The second of two installments of the story of Austin Zelmer, who worked for Graniterock for thirty-five years.
During these years, (1929 -1948) Jeff Wilson headed both Granite Rock Company and Central Supply, John Porter was Vice President, and Granite Rock Company’s bookkeeper was Pete Fischer. The Santa Cruz Branch was managed by Ross McMillan, Salinas by Sally Wasson and Pacific Grove by Mickey Hansen.
“Bill Taylor was in charge of the Asphalt Plant (at Logan). Central Supply Company would operate in the red for January through April, coming back into a black figure in May, to a considerable extent due to profits from the asphalt mix operation.”
Austin recalled introducing morning and afternoon coffee breaks, “an innovation in Watsonville at the time.” In addition to accounting and office management, he took on the job of credit manager, and had many stories of helping customers to be sure they stayed in business. He recalled working closely with one long time contractor who was on the Company’s C.O.D. list.
“T. H. Rosewall knew his work, but was weak on bidding and extremely poor on collecting his own accounts. We became friends, and I remember once going with him to one of Watsonville’s gambling casinos, a false front cigar store and newsstand where the owner owed him $3,000. Well, in street parlance, the Chinaman ‘skimmed the table’ and paid Tom the money he was owed, which we then took directly to our vault at 411 Walker Street..
“I visited each branch office regularly twice a month to learn what problems there were, to assist in the analysis and control of accounts receivable, always weighing potential risk against vitally necessary volume of business. Being with either Granite Rock Company or Central Supply Company was more than just a job or position. It was really a way of life.”
Austin enlisted in the service during World War II, but in 1945 was back at Central Supply. He recalled one project that he was closely involved with around that time.
“The F.H.A. had offered a plan for people with no resources who had migrated to California in the “dust bowl days” of the Midwest. These people could buy property and build a residence, using as their down payment work such as doing the painting, digging the cesspool, or whatever they were able to do, with their labor to have a net value of 5% of the total cost. The Bank of America in Monterey made interim loans which were to be converted into long term F.H.A. insured loans when construction was completed, but in the meantime the buyers under this plan were making no loan payments.”
“The manager of the Bank of America Branch and myself used to spend our Saturdays and Sundays doing everything we could to encourage the buyers to actually do the work they were committed to do so that the dwellings could be completed, bills paid and the bank loans converted to the F.H.A. The buyers realized that as long as the work was still in progress they would not have to start making monthly payments. We would have to use considerable persuasion to get the buyers to actually complete construction. It was an interesting problem, of course.”
When Bruce and Betsy Woolpert took over management in the 1950s, they brought in Touche, Ross, Baily and Smart to design and install a new accounting system for Central Supply. Austin worked with them until 3 a.m. each morning for about two weeks, getting the new system ready, and then they did the same for Granite Rock Company. The companies were now growing, and credit was becoming a full time function.
In 1960, Austin developed a program to help good customers grow their businesses and improve their financial accounting systems. He asked the Central Supply Branch Managers to refer those customers who “knew how to bid jobs profitably and were good job pushers.” Then he would help these customers to set up balance sheets and quarterly profit and loss statements.
“Many times the contractor’s wife would start out doing the bookkeeping for him. I would take the customer to his bank or select the bank for him, get him a 90 day line of credit and set up an account to cover 90 days of purchases from Central, charging interest at the current rate and amortizing our loan over one to three years. We developed many good customers this way.”
Austin retired in 1969, but held fond memories of his time with Graniterock and kept in touch with visits and correspondence for many years. In a 1989 letter he wrote,
“I hope that we do not lose or down play the value of these personal relationships with our customers. It may be trite to say, ‘the most important person who comes through the door at any time is the customer’, but it was always my policy.”