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Published: Monday, 9/16/2002

Fast response time keeps Kellermeyer competitive

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Tom Kellermeyer, left, and Don Kellermeyer serve customers in northwest Ohio, eastern Indiana, and southeast Michigan. Their company distributes thousands of products from this Bowling Green warehouse, built in 1994. Tom Kellermeyer, left, and Don Kellermeyer serve customers in northwest Ohio, eastern Indiana, and southeast Michigan. Their company distributes thousands of products from this Bowling Green warehouse, built in 1994.
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For 40 years, Don Kellermeyer probably has heard - and used - every conceivable joke about the nature of his family's 58-year-old business: the wholesale distribution of janitorial and sanitary supplies.

``When people would tell me, `Your name is so familiar, but I can't place it,' I'd say, `Well, have you gone to the rest room lately?''' Mr. Kellermeyer said.

But a clean fact is that the Kellermeyer Co., founded in 1944 by Mr. Kellermeyer's father, Vern, after he was denied a $5-a-week raise by another janitorial supplies firm, has become no laughing matter.

With 84 employees, nearly 2 million cubic feet of warehouse space, $28 million in annual sales, and offices in Toledo, Bowling Green, Fort Wayne, Ind., and Livonia, Mich., the Kellermeyer Co. is taken very seriously by its customers in the northwest Ohio, southeast Michigan, eastern Indiana regions.

``We get pretty good service from them and they carry the lines that I'm using,'' said Larry Friedman, president of Toledo Building Services Co. He said he wouldn't hesitate to use a competitor service if Kellermeyer weren't doing the job.

The 63-year-old Mr. Kellermeyer, who is company president, acknowledged that his industry is very competitive and rivals try to steal market share, but being a smaller, privately owned firm gives him a few advantages.

``I feel we can respond faster,'' Mr. Kellermeyer said. ``We also operate more efficiently than the big boys. We don't have an equity stock, so we can make decisions as we need to.''

A quick reaction was helpful this year when the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks led to an economic lull that hurt the janitorial supplies industry greatly. ``Last September was absolutely dreadful for us. It was the worst month in our history - we lost 25 percent of our business in the 10 days after 9/11,'' Mr. Kellermeyer said.

It was at that point where the company's philosophy to be more than just a supplier paid off, he added.

“Our outside sales team members see the customer twice as often as they have to.''

Kellermeyer believes in going further in other ways to help retain clients and win new ones. ``Anybody can drop merchandise on the back of a loading dock, but if you don't show them how to use that merchandise or assess if they really need it, you aren't really serving that customer,'' Mr. Kellermeyer said.

Besides selling and distributing janitorial supplies, the company supplies paper products, packaging goods, safety equipment, and packaging equipment. It offers several services, such as repair and maintenance of cleaning equipment, the service and lease of dishwashers, and the repair of commercial laundries.

The repair business accepts and fixes all brands of cleaning equipment.

From 1944 when the company was founded until 1962, it mostly just sold cleaning product chemicals and did less than $750,000 in annual sales. But from that point on, it expanded into new territories, made acquisitions, started and spun off subsidiaries, and made a general concerted effort to grow and diversify. It now offers over 5,000 products, many of which are stored in a 72,000-square-foot warehouse the company built in 1994 in Bowling Green.

``That, in essence, is what makes us different from others. We bundle lots of products and it all comes on one truck,” Mr. Kellermeyer said. “You get one big load, one big invoice. That's what we do.''

Small Business Profile is a weekly feature on local companies. To be considered, send information about your company to Small Business Profiles, Business News, The Blade, P.O. Box 921, Toledo, Ohio 43697-0921.



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