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Published: Friday, 3/5/2010

A Formula for Success

BY HOMER BRICKEY
SPECIAL TO THE TOLEDO BIZ INSIDER

“I'd like to do $10 million a year in sales someday, but we have to get to $1 million first,” said Todd Lincoln, co-owner of Sunbeam Products Co. Ltd., a maker of soap, detergent, disinfectants, and industrial cleansers that has been a fixture in East Toledo for eight decades.

After a dip in business during the recession, demand rebounded well last year, bringing the firm's sales to “just under $1 million,” said George Stoycheff, co-owner and father-in-law of Mr. Lincoln.

The company was able to maintain nearly all of its 200 customers, he said.

“The only customers we lost were the ones that went out of business,” Mr. Stoycheff said.

Sunbeam makes about 75 different cleaning products for area restaurants, manufacturing plants, and car washes and makes a number of private-label products for other companies such as janitorial-supply firms.

Mr. Stoycheff and Mr. Lincoln blend the materials themselves in Sunbeam's 15,000-square-foot facility at 623 Main St. that includes a warehouse and laboratory. The only other employee is Mr. Stoycheff's wife, Janice, who manages the office.

Brian Sansoni, a spokesman for the Soap and Detergent Association in Washington, said the $30 billion industry is challenging and that for a small firm, such as Sunbeam, to survive eight decades shows that “it's helpful to have knowledge of the market and helpful to have a niche.”

Among the longtime customers of the Toledo firm is Richard Jackson, president of Glass City Food Service Inc. in Holland, which supplies about 1,300 businesses, including 500 Dairy Queen outlets in four states and the local Magic Wok chain of restaurants.

“Being local, they [often offer] better prices than national suppliers,” said Mr. Jackson, who buys sanitizers, window cleaners, degreasers, pot-and-pan soap, and all-purpose soap.

Larry Huth, vice president of operations for Moore Metal Finishing Inc., a Sylvania automotive supplier, has been a customer for 25 years, buying such products as an environmentally friendly industrial cleanser. “It's a great product,” he said. “It's biodegradable and economical to use.”

Sunbeam competitors include Ecolab Inc., based in St. Paul; Zep Inc. in Atlanta; and Toledo's Impact Products LLC, a major janitorial-supply company.

The brand name Sunbeam dates to 1929, but Mr. Stoycheff doesn't know the exact date of the company's founding by his father, George Stoycheff, Sr., who died in 1980. Sunbeam was incorporated in Ohio in 1932. The elder Mr. Stoycheff, an immigrant from Macedonia, came to Toledo in 1911 at the age of 15, and after working as a photographer for several years, he studied chemistry in night classes at the University of Toledo.

Around 1921, he and a partner opened Toledo Shoe Findings Co. on Front Street in East Toledo, selling “findings” (leatherworking products) to area shoemakers and shoe repairers. By the late 1920s, he also was making shoe polish, saddle soap, neatsfoot oil, and other shoe products.

The younger Mr. Stoycheff bought the business in 1965.

By the time he took the company over, Mr. Stoycheff realized the market for shoe polish was dwindling, so he streamlined the business by concentrating on a handful of cleaning products. He devises his own formulas and uses “trial and error” experimentation.

Over the years, he developed a number of products to fill customer needs. For example, he formulated a dish soap for bars and restaurants that also includes a hand softener, and he came up with a product for cleaning the bottoms of boats.

Mr. Lincoln, 43, has a marketing degree from the University of Toledo, and he spends every Friday visiting customers and prospective customers.

“It's a great little company,” he said. “It's nice to be able to control our own destiny.”

Mr. Stoycheff, 72, said he has no intention of retiring. “I won't stop working until I die,” he said.



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