Chattanoogan: Frank Baker – Stone Sober

Thursday, November 8, 2012 - by Jen Jeffrey

Success in business seems to be a family trait for Frank Baker, owner of Stone Source on Broad Street. His grandfather, Clyde Pruett, started a little produce business bringing it from North Carolina to Chattanooga and birthed up to 13 Pruett’s Food Town stores over the years.

Frank’s father, Charles, threw himself into the business and would take him around to the stores as a child, which prompted Frank’s interest for business. He didn’t dream of being a fireman or a doctor; Frank had always wanted to run a business. 

His father died of a heart attack when Frank was only 11, which brought new responsibilities for him and his two older sisters, Lee and Kelly.

“That changed a lot of things for us. It was very traumatic because it was a sudden thing and so unexpected,” Franks says. His mother, Nancy, had to take over in the business and Frank did a lot of growing up fairly quickly.

When it was time for college, Frank had only thought of running the family business – he didn’t really aspire to do anything else. He liked being with his friends and, like a lot of students beginning their college years, Frank felt it was ‘one big party’.

After losing his father at a young age and dealing with so many life changes growing up, the basis of Frank’s coping skills was to just escape from what he couldn’t control.

“I wasn’t really sure what direction I wanted to go, I was just running wild and not really thinking of the future,” he says.

Frank had signed up for an Outward Bound program for three months. “It was an outdoor leadership school based out of North Carolina and you spend 30 days with 11 other people in the woods, hiking from different places and living off the land and just what you have on you living out of your backpack,” Frank describes.

After the first part of the program the students then spent time in the Florida Keys on a trawler boat. And, lastly, hiking and climbing up volcanos in Mexico.

“I got college credit for that and I ended up taking a semester at Chattanooga State, then went on to Western State College in Gunnison, Colo., which was like going to a ski resort,” Frank says. “I became a fulltime skier/student. It was a time in my life where I just enjoyed myself.”

After Frank came back to Chattanooga, he began working for Outward Bound for the summer and ended up finishing his education at UTC.  

Frank had met his wife, Anna, during high school, but they had only dated each other’s friends. It wasn’t until later that they began dating each other and, after five years, they married. 

Frank’s step-father, Shuford Johnston, was a developer and contractor. He had asked Frank if he would be interested in doing some tile work. Frank got a video from Home Depot and began teaching himself about tile. “My step-father let me do one of his houses and it took forever. When I did another house and then another, I learned as I went,” Frank said. 

There is still one Pruett’s left on Signal Mountain and Frank’s cousin, Chuck Pruett, having started Greenlife Grocery, the family business still succeeded.

But Frank went another direction, using the experience he gained with his step-father, and he began soliciting himself as a contractor acquiring jobs on his own. “I had always wanted to start my own business,” he says. 

“I got more work than I could do by myself so I hired a guy who was actually more knowledgeable than I was,” Frank says.   

“I had knocked on the door of Glen Gene Deli at Hamilton Place and they hired me. It was a huge job for what I was used to,” Frank says. “I had a falling out with a guy that was working for me which was during that job and I ended up having to finish it myself and that was really the best way that I learned.” 

After hiring another tile mechanic, Frank had only been installing tile when he was approached by someone in the granite business who asked him if he would be interested in partnering up. The idea was to deter people from going to Atlanta purchasing granite for their homes and businesses. 

Frank was now building a good customer base. “We catered to people looking for something unique or unusual and had expanded throughout the years, but my partner started taking on Home Depot jobs in Cincinnati and Indianapolis. I was more interested in doing stone countertops and tile and I wasn’t really interested in mass producing things,” Frank insists. 

“I liked the craftsmanship side of it better. I ended up buying his portion of Stone Source in 2003,” Frank says. 

About this time of dealing with changes in his business, Frank had moments of escaping the stress by using alcohol. It crept up on him as he was encountering success. “I realized it was a problem when my business began suffering and my wife was done – she finally gave me an ultimatum to straighten up or get out and that was what I had to do,” Frank notes.

It could have taken a worse turn had Frank ignored the early warning signs and his wife’s insistence that he get help. Frank entered a 12-step program that seemed to be the extra support he needed. “It took me about a year to catch on. If there weren’t people who had helped me get through it, it would have been very difficult.  People who had already had the same experiences showed me that it is a common problem and there is not enough awareness – people still suffer with this,” Frank says.

After 10 years of recovery, Frank still involves himself in helping others who have encountered the same thing. Alcoholism can deceive a person when it is socially acceptable to have a cocktail with friends or a glass of wine to use as a stress reliever. Many people are unaware of their dependency on alcohol.

“I am glad I was able to find my way through the help of others and I want to help those that may need my support. You can’t just keep what you gain - you have to follow through and give it back,” Frank says. 

Frank was able to continue the success of his business by concentrating on the people who looked for quality more than quantity. ”More of our clientele want good craftsmanship instead of a company who is trying to slam in three jobs a day,” Frank says. 

“I had gotten most of my old installers back from when I started and I hired a guy that worked for me from day one named Samir. When he first came here from Bosnia he couldn’t speak a word of English. Now he is fluent in four languages, he owns two houses and manages my granite shop,” Frank says proudly. 

Wife Anna is a designer and works with Frank along with another husband and wife team, Blackwell and Dana Smith. Another designer he uses is May-May Maguire. 

Frank decided to add quality plumbing fixtures to the showroom for customers to be able to plan their whole kitchen and bath projects. 

Though most contracting businesses in remodeling and design took a hit with the recession, Frank was able to keep his well-qualified and skilled staff. “We heard the crickets chirping, especially at the beginning of the recession, but it would go in waves and we just rode it out,” Franks says. 

“We specialized in remodeling – that helped. It slowed down but not as much as the new homes construction. We had to sink some money into this place and we were just holding on by our shoe strings for a while; it was very tough but we kept every one of our employees. We didn’t want to lose these guys that had been with us for so long,” Franks says.  

He and Anna have two children, a daughter named Suzanna who they call Suki and their son Charlie.  

Stone Source offers specialty items and the majority of their products come from Italy and Brazil where Frank finds the most beautiful slabs of marble and granite.  

Frank can pride himself for being able to find a product when customers are looking for a particular stone or a particular look. “I’ve got enough resources to find what they need,” he insists.  

Specializing in quality and craftsmanship, Stone Source has seen competition come and go. “They try to do it inexpensively and do as many jobs as they can and we try to not rush anything,” Frank says.

“We don’t have any turn around with our employees; they are all skilled and we don’t take any short cuts. We deal with the highest quality goods and we offer design services for people who need it. We also did a thorough investigation of all the fixtures out there and only pick the best that will hold up,” Frank vows.

Building a successful business and overcoming the grips of alcohol dependency didn’t come easy for Frank.  

“I have no regrets. I will never ‘nip in the bud’. I take daily efforts to remind myself of this low time in my life. It is a part of my day to day life in which I have learned to be grateful for what I have. I work heavily with other suffering addicts and alcoholics. One of my favorite sayings is ‘You can't keep it if you don’t give it away’. Today I try to make a point to be kind, gentle and loving to all. I must be reminded of this when talking with another alcoholic. I really get my high from helping others but only if they are willing to help themselves,” Frank conveys.  

“I did have consequences and fortunately I saw how bad things could have gotten. I can always get back on the elevator and continue to go lower, but… One Day at a Time....”

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