HAWAII AT WORK
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL /
Carol O'Neill does a little of just about everything at Bella Pietra, aka Natural Stone LLC, which is owned by her sister, Layla Dedrick. She joined the company 3 1/2 years ago after working for 10 years at California Pizza Kitchen in Kahala. Above, O'Neill last week posed amid some slabs of stone.
O’Neill is a natural working with stone
'Warehouse auntie' does what needs to be done at Bella Pietra
Title: "Warehouse auntie"
Job: General purpose worker at her sister's natural stone business
Carol O'Neill isn't one to look for excuses when faced with a challenge. Taking a cue from her mother -- Gladys Johnson, who with her husband Roy used to operate the Maile Service gas station in Maili -- O'Neill tackles problems head on, doing what it takes to get the job done. She absorbed that healthy work ethic while working for her parents at the service station. She then went on to a variety of jobs before signing on 3 1/2 years ago as a general helper at her sister's company, Bella Pietra
, aka Natural Stone LCC, which has outlets on Oahu and the Big Island, and is opening a second Oahu location in March. At Bella Pietra, founded in 2001, O'Neill is "one of those people who make everything run well," said her sister, Layla Dedrick, who operates the business with her husband, Andrew. "She's an integral part of our warehouse staff," of which "working the forklift is just part of it." O'Neill also reviews paperwork, coordinates the shipping of materials and works with customers. O'Neill, 50, is a graduate of Kamehameha Schools ("class of 1974") and has an associate of arts degree from Kapiolani Community College. She lives in Hawaii Kai with her husband, John. She also, she said, makes "a really mean potato salad."
Question: I hear your title is "warehouse auntie."
Answer: (Laughter) Well, some use that title fondly, and others don't. I recently withdrew from being the warehouse manager, but I float in and out of some of those responsibilities, and in and out of others, so I'm not real defined as far as a title -- plus I would be a generation apart from most of the guys that are back there in the warehouse, so I have the auntie status -- in terms of age anyway.
Q: How long have you been with Bella Pietra?
A: Let's see ... 3 1/2 years. I went from waiting tables to pushing stone around.
Q: Where were you before joining Bella Pietra?
A: California Pizza Kitchen, in Kahala, for 10 years. I have very fond memories of that.
Q: So how did the job change come about?
A: After 10 years of pushing pizza, I decided I'd like to move out of that atmosphere, and this is a family business, and I really wanted to support my sister in her success.
Q: The owner is your sister?
A: Yes. And hopefully I've been successful in filling those shoes (of helping her sister).
Q: And the owner is ...
A: Layla Dedrick.
Q: Is it she and her husband?
A: Yes, she's married. She and her husband both run the business, but the business is actually in her name.
What were your responsibilities there initially?
A: Well, the business has grown by leaps and bounds and has gone through the roof since I started here 3 1/2 years ago. I started off in the office, and I think there were probably just two of us in the office and one other that did some administrative stuff, so I was doing paperwork and answering phones. And I'm a laborer. We grew up in a family business and in an area that required a lot of physicality.
Q: Where would that be?
A: Waianae. Actually Maili, at a service station.
Q: Which one?
A: Roy Johnson's.
Q: Was that your dad?
A: Yeah, my dad and mom (the former Gladys Chong) owned that business.
Q: What happened to that?
A: Well, that was from about 1950, and they closed in, maybe somewhere in the mid-'80s.
Q: Are they still alive?
A: My mom is. My dad passed 12 years ago.
So I grew up putting in oil and pumping and fixing and changing tires -- and that would be on a non-hydraulic tire rack, so it was all brawn.
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Carol O'Neill is the jack-of-all-trades at Bella Pietra, which sells natural stone products. Above, O'Neill last week applied shrink wrap to a shipment at the company's warehouse off Nimitz Highway near downtown Honolulu.
How did you learn to drive a forklift?
A: Do or die (Laughter). It was scary at first. It's a big machine; it carries a lot of weight. But I got the hang of it pretty quick, and it's actually fun -- or can be fun. I think that's probably one of the things that my mom instilled in us: Do what needs to be done; see a need, fill it.
Q: So what are you moving around with that forklift?
A: Very heavy, heavy things. We sell natural stones, in cut tile as well as slabs. And nothing in an individual piece weighs probably less than 10 pounds, and you do that multiple times a day.
Q: Where are you moving things from and to?
A: Our stone comes from all around the world, so it comes by barge in a container, which is delivered to our yard. And we unload it with the forklift.
So we move it from the loading dock into the warehouse, where they are labeled and put on shelves to be sold.
Q: Who buys this stuff?
A: Anybody and everybody these days. For a long time, I think, it was thought of as an elitist group that bought it, but stone has become very doable for everybody.
Q: Is it mostly for indoors?
A: It's for indoor and exterior as well -- vertical, horizontal, any which way you want it.
Q: How many people do you work with in the warehouse?
A: Our crew generally -- aside from me -- runs six guys.
Let me rephrase that: six strapping young men (Laughter) -- they'll like that -- whom I adore most of the time. They're really good guys.
Q: What do those workers do?
A: They do a lot of physical stuff. As I said, everything is real heavy; lifting tiles and lifting slabs.
Q: Do you ever deal with customers directly?
A: Yes, I do. Generally it's after a sale has been made, and either the customer or somebody they've chosen to pick up their material will come to the warehouse, and I try to make sure they are serviced well and in a timely manner.
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
O'Neill caught up on some paperwork at the company, which is operated by her sister and brother-in-law, Layla and Andrew Dedrick.
Are you an expert now on natural stone products?
A: (Laughter) Far from it. It's been such a mad growth rate within the last three years that a lot of our material has changed and certainly increased in what's available. Three and a half years ago I kind of thought I knew it all, but so much has changed that I'm kind of in awe. Every day I'm in awe at how beautiful this stuff is that is thousands upon thousands of years old.
Q: Where does it come from?
A: Oh, it comes from Peru, Turkey, Brazil, Portugal, Israel, Italy ....
Q: Do you have any stone features at your own home?
A: I have my favorite colors of travertine and granite, and every once in a while I manage to snag a piece for myself.
Q: What are your hours at work?
A: My hours are 8 to supposed to be 4 o'clock, but I'm generally here till 4:30 or 5. I do a lot of troubleshooting. Things happen. The material is vulnerable in that if something cracks or has a break in it, we have to evaluate what needs to be done, and often times I'm called on to try and figure those things out.
Q: I would imagine that the company's growth has been related to the housing and home-improvement market.
A: Yes, the industry has definitely been in our favor. And Layla and Andrew are great visionaries and have a lot of integrity, so they have a great reputation.
Q: Have you noticed it slowing down at all?
A: No, I have not. Doesn't seem to be. I've talked to a lot of fabricators and installers and they're shaking their heads and saying it's supposed to be, but it's not.