MIDDLETOWN – John Ruffini is a living example of how the path to the American dream is not always a straight one.
When John Ruffini’s parents emigrated here from Italy in 1961, they knew very little about the United States. They would soon find out how hard they had to work to reach their own American dream.
“My father and my mother had never been here before, but once they reached New Jersey, they rented a one-bedroom apartment in Red Bank for 1964,” said Ruffini, today the owner of Affordable Precision, a business that specializes in sealing and repairing granite and marble countertops, after spending many years working in the telephone business.
“After living there for a short time, they looked around and found the home that I live in now (in Middletown) and we lived there ever since.”
One of his mother’s first jobs was working in a sweatshop.
“I understand why they call it a sweatshop because you really sweat yourself to death working there for so many hours in the day,” Ruffini said. “It was a tough environment to work in because there was no air conditioning whatsoever in the entire building. There would literally be one hundred people of all ethnic backgrounds just going at it making dresses or different types of clothes. My parents never waited around for something to happen no matter how bad it was. They always went out and handled their responsibilities first hand.”
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Making a living early
As a boy, Ruffini got an allowance from his parents on a regular basis, but it wasn’t enough. His parents told him to get a job to make extra money, and so he did. He did odd jobs, like cutting grass and pulling weeds around his neighborhood.
“I would go around to my neighbors’ houses and they would pay me three to five dollars depending on the job,” Ruffini said. “For most of the time back then, everyone cut their own lawns, but I was able to pick a few houses that offered me work to do it myself. They were happy with the quality of my work and had me come back to do it again.”
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As Ruffini got older, he continued to work retail and other odd jobs, but he couldn’t settle on anything.
“I tried working retail like the Wendy’s in Shrewsbury and the Monmouth Building Center, but I just had trouble keeping the job that I would start,” Ruffini said. “I had a good work ethic and I knew now to be successful, but I couldn’t make up my mind with what I really wanted to do with my life.”
In 1982, Ruffini was looking in the newspaper at some job training programs instituted during President Ronald Reagan’s administration to offset the recession going on at the time. Ruffini was intrigued.
“I went down to the job office in Red Bank,” Ruffini said. “The woman I met with advised me that there was a job available for telephony. I had no idea what that was, so she explained that it was related to the electronics field. I really had never seen a computer or been in that field, but I admitted I wanted to try it.”
Ruffini went through a three-month course and graduated the top of his class.
“I landed a job fixing and installing telephones at a company called Century Telephone,” Ruffini said. “I did that for three years and it was a great experience for me. We had a lot of major accounts, including Rutgers University, Merrill Lynch and Intel, just to name a few. I really took to it.”
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After several years, Ruffini transitioned into working with payphones in 1987, and he did that for the next decade, but the rise of cellphones started to kill off the payphone industry.
Down, but not out, Ruffini opened his own business, installing telephone systems in places like office buildings.
“There was a lot of pressure on me to pick up where I had left off and succeed with getting back into installing these telephones, especially since, this time, I was on my own,” Ruffini said. “I slowly got back into it and eventually picked up the slack.”
Learning the world of stone
By a chance meeting, Ruffini was referred to Tony Leiber by a mutual friend at a local church. Leiber had Ruffini come to his marble and granite business, Cornerstone Granite and Marble, in the year 2000 to do a couple of jobs installing telephone systems.
“After performing those jobs and making a great impression, Leiber saw something special in me and asked me to join his granite and marble business,” Ruffini said. “I told him that I knew nothing about this trade and I had never touched a tape measure. He simply replied, ‘That’s OK, I know you.'”
Ruffini was making enough money in the telephone business to pay bills, but was not able to save any money. So he closed his business and took up Leiber’s offer.
“I had a wife and two kids at the time,” Ruffini said. “It was a stressful time for about a year. I knew I needed to make a change and earn more than I was making to support my family.
“When I first started to work for Tony Leiber, he started me off at a high rate,” Ruffini said. “He was paying normally what guys with 15 or 20 years experience were making. Also, Leiber was not a man who minced words. He was very direct and, at times, brutally honest. For him to look me in the eye and tell me he believed in me, that was a real motivator for me.”
Even though Ruffini was grateful for Leiber for believing in him, he was unsure about his chances. The person training him even advised he go back to his previous job.
“After a couple of months, I touched base with Tony and I let him know that I was not really learning anything,” Ruffini said. “Tony still wanted me to work for him and, so he assigned me a different person to show me the ropes. Our first day on the job, Dave Dixon asked me how much I knew and I told him the truth, very little. He told me he also had very little experience on the job, and so, we were both in quite a predicament.”
Fortunately, they both gave it their all and little by little, and figured out how to do the job right.
“Basically, here we were, two guys with no one to show us how to do the job,” Ruffini said. “We went off on our own and four months later, we were the number one crew in the company.”
Ruffini left Cornerstone Granite and Marble in 2006 after working there for six years. He was having back issues from some on-the-job injuries, including a herniated disc in his lower back.
“For a good eight months, I was working out every day and eating healthy,” Ruffini said. “I dropped about 40 pounds and got my body in the proper shape to be in the right place to open up my own business. It was a real game changer.”
There were no hard feelings between Leiber and Ruffini when Ruffini started his own business, Affordable Precision. On the contrary, Leiber needed some work done and called Ruffini to come back and do work for him afterwards. “We left on good terms,” Ruffini said.
“It is a dream come true,” Ruffini said. “I take great pride with what I do and I’m glad I had those experiences, whether they were good or bad because, for better or worse, they molded me in the businessman that I am today and I feel very lucky to still be doing what I am doing.”
Ruffini mainly works in repair, restoration and sealing of stone countertops.
“As far as the sealing goes, I use a product called Granite Shield, which is a one-time application that guarantees protection against the marble and granite being stained,” Ruffini said. “It’s the strongest product on the market and it really comes in handy when performing jobs out in the field.
“With the repair/restoration part of the business, I fix chips and cracks, as well as hone, polish and resurface marble countertops. It isn’t very hard to do, especially since I have been doing it for so long, but I take to it quite nicely and I enjoy doing it.”
Ruffini looks forward to hiring some additional help for part-time work that will steadily transition into full time.
“I am looking for some retirees to come in and work about two to three days a week, and then, about three to five days a week,” Ruffini said. “It would be nice to have that additional help and surround myself with people that really know the business.”
Location: Red Bank
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays