At Colgate Mattress Atlanta Corporation in Cabbagetown, three generations of Wolkin family men build top-notch cushions for cribs.
Making a baby mattress that’s soft and comforting but strong enough to endure the tortures toddlers will put it through is a tough job. In the case of Colgate Mattress Atlanta Corporation, a manufacturer based in Cabbagetown, that job has been the mission of three generations of Wolkin men who have built a family business in the warm and fuzzy world of nurseries.
Since 1955, the Wolkin family has been educating parents on the value of investing in a mattress made just for babies. Founders Sol and Anne Wolkin relocated to Atlanta from New York with a company name and business plan, and started a factory in the building now occupied by Paris on Ponce on Ponce de Leon Avenue. Twenty years ago, the firm outgrew the space and moved to its current Cabbagetown location.
Today, the firm is one of the last family-owned companies dedicated solely to making crib mattresses. It’s overseen by sons of the founders, Alan, 70, and Richard, 60. Alan’s sons, Dennis, 43, and Brent, 38, are also key players in the business that employs fewer than 50 workers. Even for relatives not engaged in the day to day operations, pitching in at the plant is often a rite of passage.
“Every cousin has worked in the factory during the summer time,” says Alan. “I started out as a teenager, sweeping the sidewalk outside the building.”
Dennis vividly recalls the tough assignments he took on during his summer stints, including filling mattresses, loading trucks, sweeping floors and cleaning bathrooms. “I did whatever needed to be done, and it wasn’t easy.”
Richard fondly recalls one part of the job that was a joy. “My favorite part was jumping up and down on the trash. I was the compactor,” he recalls with a laugh. Alan also remembers his little brother jumping up and down on the mattresses as part of a Rich’s department store ad that ran in the paper. “Richie was about a year old, and he was the model,” he says.
The mattresses still get a workout, but it’s now done by the patented Colgate Jumper, a mechanism that resembles a small toddler and thumps on each mattress for hours—just like it will be used by a real tot. “Our mattresses aren’t just for infants; they’re purposely made to turn over and still be comfortable when the baby is older,” says Richard.
Durability is an important function for a business that’s held to a different standard from other mattress companies. Crib mattresses are made with rigid size limitations and consumer protection safety standards, making them a bit of a niche market. Colgate mattresses have a few stand-out features that have contributed to the firm’s success: First, only certified organic cotton is used for the mattress covers; second, foam and springs have been replaced with coconut husks “because they’re natural and organic,” says Dennis. “That’s just one of the ways we have innovated over the years; our mattresses don’t look anything like the ones from the 1950s. We were among the first to use natural and organic products and to stay ahead of changing consumer tastes.”
Seeking input from suppliers, the firm’s female employees, family members and mommy bloggers has also kept the Wolkin guys ahead of the curve, says Dennis. “The four of us focus on what’s on the inside, but when it comes to design and fashion, we listen to our spouses, some reputable super moms and the females who work here. They’re generally curious, and they ask good questions, so we value their opinions. But it’s not male versus female; it’s about the operational excellence it takes to maintain a factory for 62 years.”
Outside of the factory, the Wolkins work to maintain strong familial ties. “We realize it’s important to still have regular family time together,” says Dennis. “On Sundays, we have breakfast with the whole family, and that’s been going on for a very long time. We also have a cousins’ tailgate party before Falcons games, and anyone who’s home from college or coming in from out of town is welcome.”
And they’re welcome to pitch in at the factory, if they want to. Dennis has already introduced his two youngsters to the business.
“We’d never force it on anyone,” he says. “But my two kids do like to count the money from the Coke machine and ride in the trucks.”
Colgate Mattress Atlanta Corp.
779 Fulton Terrace,
STORY: H.M. Cauley
PHOTO: Andrew Hunter