This is My Story.
This is My Story.
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‘Manufacturing was what supported our family’
In 1955 Sol and Anne Wolkin took out a $1,500 loan, moved to Atlanta, and opened Colgate Mattress Atlanta Corp., a specialty manufacturer of infant and toddler mattresses. Sixty years later, Dennis Wolkin, their first grandson and the third generation to work at the plant, is carrying on the legacy they created.
As a kid, Wolkin used to visit his grandfather, father, and uncle at Colgate, which is located in Atlanta’s Cabbagetown neighborhood, on the city’s east side. As an eight-year-old, he’d go to work in a suit to emulate his dad and learned about hard work and producing a quality product. “Although I dreamed of joining the E-Street Band or playing in the NBA, I always loved coming to visit my family at work and knew I’d one day work for Colgate,” he said.
‘I was ready to come home’
Always encouraged to explore his interests, Wolkin went to Indiana University for his undergraduate studies and then earned his master’s in business administration from Georgia Tech. He then worked for the internal controls office of one of the largest manufacturers in the world.
In late 2001, Wolkin decided to return to Atlanta and bring his experience with him to Colgate. He started his career as the production supervisor, and has changed roles several times throughout the company, gaining exposure to all aspects of the business. Today he is the chief operating officer.
“As a small company I have my hands in so many things,” Wolkin explained. “So as much as I love my primary job as COO, there is nothing more satisfying to me than helping the team physically put finished products on a truck, knowing that they will be delivered to customers.”
‘We are the ‘Leave it to Beaver’ family’
A few years back, Wolkin’s brother, Brent, joined Wolkin, his father, and uncle in the family business. Dennis Schuetz, special accounts manager, has worked for Colgate for 20 years and is considered part of the Wolkin family. “They are truly a unit. They like each other and get along,” Schuetz said. “If they don’t agree on something, they talk it out.”
Wolkin is known as the “sales guy.” His dad, Alan, is the negotiator, in terms of purchasing. Brent, who had been a fourth grade teacher, runs the factory and educates the team. Wolkin’s uncle, Richard, is the operations expert. “They all have different strengths and these pieces all fit together to help them run the company smoothly,” Schuetz said.
Wolkin compares his family to the “Leave it to Beaver”1950-era American television series. “We all live within a couple of miles of each other and get our families together regularly,” he said. “We do, however, have to compartmentalize our conversations so that we aren’t talking about work at the dinner table, on family vacations, or during our weekly Falcons tailgate parties.”
‘We have seen the industry change considerably’
The Colgate team continues to reinvent itself to stay relevant in the industry. “When I was a kid, Colgate used to sell direct to manufacturers,” Wolkin said. “In the 1980s we shifted to sell to independent specialty stores and today we evolved to incorporate online sales and big box stores, in addition to focusing on many of the smaller retailers that we’ve built long-standing relationships with.”
Over the years, Colgate has developed many materials for mattresses, including being among the first to produce a foam mattresses, organic-material mattresses, and dual firmness mattresses in the United States for infants and toddlers.
‘Our entire team is comprised of innovators’
While many of these innovations come from market changes, the Colgate team also relies on both its suppliers and employees to develop new ideas.
The team developed the first fashion mattresses for the company, which had such success that the company expanded the line into baby changing station pads. Wolkin credits the team for many of these ideas, saying team members know the products best and part of his job is to listen to their ideas.
That collaborative team-oriented approach has led to employee longevity. Wolkin said, “The average employee has worked at Colgate for more than a decade and many of them more than three decades.” Additionally, besides the Wolkin family, a majority of Colgate’s 35 employees come from three other families. “It’s a testament to the work environment we’ve created here,” Wolkin added. “Not only do we retain our team, but many of their spouses, adult kids, and other family members have also joined the team.”
‘A mattress is the most important purchase a new mom can make’
In an industry that is extremely tight on safety regulations and quality control, it’s imperative that Colgate stays at the forefront. The team is part of national safety councils, serves on the board for ASTM International, a standards development organization, and was one of the founding members of the Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association.
“It’s important that we continue to work like a startup company and continue to research new ways of bringing the best quality products to our customers,” Wolkin said. Part of that innovation came in the form “CJ,” a testing machine the company developed. “CJ stands for many things in our group – Colgate Junior, Colgate Jumper, but most importantly, CJ stands for a unique way to test the durability of our products,” Wolkin explained.
CJ is a prototype with two patents that the Colgate team invented and produced. “For eight hours a day, CJ jumps up and down on our products to simulate a 30-pound-kid with a bout of insomnia. That helps us to test the quality of the mattresses the company produces.”
‘Every day we are carrying on the legacy that Sol and Anne Wolkin started’
It’s this kind of leadership, innovation, and care for the team and customers that led Colgate to twice winning the Manufacturer of the Year award from Brixy, the Independent Specialty Store Association, and his grandfather receiving those organizations’ first lifetime achievement awards.
As Alan, Wolkin’s father and Colgate president explained: “In the 1960s, our facility was where Ponce City Market currently is and as a kid I’d go to work with him, but also found time to sit on the roof and watch the Atlanta Crackers baseball team. Sixty years later, I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve continued to accomplish and that Dennis and his brother Brent will eventually take the helm of Colgate Mattress.”
About Colgate Mattress Atlanta Corp.
In the 1940s Sol Wolkin was sent to England for the duration of World War II, and while overseas wrote letters to his girlfriend, Anne, every day. Upon his return, they married and borrowed $1,500 from his best friend’s family, who owned Colgate Mattress in New York. Sol founded Colgate’s Atlanta division, to produce quality infant and toddler crib mattresses.
Now headquartered in the city of Atlanta, Colgate has 35 employees housed in a 60,000-square-foot facility. The company continues to thrive under the leadership of Sol’s two sons and two grandsons, based on the values in which it was founded: integrity, loyalty, and honesty.