Local business has its own secret for success

Staff Writer

Staff Writer

MATT AUERBACH Woodbridge business owner Ernie Karayel has seen many businesses around him come and go over the years.MATT AUERBACH Woodbridge business owner Ernie Karayel has seen many businesses around him come and go over the years.

WOODBRIDGE — To Ernie Karayel, the secret to running a successful business is simple.

"I’m a people person," he said. "I help everybody."

Judging by his track record, you have to believe him.

Karayel is the owner of Tile & Stone Depot at 503 King Georges Road. The store has been in operation since 1993. In that time, Karayel has seen many a business around him come and go.

"You want to know who’s opened and closed since I’ve been here?" he asked. "I’ll tell you, Odd Job, Fashion Outlet, Manny’s Shoes, Bradlees, Nationwide Computers, A&P, Leather Outlet. They’re all gone, and we’re still here."

Karayel’s story is truly that of a self-made man.

He was born in Turkey in the town of Izmir, 400 miles south of Istanbul. He moved to Stockholm, Sweden, in 1975 to study computer programming. He returned to Turkey the next year to attend his father’s funeral, and while there met his first wife.

"That’s a story in itself," said Karayel. "I was met at the airport by my brother, his wife and the sister of my brother’s wife, although I didn’t know who she was at the time. I fell in love instantly and proposed to Selma three days later."

The Karayels moved to New Jersey in 1977. By 1980, the couple had two kids. To support his family, Karayel took jobs as a cab driver, house painter and building superintendent.

"It doesn’t matter what you do when it comes to supporting your family," he said.

Karayel began attending Programming Systems Institute in Manhattan. He graduated in 1985 and taught computer programming there from ’85 to ’86.

"Then Selma got sick," he said. "She was diagnosed with cancer. Eventually, the doctors told us to move to where the air quality was better, so in 1989 we relocated to North Carolina."

While there, Karayel got a job managing four gas stations/convenience stores for Crown Petroleum.

"It was my introduction to the retail world," he said. "That’s when I found I had a natural talent dealing with the public."

Selma succumbed to cancer in 1993. Karayel packed up his two children and moved back to New Jersey to be near his brother who runs Ideal Tile in Paramus. He married his second wife, Dina, earlier this year.

Karayel was eager to start his own business but needed some help. He got it in the person of his brother’s partner, who found an empty store on King Georges Road.

"My brother, Steve, was in Spain at the time buying marble and granite for his business," Karayel said. "His partner, Jimmy, called him and said, ‘This is the place for Ernie.’"

Karayel is quick to point out that people from different nationalities came together to make his dream a reality. "My brother and I are Turkish — Jimmy’s from Greece, the three owners of Ideal Tile are Italian and my brother’s tile installer is Armenian," he said. "Everybody came together. If we can do it, anybody can."

Another point of pride for Karayel is his time of service to the community. "We’ve helped so many people build homes," he said. "So much of our business is based on word of mouth. People say, ‘Go see Ernie. He will help you.’ "

Karayel said most of his business comes from people who want to renovate their kitchens or bathrooms.

"The ups and downs of the economy don’t affect me," he said. "When people want to fix things in their homes, they find the money."

Karayel has a bit of advice for fledgling business owners.

"Be a people person," he said. "Listen to what they have to say. If they’re wrong, don’t be afraid to tell them. They’ll thank you in the end."