21750 Van Buren Blvd.
Riverside, CA 92518
Back then things were different, our warehouse backed up to railroad tracks and products arrived from the mills in box cars. I remember coming to work as a kid with my dad, John. I’d work in the warehouse part of the day, then get to spend time in the office filing with my grandmother, who also worked there. I remember typing out notes to my grandmother on the big, heavy typewriters for writing invoices and purchase orders and playing with the check writing machine. I still have one of each in my office today to remind me how easy I have it with computers. I’d also go into my grandfather’s office, who was a little intimidating. His office was piled high with stacks of unfiled papers and product samples. He was usually on the phone and I’d listen to him. Most of the business was conducted on the (rotary) phone and it seemed to hinge on his or my dad’s personal relationship with customers. This was a key element to our business: relationships.
Both my dad and my grandfather were exceptional at building relationships, and it’s something I’ve always admired and emulated. I learned from them that building a good relationship wasn’t about telling the customer what they wanted to hear, it was about being honest, consistent and fair.
There were dozens of laundries in our area that we sold to, most of them run by an owner/operator. These owner/operators had the pulse of their business, they knew that for them to succeed they needed to be able to provide their customers with high quality goods that performed, and they were willing to spend more to get them. If they were providing inferior products, they would hear about it directly from their customers. High quality products are more durable and effective, and our customers knew that. These were other key elements to our business: quality and effectiveness.
I came to work here full time around the year 2000. My grandfather had long since retired and my dad had been running the business for a couple decades by then. Business was still good, but it was starting to change. The owner/operators that we had been able to build relationships with were reaching retirement age and had started to sell their independent laundries. Most were sold to large, (sometimes) publicly traded laundry companies. Sometimes the people we’d built relationships with stayed on, and we continued doing business with the new ownership, but sometimes they didn’t and we lost customers. Over time, customers lost to acquisition added up. We learned quickly that the things that mattered to an owner/operator, relationship, quality and effectiveness of a product, weren’t the most important things to the huge companies that had acquired our customers.
We were introduced to microfiber in the early 2000’s. My dad was a cleaning geek, and I was becoming one too. I’m not sure how to describe how we felt about microfiber from the beginning, but it was a cross between amazement and love. There was nothing quite like demonstrating it to people who had never seen it before. I remember the first time I demoed a microfiber flat mop. It was with a group salespeople from one of our laundry customers. We were in the breakroom at their plant, early in the morning. The floor had already been mopped that morning with a regular cotton mop. I made the bold prediction that a few passes with the microfiber mop would result in a filthy mop pad. They insisted that I was wrong, that the floor was clean. So, I mopped and showed them the filthy pad. They instantly became converts and my dad and I continued proselytizing the benefits of microfiber to anybody who would listen.
However, we were still losing customers to acquisition. It was clear that our business couldn’t continue this way for much longer. Around that time my dad, who was my boss and mentor, was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. He didn’t let that stop him from working, He was a tough man and came to work every day, even days he had chemo.
In 2005 I attended a seminar about selling online. It was one of those high-pressure things like a vacations time share presentation. I’ve always been susceptible to a good sales pitch, my dad used to say I got “the fever”, meaning I was going to buy what I was going to buy and nothing was going to stop me. This was no exception. I walked out of the hotel ballroom ready to use their software to start selling mops online and I built our first website. It was called MopsPlus. We sold more mops than anything else back then, and although we did sell microfiber on that site, I didn’t have the foresight to focus on it, despite my love affair with it, and it took a few years to realize that microfiber should be our focus.
MopsPlus eventually became Microfiber Wholesale. E-commerce grew painfully slowly for us, but I kept at it and started bringing in a respectable amount of revenue, although it hadn’t really taken off. Back then we were selling products that we were buying from importers, and they were basically the same stuff everyone else was selling. I hadn’t figured out who we were as an e-commerce company.
In 2011 my dad lost a 7-year long battle with cancer. It was devastating, but not unexpected. Losing my dad left me alone in the business, but it also made me more determined than ever to not just keep it alive, but to grow it. I started thinking about what had made this business work in the past. Relationships, high quality products that performed and lasted for a long time, and customers that cared about both.
I realized that we could do that online. It would need to start with the products, so I set off to find factory owners that cared about the same things I did, relationships, quality and effectiveness. We worked together to create products that were awesome. I didn’t want to have the same thing everybody else had, I wanted ours to be better, ours needed to work better and last longer. We started importing these kinds of products.
I found a niche where customers cared about quality: cleaning companies. Most residential and commercial cleaning companies are small enough that even if the owner isn’t out there doing the work every day, they’re connected to the people that are. So, if they’re providing inferior products to their employees to clean with, they’re going to hear about it. Cleaning business owners also understand that if they can use a product for longer it will be cheaper in the long run, because it won’t have to be replaced as often. Cleaning business owners are to me what independent laundry owner/operators were to my grandfather and my father.
Next, we had to build a relationship with those customers. It is hard to do that in the digital age and hard to do that when your customers typically place orders online. And, of course, most people don’t want to talk on the phone anymore. But we work hard at it. We encourage customers to call us by putting our phone number in big font at the top of the every page of the website. We also try to build a relationship by creating relevant content that our customers find useful and can even help them grow their businesses. We try to be as responsive as possible to email and chat. We try to stay in touch with our customers via email marketing and even though it’s marketing, we try not to be too salesy, too often.
I found a way to operate an e-commerce based business in a way that is true to our roots as a third generation family business. Since the time my dad passed away in 2011, we’ve turned a corner, we’ve figured out who we are as a business again and we’ve grown. When we were small, I remember trying to act like we were big. We’re still small-ish and I’m comfortable in my company’s skin. There are now a dozen people working here, including my sister, Blythe. If my dad and my grandfather were alive to see the business now, I know they’d be proud (and surprised, especially about hiring my sister). They’d be proud not because of the numbers, because honestly, that never seemed important to them, but by how we do business. I’m proud of it too.