In the early 1960s, Toledo, OH, and the surrounding area was a hotbed of companies developing and manufacturing supplies for the janitorial and cleaning industry. Around that time, Jim Findlay and Jim Lower, two employees of National Laboratories, struck up a friendship. When word came down that National Laboratories was looking to move its corporate headquarters, the two were reluctant to leave Toledo. So instead, the two put their heads together and decided to strike out on their own, forming Impact Products, LLC in 1963.
“Our company started out with just two products—Spiffy toilet bowl cleaner and Bowl Mop, which we still manufacture today,” says current Impact President and CEO Terry Neal. “From there, it was just a natural progression; the two Jims grew the company over the years by steadily adding new products, depending what our customers requested. While there was a focus on restroom supplies, such as soap and towel dispensers, Impact also branched out into floor care with lobby dust pans and other cleaning supplies.”
Teaming Up With ISSA
Six years after the company was founded, Impact joined ISSA. The company has been renewing its membership and attending the annual trade shows every year since. According to Neal, it has been a symbiotic relationship; as ISSA has grown so has Impact, and the rest of the industry. “ISSA has always been instrumental in Impact’s growth,” Neal says. “As a company, we rely on ISSA for information about the market itself and about regulations that are coming. Obviously ISSA does a great job of lobbying on behalf of its members.”
The annual ISSA/INTERCLEAN® trade shows helped Impact develop its business. “Exhibiting at the ISSA show is critical to our business,” says Neal. “The show is Impact’s biggest event of the year. It is where we introduce all of our new products, where we have our annual national sales meeting, and of course it is the one place where all of our top customers are so the networking opportunities are boundless.”
As Impact increased product offerings in the 1970s, Findlay and Lower decided that for their company to grow, it was best to split it into two businesses. It was decided in 1977 that Impact, under Findlay’s leadership, would continue to focus on equipment and accessories. Lower would take the reins of the newly-formed Canberra Corp., which would develop and manufacture cleaning chemicals and solutions. The split allowed both companies to blossom as their own entities.
Under Findlay’s leadership, Impact continued to add products and customers. “He (Findlay) was always an innovator,” says Neal. “In the late 1980s, he wanted to find a way to optimize Impact’s investments but keep the company under local control. So in 1987, Findlay established an employee stock ownership program (ESOP). Basically, he set it up so Impact’s employees bought the company from the Findlay family.” Findlay’s ESOP was a rousing success, with Impact’s employees becoming 100 percent owners of the company by 1998.
Neal credits part of Impact’s longevity to this the sense of ownership. “We’re rather unique in that Impact has only had three CEOs in 50 years,” he says. “There is a lot of continuity and next to no turnover in our upper management; some of our employees have been here for 35 years or more. This is because the main focus from the founder on up has always been teamwork, integrity, treating each other well, and showing respect. At the end of the day, people stay if they feel like their efforts are going into a common good and they are rewarded for success.”
After determining that the ESOP wasn’t a permanent solution, in 2001, Impact’s senior management team decided to look into other financing options. The company was sold that year to the private equity firm Park Avenue, which oversaw the company until 2006, when Impact was purchased by Hamphire Private Equity. Hampshire’s ownership was short-lived as Impact was acquired by Pritzker Group Private Capital. “The Pritzker Group has been a wonderful partner,” says Neal. “Impact has grown every year for the past 50 years. Pritzker has brought in even more resources and is working to ensure we continue to grow for another 50.”
Neal and Impact have witnessed their fair share of challenges and changes over the past half century. Neal has been in the jansan industry for 24 years and with Impact for 17 years. “When I first started, it seemed as if the distributors were little mom and pop shops,” Neal says. “Cleaning was low on the totem pole of priorities for schools, restaurants, or office buildings. But the cleaning industry has grown dramatically. Now clean AND healthy buildings have become more and more important. And we continue to push that importance. The occupants of buildings—office, hotel, school, etc.—are having a bigger say in the importance of cleanliness as opposed to the old days when cleaning was viewed as an afterthought while actually spearheading the move for greater industry professionalism.”
Neal also has seen ISSA change over the years. “Partnering with INTERCLEAN allowed ISSA to push from having one show in North America to many trade shows worldwide,” he says. “Also, just as the industry has become more professional and so has ISSA. The information flow has greatly improved. ISSA seems to be always pushing out updates and news and keeps the members as informed as possible.”
While Impact has had half a century of success, Neal is always preparing the company for future challenges. “We’re in a digital world now, and that’s a game-changer for the industry,” he says. “The information flow and how it gets to the users is going to continue to change drastically. Back in the old days, all the product information went out to our distributor, and they took it to the clients. Now customers know they can get information on products from a variety of sources, not just their distributors. It’s changed how manufacturers operate. We realize we need to be much more front-facing and transparent to both our distributors and the eventual customers at the end of the chain.”
Impact is facing the challenges of being in a digital world head on. “To make things easier for our distributors, we offer numerous training programs,” says Neal. “Our Safe Solutions training program was designed with reliance on CIMS [the ISSA Cleaning Industry Management Standard]. We’re developing a mobile phone app for our customers to find out exactly what products to use where. At Impact, we are trying to stay on the cutting edge of how people research their purchases.”
The changing digital landscape also has led Impact to increase its social media presence. The company actively interacts with clients via Twitter and Facebook, a shift from how it used to conduct business. “The first 40 years or so years of the company’s history, we hid our name,” says Neal. “One of our key selling points at the time was that we provided private-label branding. Now customers want to know who is making the product, and we want them to know the Impact name. We’ve used our recent 50th anniversary as a platform for reintroducing the Impact name to the customers through social media, a new logo, and overall rebranding.”
It has been a quite a half century for Impact, and with a forward-thinking strategy firmly in place, the company appears to be on pace for the second half.