our own space. We decided last summer to do exactly that and came up here because of the plentiful industrial space. My sales guy and I both live right around here, and we love the area.
 
The proximity to the interstates here is crucial because we can get down to where most of our customers are, places like Buckhead and Brookhaven. We can hop on I-85 or Peachtree Industrial Boulevard and get down there real quick. We can also get anywhere else around town. That’s a huge advantage.
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Question:
 
Did the pandemic have any effect on your business?
 
Answer:
 
It did, but not in the way it did for a lot of people. Most of construction has actually kind of prospered through the pandemic. It’s because people weren’t spending money going on vacations and were stuck in their house, so it makes sense they wanted to fix up their houses. We think we’ve seen that increase probably peak and level off now, maybe even dipping a little bit at this point. But for us, it wasn’t such a big noticeable thing. We’ve kind of been on an upward trajectory for a number of years. This was a little acceleration of that, but not too much.
 
Question:
 
Any issues with lumber shortages and supply chains?
 
Answer:
 
Supply chains have been tricky. We've been kind of lucky in that construction lumber got hit really hard, but hardwoods come out of different mills, usually. They're smaller, too, so they often don't have the restrictions that some of the bigger mills have, so they were able to keep operating during the pandemic. The prices have gone up a little bit, but we haven't had the shortages others have. On the cabinet side, we've had plywood shortages, all sorts of shortages. We can't get hardware. Many of the standard construction materials are in short supply right now and a lot more expensive than they used to be.
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Question:
 
Has the labor shortage had any effect?
 
Answer:
 
We personally haven't had an issue with it. We have a solid core group of guys that have been with us for a while. And we haven't had any turnover during this, we’re even looking to add positions. We pride ourselves in paying our guys well and making sure everyone gets a living wage. Our lowest paid employee is still making $15 an hour.
 
We've taken the route of investing in a younger workforce. And sometimes we bring in guys who didn’t necessarily have construction experience and train them up from the beginning. And honestly, once we put that investment into them, we want to keep them!
 
Question:
 
What are some things in your opinion as business owners that the city could do better to support you and make it easier to operate your business?
 
Answer:
 
We’ve been very happy with the city so far. We haven't had any big issues, but if you wanted to repave Winter’s Chapel Road, we wouldn’t complain. We’ve got a lot of big trucks coming and going. Other than that, getting a business license was a little bit of a pain, but that’s standard operating procedure. We like the construction side of things - we're not into the paperwork so much but hey, that's what our office manager is for.
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Question:
 
Y’all mentioned working together for a while and working for a somewhat similar entity in Midtown back in the 2000s. What was it that really made y'all want to take that step to be business owners yourselves?
 
Answer:
 
We really, really pride ourselves on the quality of the work that we do. And that's just what kind of brought us together, and how we've been working together for so long, as we both want to give the best product that we can to our customers, whether it's on the cabinet installation side or the wood countertop side. We saw things a little differently than the management of our last place and decided it wasn't for us anymore and decided to go out on our own. It took us a while before we could come up with the resources to put together a business like this and could be in control of the product that was coming out.
 
Now we're here. And we've got a really good group of guys that are working back there that have the same vision as we do. They just want to give the best quality product to the customer that we can, no matter what. That means if we have to redo something, we redo it.
 
Question:
 
Where do y'all see your company five years from now?
 
Answer:
 
I see us basically just kind of expanding what we’re doing now, I don't think we've totally saturated the Atlanta market. There's plenty of room to grow there. We also do work in surrounding states, a lot of our clients have a beach house or a mountain house, and we get called in to do those. We are certainly making a little bit of push to try and expand out into that territory. We'll be exhibiting down in KBIS in Orlando, the big industry trade show this this winter. Our big goal right now is buy a building so we can move in permanently and stay in this area.
 
And as the cabinet side of it grows, we may eventually split those off into two separate shops - cabinets in one and countertops in the other. It's also really important for us to have that sense of supporting our guys and building up a community in their lives. One of the things I really pride ourselves on is that since working for us, we've had five employees now become homeowners for the first time and we’re about to have a sixth. That's something I think it’s really important for us to support and make possible. It’s about building that foundation to build wealth.
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Question:
 
My final question would be: what would your advice be to somebody that's looking to start their own small business? How do they take that leap?
 
Answer:
 
You know, just do it. You have to go in understanding that there are going to be a lot of long hours. Running a small business isn’t just a nine to five anymore. We had to learn how to do a lot of the physical labor and paperwork ourselves to grow the business.
 
We're getting to a point now though where we can delegate. We work to live, not live to work. So we've got it now where we're not working as many hours as we used to. But it does take a lot to build up a business like this. It takes those extra hours being put in to make it successful. But the idea for us is to make this business work without us, to get guys that are good enough to do their jobs that don't need our supervision.
 
We would say to anybody who wants to start their business, go for it. It's gonna be tough but if you want it, you'll figure it out. The rewards are worth it in the long run. Just being in control of the product that we put out is well worth all that extra work that it took as well.

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