Who would have thought that a simple cup of coffee could directly result in a major acquisition? But that’s exactly what happened to Imperial Dade a few years ago at the annual ISSA Show North America.
Everyone knows the show is THE place for manufacturers to showcase new product innovations and for attendees to be educated on the latest industry trends. But the show also attracts thousands of cleaning industry professionals, making it one of the most important networking events of the year and where deals are made.
“We’ve built a ton of relationships through the years at the ISSA trade shows. We have a lot of respect for the organization and how it has helped us through the years,” says Jason Tillis, president of Imperial Dade. “We’ve also had some major acquisitions that have directly resulted from our presence at the show.”
Jason’s father, Imperial Dade CEO Robert Tillis, agrees: “The ISSA show serves as the melting pot for the entire industry, virtually every vendor and every distributor attends. “It was at the 2009 show where we first met with Center Moriches Paper Co. The company’s representatives approached us right on the show floor and mentioned they were thinking of selling the business. So, we agreed to sit down and chat over a cup of coffee. Less than one year later, we closed on the purchase of Center Moriches. That’s what ISSA does—brings together peers, vendors, and customers in a place that is perfect for engagement.”
Center Moriches is just one of the many acquisitions made by the Jersey City, NJ-based distributor of paper, packaging, and janitorial products.
At Your Service
Imperial Dade was founded in the 1930s by David Katz. In 1982, Katz sold the company to Mike Nash, a long-standing employee. Then, in 2007, Robert and Jason Tillis acquired the company, ushering in a decade-long period of growth that continues to this day.
“I think it is worth calling out, yes, we’ve done a bunch of acquisitions since we acquired the company, but we’ve also grown our business organically,” says Jason. “What we always try and do is strive to be extremely opportunistic, whether that’s pursuing new acquisitions or seeking out new clients. What really drives us is to provide better service to the market, so a lot of the purchases have been around growing our geographical footprint, expanding our product offerings, and really just enhancing our overall service capabilities”
Imperial Dade’s geographical growth not only has increased its client portfolio, but it also has allowed the company to strengthen its relationships with customers by providing better service. “When you get into bigger cities, the cost of overall space is expensive,” says Robert. “Less and less cleaning firms want to store supplies on site, so we have many accounts where we literally deliver six days a week.”
According to Jason, it’s this superior service that’s allowed Imperial Dade to thrive in an era where many distributors are facing difficulty in the marketplace. “Our service piece entails a lot of different things and a lot of it depends on the customers’ operations,” he says. “Our service could be extensive training. It could be helping them develop manuals. It could be maintenance or equipment repairs or specified timely deliveries. It really depends on our customers and what they need out of us as a distributor. We make sure we are flexible and can provide that service.”
(left) Imperial Dade President Jason Tillis and Imperial Dade CEO Robert Tillis
Partners in Profitability
Not only has Imperial Dade made getting its products to clients faster and easier, it has also partnered with customers to make their businesses more efficient. “Cleaning contractors these days are being measured by factors such as the shininess of their floors or how often they have to change fixtures, says Robert. “We have a crew that does installations, swaps out old fixtures for new, and teaches customers how to do their own installs. We have even developed systems for our clients where the janitors could be alerted that a specific bathroom stall needs paper as opposed to the janitors to having to go stall to stall.”
Another way Imperial Dade’s increased footprint has helped its customers is by providing clients with familiarity as they grow. “Being in as many major cities as we are, as our customers’ bases expand to other locations, we can follow them to their different markets, says Robert. “This gives the cleaners consistency as opposed to having to deal with a different distributor in every city.”
While enhanced service has helped Imperial Dade thrive externally, the company’s culture has proven to be a great success internally. And that culture starts at the top with the unique father/son bond Robert and Jason share. Robert is a veteran of the paper industry, and Jason was practically brought up in it.
“My father and I were always close, and he was great about exposing me to his business,” says Jason. “I remember being a teenager and on break from school and I would attend meetings and conferences with him. After college, I worked for a separate small business for a couple of years, but I joined my dad fairly quickly after that and I’ve been here with him for more than a decade.”
Jason didn’t start out company as president. Rather, he took time to learn all facets of the business. “I think what’s been unique with my situation is that I didn’t immediately work for my father directly,” Jason says. “I worked throughout the organization, getting exposure to all the different departments and navigating my own way through the company. It was much more of an organic thing versus being handed a position. I got to wear many hats and understand the business itself. We have a great culture here and work with great people who have helped me develop. And I continue to learn a lot!”
Like his son, Robert is proud of the culture his company has cultivated and how it has stemmed from their own personal relationship. “When we decided to do this Imperial thing together, our core philosophy was our relationship was more important than the business,” he says. “If Jason and I could work together—great. But if not, we’d go our separate ways. That was the priority – treating each other with respect and letting each other be who we are, but also finding our way and enjoying working together. If we were not going to enjoy it then why bother doing it? And I try to carry that message through to the company. Work is meant to be somewhat enjoyable because that’s where you spend most of your life. I’d like to think our overall culture is one of delegation and engagement.”
Echoing Robert’s sentiments, Jason expands on the notion of employee engagement. “The culture for us here is so much about the people,” he says. “We empower people to do their jobs and like to give them a lot of room to maneuver. We’re big on results, but how they achieve them is largely up to the individuals. Our employees love the fact they have so much flexibility to get things to get things done properly.”
Make a Wish
That internal flexibility is reflected onto the customers through the service Imperial Dade continues to provide. “Our culture and the way we service clients is very similar to when we got here in 2007,” says Jason. “We use the word partnership in the office all the time since we’re only as successful as our clients. Our favorite thing is when we can grow with our customers.”
Robert believes the flexibility Jason is referring to is paralleled in the company’s messaging to the industry. “Our message will never be simply ‘This is what we can do for you,’” he says. “Instead we say to our customers ‘This is what we can do for you and if that works great. If not, what else would you like us to do for you that’s not being done? What is on your wish list that we can help fulfill?’”
With more than 33,000 customers and 19 branches nationwide, it seems as if the cleaning industry is receiving Imperial Dade’s message loud and clear.