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Published: Monday, 8/11/2003

Jennite Co. paver-sealer has asset of long history

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Jennite employees work on a driveway. The Toledo company does paving and sealing. Jennite employees work on a driveway. The Toledo company does paving and sealing.
SIMMONS / BLADE Enlarge

It's dirty. It's smelly. It's hot.

But owners Bob and Tom Wheeler never gave consideration to any occupation except their family firm specializing in driveway and parking-lot paving and seal-coating.

“I've always wanted to do it my entire life,” said Bob, who at 50 is the older of the two brothers who operate the Jennite Co., 4694 West Bancroft St.

“Same here,” interjected Tom, 35.

With $2.8 million in estimated annual sales, Jennite Co. is one of the Toledo area's largest firms specializing in asphalt sealing.

It is also among the oldest.

The firm traces its origins to 1946 and Toledo-based Jennison-Wright Corp., which left the city more than two decades ago and today is most remembered for a costly pollution problem along the Anthony Wayne Trail.

But in the late 1930s, Jennison-Wright developed a new sealant product designed to prolong the life of asphalt driveways and parking lots, according to the Wheeler brothers. It was called Jennite. It apparently took a while to catch on. In the mid-1940s, their grandfather, Cliff Schoen, was offered the chance to distribute the product in the eastern United States.

He promptly accepted and named his firm Jennite Corp. Sales were slow at first. But he gradually built a decent business concentrated in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.

When he retired, sons-in-law Kevin Smith and Bob Wheeler took over. Bob was the father of the present owners, who have operated the business 31/2 years.

The firm, which today buys Jennite from a Cincinnati manufacturer, has a fleet of 30 trucks. Three sales representatives write a combined 45 estimates daily.

“We've been in a slow growth mode every year,” said Bob.

“Even this year when we've been slower than in the past, our people are getting 55 hours a week.”

The firm was hurt by the closure of the Food Town chain, which had been Jennite's biggest customer.

However, the asphalt firm landed a large retail client in the Cleveland area, which has the potential to represent 20 percent of sales.

The firm has recently completed jobs at Spring Meadows Shopping Center, the University of Toledo, Toledo Public Schools, the city of Bryan, and General Motors Corp.'s Defiance plant.

The brothers find that longevity is an asset in the driveway-coating industry, which is plagued by unscrupulous operators.

The Better Business Bureau of Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan reports that Jennite has had no major problems and has resolved any customer complaints.

Builder Tim Gruber, who has used Jennite for six years for paving work, described the Wheelers as “people-oriented and quality-conscious.”

“The greatest thing is when they say they're going to do something Tuesday, they do it,” said Mr. Gruber, a partner in Ridge Stone Builders of Perrysburg

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, 43697.



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