This article appears in the October 2018 issue of 400 Life magazine.
In 2004, Marylene Briere came across two pieces of marble that stopped her. It was the earliest days of Briere’s business, A Touch of Stone, the ones she looks back on now as the most arduous, when she was still trying to establish herself after several successful years working for other companies and doing it in an industry dominated by men. Her husband had wanted no part of the business, so they divorced. Briere was balancing life as a single mom and a new business owner.
That day, Briere was scouting material for a job for an architect’s home in Atlanta. The hope for anyone who works with natural stone is to find slab pieces that when joined together create a mirror-image with the materials’ veins in the shape of a butterfly, and Briere saw that in this marble.
But she saw something else too. The dark veins extended out past the butterfly shape. There looked to be another set of wings.
Briere saw an angel.
“I’m a believer that sometimes you need to get the signs,” Briere said. “That was one of them for me.”
Briere has been in business ever since, in the same shop off Union Hill Road in south Forsyth County, providing the same kind of all-in-one service for natural and fabricated stone to commercial and residential clients.
Briere didn’t know it, but she opened A Touch of Stone at the beginning of a rapid increase in women-owned businesses in Georgia. According to a report commissioned by American Express, the number of women-owned businesses in Georgia has increased 87.6 percent since 2007, from 278,334 to an estimated 522,200 this year, the second-highest growth in the country, behind only Florida. Jobs created from women-owned businesses have increased 23.6 percent in that same time, and women-owned businesses are estimated to bring in more than $56 billion in revenue this year. The Atlanta metro area has seen an even more dramatic growth with 111.0 percent more women-owned businesses since 2007.
That doesn’t surprise Briere. She’s done work all across the country, from Chicago to Dallas to Maine, and she considered moving the business at one point. But nowhere could compete with Atlanta’s growth.
“Atlanta is booming,” Briere said. “Atlanta is an area where internationally you have people coming here all of the time.”
Briere first came here after studying international trade. She took a job with a company in Atlanta and helped import and export trucks and trailers around the world.
The company also had a department that traded in natural stone from Europe. That piqued Briere’s interest. She had studied interior design too. Briere saw an opportunity to combine her interests for design and international business and dove in. Quickly, she became one of the department’s top salespeople.
Briere loved the work so much she wanted to try it on her own. One of Briere’s clients was a real estate agent, and they found an industrial park in Forsyth County for a shop, a perfect base from which to do work from Lake Lanier to Buckhead. She bought equipment, hired employees, and in 2004, Briere opened A Touch of Stone.
From the start, Briere was a different kind of natural stone company. Some focus on interior design. Others focus on fabrication. Briere’s shop does it all, and she oversees the whole process, from the selection of materials to the final installation.
“I have been blessed with having the vision to put it all together,” Briere said.
Briere was also blessed with a doggedness that served her well early on. Women are rare in the construction industry, even rarer in the commercial field. Briere remembers one of her first meetings with representatives from The St. Regis Atlanta hotel for a potential job.
It was 2008, and by then Briere’s company was doing more than $4 million in sales. She walked into a room with 10 men, and they bombarded her with questions. Briere recognized their tactic. They wanted to see if she was tough, to see if she could handle the chaos of the construction world when plumbing leaks or schedules change at the last second, or if she would break.
“I think that that’s how women are perceived, especially in the construction business,” Briere said, “that it would be easy for us to break and get emotional.”
Briere didn’t break. Tall and fluent in three languages, Briere prides herself on wearing heels to job sites. She got the St. Regis job, and it opened doors for her business. The effects of the 2008 stock market crash started to manifest for Briere’s business in 2010 — she cut her number of employees down from 25 to 10 — but she stayed busy. Briere says business is almost back to where it was before the crash. She’s never advertised, always relying on referrals from clients, some of whom know Briere from before she opened A Touch of Stone.
Like Linda Meyers. A bright, stately woman, Meyers walked into Briere’s shop one recent Friday morning. She was with her daughter, Leslie. Briere first worked with Linda just as A Touch of Stone opened. Linda had been at a party at a friend’s house in Gwinnett County. All of the guests admired the stone in the kitchen. It was Briere’s work.
Linda, once the chairman of an art department in Geneva, Switzerland, has since had Briere do work at her homes four times.
“I come in with preconceived notions,” Linda said, “and she just handles me beautifully.”
This time it was Leslie’s turn. She wanted to redo her kitchen. Briere helped her comb through various stone samples. They narrowed her choice down to two.
“She has a very good eye,” Leslie said.
Briere sent them off to look at large slabs. She walked them out of the shop misty from the dust of cut stone. Nearby were stacked bathroom sink countertops for another hotel job. They walked through Briere’s showroom and out to their car.
And just in time. As Linda and Leslie left, in walked another client.