“My father was a little bit of a gambler,” laughs Arthur Santelli. “On the way back from World War II in 1945, he ran the craps table on the boat. Apparently, by the time he got off the boat, he had acquired six bodyguards because he had so much cash.”
When it came to business, however, Alfred Santelli didn’t gamble. He was a savvy entrepreneur who paid attention to trends in the marketplace.
Upon his return from the war, America’s housing market was on the way up. It was the era of the baby boomers, after all. So Alfred teamed up with his brother James to start a business in Lyons to support that market. The Santelli brothers dabbled in a bit of everything; they had a lumberyard, cabinet shop and even completed home construction into the 1970s.
Today, the company has two locations. The original lumberyard on Route 31 services the Geneva area and the headquarters in Palmyra – where most of the business is generated – reaches into Rochester and western Wayne County.
Since the housing bubble burst, its focus is more on constructing farm buildings than homes. “We’ve become more of a wholesaler,” says company President Arthur Santelli, Alfred’s youngest son. “We still offer products and services to people remodeling and building homes, but we’re very focused on the agricultural industry through builders who service that market.
“Farming was in a depression here for 30 years, but now, agriculture is booming in Upstate New York,” he says. Santelli’s best customers include Mennonite farmers who build dairy and pole barns.
Holding all the aces
Arthur inherited his entrepreneurial skills from his father. He took over Santelli Lumber in 2000, when he bought it from his older brothers, Tony and Jim. Since his brothers are more than 15 years his senior, Arthur considers himself a third-generation owner – a rarity, he says, as only “15 percent of privately held companies make it to the third generation.”
“My business philosophy is simple: Just do the right thing,” says Arthur. “Even if it costs you in the short run, it will serve you well in the long run through word-of-mouth. I want to evoke a feeling among my customers and their friends that we do things properly.”
Arthur also strives to provide a good work environment and decent benefits for his employees. This has lead to minimal turnover. “Many of my employees have been here for more than 10 years,” he explains. “I want Santelli Lumber to be a good place to work, and I want to listen to my employees and their concerns. My office door is always open.”
The anniversary jackpot
Arthur’s nephews Marc and Josh Santelli – Tony and Jim’s sons – are both involved with the company today. Marc works closely with Arthur at the Palymra store as his vice president and general manager, and Josh manages day-to-day operations at the Lyons location. Arthur hopes to see them eventually take over the company, and to, perhaps some day, pass it on to their sons.
“I’d like to see us celebrate our 100-year anniversary,” he says. “That would be in 2045. I would be 85 years old, and the company would be into the fifth generation by then.” That is a gamble. But it’s one Arthur Santelli is willing to bet on.
A Good Bet
Giving girls from Africa a college education
Arthur is a big supporter of The Zawadi Africa Educational Fund – “a program designed to provide scholarships to academically gifted girls from disadvantaged backgrounds from Africa to pursue higher education in the USA, Uganda, Ghana, South Africa and Kenya.” Hobart and William Smith Colleges (HWS) in Geneva is a participant in the program.
Arthur learned about the program in 2010 while listening to the organization’s president, Susan Mboya, speak on C-SPAN. He contacted Mboya to learn more, and today sponsors Kenyan Amira Ali Abdulkadir, who studies international relations at HWS. Her room and board during her four years at the college has been paid for by Arthur.
HWS President Mark Gearan appreciates Arthur’s support. “He was moved to reach across the globe to make higher education a reality for a stranger,” he said in a press release, “and we’re honored and thrilled that we can be part of that experience.”
For information about services, pricing or company history, visit santellilumber.com, or call 315-597-4884 for the Palmyra store or 315-946-4867 for the Lyons location.
by Alyssa LaFaro