Alice Antunes has done just about every job there is in the granite business. The only thing she might refuse to do again is help lift the immensely heavy slabs; everything else is fair game-sales, advertising, accounting, importing, you name it. She and her husband, John, owners of Distinctive Granite, built this extremely successful business from the ground up. She calls their story "the American Dream" because her husband emigrated from Portugal and was never formally educated in the United States, while she herself "only went to beauty school." But what the pair lacked in book learning, they made up for with their work ethic and strength of purpose.
"We used to drive around at night, and I'd sit on top of the car and put flyers in mailboxes," recalls Alice of when she and John first started the company in New York. "We had one van, a couple guys working for us, and I did all the handwritten bills. But the business grew because John was such a meticulous, hard worker. He was determined to make it work, so I tried to stand behind him the best I could."
That was fifteen years ago, and since then Distinctive Granite has expanded and given rise to its sister company, AGM Imports, which brings wholesale granite into the United States. The Antunes' empire encompasses nine locations, with warehouses in Atlanta and Charleston and showrooms in New York, Hilton Head, Okatie and Pooler. It's a family business, and all three of Alice's children help run it; when her husband suggested opening yet another location she cried, "But we're out of kids!"
So how did this former hairdresser ever manage to carve her way through the male-dominated world of stone?
"I was forced into it," she said cheerfully and without a trace of resentment. "I just did whatever I had to do to keep things running-the banking, insurance, pricing, customer service-whatever my husband wasn't there to do, I had to learn."
Despite having grown up in what she calls "an old-fashioned Italian family where the son was always more important," Alice never allowed herself to be intimidated by any aspect of business. And she credits her husband with helping give her the confidence to perform any task.
"Even if you're not educated or you don't have the skills, you can learn anything," she affirmed, speaking especially to other women hoping to make a name for themselves in business. "I used to be scared of all these professionals, thinking, 'I'm just a hairdresser.' But there's no limit to what you can learn."
Meanwhile, she has brought a more traditionally feminine aspect to the company by making it a sponsor of the Children's Relief Fund, an island-based organization that she helped start ten years ago with a group of volunteers who met in her kitchen. The Fund benefits local children with special needs, a segment of the population that Alice feels a strong connection to.
"There were a few Down syndrome kids who used to come into the beauty shop, and some of the other girls were afraid to cut their hair," she said. "I took them all in because they were just the most fun to work with-always excited, happy to see you and thrilled to get a haircut."
Alice continues to be involved with the Children's Relief Fund and helps out by going to events and taking pictures of the children to send to sponsors.
"You don't realize how many people it touches," she said of the organization's contribution to the community. "Looking at how hard these women work to take care of their special needs children-and a lot of them are single moms-they really need the help. It feels good to give back."
Hometown: Long Island, NY Hobbies: gardening, photography, pottery, cooking and her dogs Favorite foods: pasta, popcorn and pizza Favorite place: Madeira, an island off of Portugal Words to live by: "When you do good, you feel good."