- Tolco: Great Fun & 50
- By Nicole J. Bowman — posted 06/06/2011
This is a bittersweet year for the people at Tolco Corp. It marks the company’s 50 anniversary. It also marks the retirement of Tolco’s founder, William E. Spengler, who built the company from nothing into the international manufacturing powerhouse it is today and who continued to work out of the company’s Toledo, OH, office right up until January 1, 2011—the day he retired, at age 90.
Spengler founded Tolco in March of 1961. At that point, the company made only one product: the D-22 drum pump, which is still sold today. Spengler is fond of saying that all products were initially shipped F.O.B.—“from our basement.”
Over the past 50 years, Tolco has moved far beyond the F.O.B. business model, expanding its product base from that lone pump to a variety of trigger sprayers—and beyond.
Today, the company sells more than 500 products in 67 countries, not only in the cleaning supply category, but also in the food service, industrial, beauty and barber, and animal health markets. Also, the company now has 58 employees and a 100,000 square-foot warehouse—yet it remains a privately held family business.
All in the Family
Tolco prides itself on its status as an enduring family business. Spengler’s son, William J., serves as nonexecutive chairman of the board and Spengler’s son-in-law, George Notarianni, is president and CEO of Tolco. Spengler’s grandson, William M. Lewis, is also involved in the company.
Alberto Martinez, sales and marketing manager, credits the Spengler family itself for the company’s unique form of success.
“The difference is the corporate family culture,” Martinez says. “A great deal of it has to do with the company motto, ‘Be great and have fun!’ It sounds corny and hokey, but it really is what we do.”
The way Notarianni sees it, people want to do business with companies that they enjoy doing business with. “We really believe that if you enjoy what you’re doing, you’re going to be really good at it,” he says.
But it’s not just good fun that has helped Tolco thrive over the years. It’s also due in part to smart business decisions and making them ahead of the curve. For example, Tolco has been manufacturing in China for nearly 30 years, long before many of its competitors. While the company has been able to take advantage of the lower prices in Asian manufacturing, it has stayed committed to product integrity. Today, Tolco has five people overseeing quality control in Asia. “It’s very easy to make products cheaply in China,” says William J. Spengler. “The key is to make them well, to oversee production during production so you end up with a quality product.”
Tolco isn’t afraid to take chances either. When it comes to product development, the company is happy to listen to anyone who has a big idea. In fact, Tolco gets calls all the time from inventors and small manufacturers that have product ideas without the capacity to break into the market. While these ideas don’t always work, it’s the willingness to take a chance that helps Tolco to excel.
One of Tolco’s most successful products in recent history was born from one one of these chances. The super door stop was originally brought to the table by a contract cleaner who needed a developer. He had a great idea that came from his personal experience with a specific market need. But when it came time to sell the product, he couldn’t break into the industry while still doing his own job. Tolco forged a strong relationship with him, made a few tweaks to the door stop, and launched it as part of their jansan product line.
Nicole Bowman is ISSA's Web Content Coordinator and an can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; phone, 847-982-1012.