By Alexandra Smith
CUDDY, Pa.— Hard work, passion, companionship, and positivity are some of the qualities needed when opening your own business, according to the owners and operators of Zottola Fab, a successful small business in the Pittsburgh area.
Zottola Fab, a family-owned and operated steel fabrication shop has been in business fabricating and erecting metal products in the Pittsburgh area for over 20 years. Zottola Fab was created in 1986 by Eugene Zottola and two of his sons, Fred and Gene. The family started out working from their detached garage in Oakdale, Pa., and seven years later purchased a building in Cuddy, Pa. that included three acres of property.
Eventually, Eugene retired from the business, as he suffered from retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease which eventually caused him to lose his sight. Fred and Gene now co-own the business, and various family members work for them including Gene’s wife as the secretary, Fred’s son as a welder, and Gene’s son-in-law as a welder.
Gene said that the hardest part about starting his own business was “giving up the security of a weekly paycheck at my previous job, while continuing to provide for my wife and two young daughters, along with keeping up with house and car payments.”
Gene’s wife, Toni, handles the clerical work at Zottola Fab and said that learning accounting and taxes was one of the hardest parts in initially opening the business. “The most important thing I learned was how much more I needed to learn if I was going to be able to help the company,” she said.
Establishing a solid customer base, according to Fred, was crucial in starting Zottola Fab. “Customer base and notoriety probably took three-to-four years to reach a somewhat comfort in relying on repeat work from a handful of companies,” he said. “A solid customer base probably took six-to-eight years.”
Toni said that the fluctuations of the economy have affected Zottola Fab. “After the terrorist attacks in 2001, things got bad,” she said. “It took about a year and a half to catch up with us. Work slowed down a lot and some businesses we had worked with on jobs never recovered. We did not ask any of our employees to take any pay cuts, but my husband, Fred, and I did. That’s the only way to make it work during times like that, that and the Lord’s help.”
Fred said that an average work day for him is busy. “As an owner, my job is to help out and oversee work being done,” he said. “I schedule deliveries and installation dates with customers. During the week, various things can affect jobs being on schedule. Equipment break downs, weather issues, men calling off sick, and materials failing to show up to be worked on are just a few factors that I deal with.”
As Zottola Fab’s secretary, Toni said she is in the office by 7 a.m. “I start by checking email, then I go to the post office each morning to check the regular mail,” she said. “Bills need to be paid, customers need billed with a plethora of forms filled out, contracts need to be reviewed, payroll needs to be done, and phones need answered. I am often on the phone with the lawyer or the accountant or the insurance man to ensure that everything about our business is legal, efficient, and protected.”
Gene said that his favorite part of owning a business is helping others, adding, “We also like to provide work for other people to do and try to be good employers. We want to help our employees become better at what they do.”
According to Toni, trying to schedule vacations is one of the hardest aspects of owning a business. “It’s really hard to be on vacation,” she said. “We worry about those still at work. Something unusual always seems to happen when we’re away, no matter how many plans we make, something out of the ordinary seems to come up.”
Fred said that his favorite aspect about owning a business is “bidding on jobs, talking with customers, working the jobs through, and overseeing work performances.” He said that his least favorite aspect of owning a business is “paying taxes, bills, utilities, payroll, and dealing with insurance.”
Employee Caleb Provance, a freshman at Robert Morris University, said he has been working for Zottola Fab since August 2012. Provance said he previously worked at a bowling alley that was not family-owned. “The one main difference that I noticed once I started working at Zottola Fab is that everyone is just one big family,” Provance said. “At my old job, I noticed that some of the workers didn’t like other employees and would call them names behind their back. It’s completely different at Zottola Fab. Everyone is friendly and willing to help others out to get the work done.”
Fred said that his advice for someone looking to own their own small business is to “work hard and go into it with someone else who is just as scared and hardworking as you are,” he said. “Give the business a couple of years to grow into your expectations. Always be positive, and the effort that you put into it won’t seem hard or burdensome.”