By Melissa Weinman

Tucked away in a brick warehouse in Cabbagetown is something you don’t see much anymore: a small, family-owned factory.
With around 25 employees, Colgate Mattress produces some of the most popular baby mattresses in the country.

“We’re one on the few manufacturers left in the city,” said Dennis Wolkin, national sales manager for the company.

Wolkin is the third generation of his family to work at Colgate. His grandfather started the business when he moved to Atlanta after returning from World War II.

“There was a lack of quality baby mattresses and he said, I can build better ones,” Wolkin said of his grandfather.

Aside from size, the main difference between adult mattresses and crib mattresses is the firmness, Wolkin explained. “Babies need a lot more support and firmness. Their bones are growing and developing, they need the support,” Wolkin said.

He said Colgate is still a tight-knit family business. He works with his father, brother, and uncle. And he praised the company’s loyal employees as an extension of the Wolkin family.

“The average employee has been here well over a decade, which for a manufacturing facility is very high,” Wolkin said.  “I like the people. I like working with family. The people in the office I’ve known all my life. They’re like family.”

Most products are now manufactured overseas in places like China where labor is cheap. But Wolkin said his family hasn’t considered moving their production elsewhere.

“We’ve always been interested in staying in the U.S. We know it would be a lot cheaper to do it overseas,” Wolkin said. “But we know there’s enough consumers interested in a quality product made to our exacting standards.”

Plus, he said, it would mean laying off their long-time employees.

“We have to live with ourselves and look in the mirror,” Wolkin said. “These people have known me since I was a kid. These folks are very good at their job. They take pride in their job, in their work.”

During a tour of the factory, a man wearing a baseball cap with “Atlanta” printed on the front inspected fabric coming out of an embroidery machine stitching the patterns onto a mattress cover.  Wolkin said they aren’t afraid to scrap something if it doesn’t look just right.

One of their most high-profile fans is Martha Stewart, who bought a Colgate mattress for her grandchild, Wolkin said. She later featured a Colgate mattress on an episode of the Martha Stewart Show focusing on nurseries.

Kelly Nelson, manager of New Baby Products on Cheshire Bridge Road, said her store carries Colgate crib mattresses exclusively, “not only because they’re local, but because of the quality of the product and the integrity with which they do business.”

“They are the industry leaders for crib mattresses,” Nelson said.  “They’re always in the top-rated mattresses and have been for decades.”

Nelson said she also appreciates the environmental aspect of selling a product that is made locally and doesn’t have to be shipped in.

Wolkin said they’ve found themselves in a now-trendy area of town. But when they moved their operations from Ponce de Leon Avenue to their current Fulton Terrace address in the early 90s, the neighborhood was a lot different. He said the Atlanta Police Department used to use the roof of their building to monitor crime in the surrounding neighborhoods.

But Wolkin said they’ve always maintained a good relationship with Cabbagetown, even when the neighborhood wasn’t so good.
He said his uncle hired a lot of local people, especially young people, to work in the factory. They provided jobs, and in turn, they were able to avoid becoming victims of the crime that plagued the area at the time, Wolkin said.

Wolkin said his family saw potential in the neighborhood as well as a couple of other logistical advantages: easy access to MARTA and interstate highways.

“We liked that it was residential and it was close to downtown and close to major highways because we ship all over the country,” Wolkin said.

Though they are an old company, Colgate has done a lot to stay relevant. Wolkin said because they are a small company, they are able to adapt to changing demands quickly.

For example, they now make an oval shaped mattress for the Stokke crib, a European brand popular with people living in smaller spaces. They also make a crib mattress with an organic cotton cover.

“People are concerned about chemicals in mattresses,” Wolkin said. “We give people an option.”

 

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.