Teamwork Prevails At Springfield, IL, Distributorship To Keep Facilities Clean, Inhabitants Safe & Customers Happy
By Harrell Kerkhoff Maintenance Sales News Editor
It’s been an eventful past three years — since the start of the COVID pandemic — for professionals involved in the cleaning industry. That includes distributors who cater to jan/san, packaging, food service and related business segments.
What will develop in 2023, and beyond, is open to speculation, but one thing is for certain — successful distributors will adapt. Case in point is MASCO Packaging Products & Janitorial Supplies, located in Springfield, IL, the state capital and official hometown of Abraham Lincoln.
“It helps that our company benefits from the services of a great team of people, who have always been passionate about their work. They are here everyday, and look forward to what is in front of them,” MASCO President & CEO Jennifer Wagner said. “That leads to a tradition of providing superior quality products and customer service.”
Change is part of most industries, and that has certainly been true for those involved in cleaning. The good news is, change can be a positive for company professionals who know how to respond.
“You have to remain optimistic, as change can be challenging, and we (at MASCO) are very optimistic,” MASCO Senior Business Development Specialist Cress B. Maddox said. “We have seen where business has been, and where it appears to be heading. We feel it’s heading in the right direction. It’s important to adapt, stay sharp and constantly learn, as you don’t always know what is in front of you. That is what we continue to do, which will help us to be well positioned for the future.”
MASCO was founded in 1997 by Maddox’s father, Cress L. Maddox, who is currently a board director. He remains excited as well about future growth.
“There are a couple of projects that we are working on that could be very beneficial in the years ahead,” Cress L. Maddox said. “We do need more room in our warehouse, so possible building expansion may be in the works. That is a good problem to talk about.”
Despite changes, one constant remains for those professionals and companies involved in the cleaning industry — facilities will always get dirty, and people will always need such items as hand sanitizer, soap and paper products. It’s a fact that caught the eye of MASCO General Manager Jeff Dillman, when he started with the business nine years ago.
“I feel really good about our future, starting with our ownership and staff,” Dillman said. “We, at MASCO, realize the importance of thinking ‘outside of the box.’ It helps that we continue to participate in such events as the ISSA Show, looking for new products and ideas to help our customers succeed in the future.”
New product development has helped expand MASCO’s portfolio to include such items as air purification products and liquid ice melter. Keeping with the winter theme, the distributorship also now sells snow plows designed for trucks as well as sprayers and spreaders — helping building managers maintain facility parking lots and sidewalks during snow and ice events.
“It’s about finding niches, and listening to our customers as they discuss their future needs,” Dillman said.
Reaching out to potential customers is also paramount in today’s business landscape. At MASCO, that is being done through advances in communication and technology. In January, the company launched its new ecommerce site with two main goals in mind: satisfying existing customers wanting to order more products online, while also reaching out to a greater customer base throughout the country.
“I’m sure, for our existing customers in particular, they will see products on our site that they didn’t even know we offer,” Dillman said. “It’s an exciting new opportunity for both our customers and our company.”
Servicing Mr. Lincoln’s Hometown — And Beyond
Located in Central Illinois, approximately 208,000 residents live within the Springfield metropolitan area. Among the city’s many highlights is serving as the Illinois capital since 1839, and being the official hometown of Abraham Lincoln, who lived in the city from 1837 until 1861, when he left to become the 16th president of the United States. Among other historical sites, Lincoln’s home, presidential library and tomb can all be visited at Springfield.
Along with its historical significance, as a state capital, Springfield is home to a multitude of government facilities, as well as manufacturing, health care and general businesses — all in need of jan/san and packaging supplies and expertise.
“We have found, over the years, that a lot of customers in the area want to buy local, which we of course encourage,” Dillman said “It also helps that MASCO is a BEP Certified female-owned business.
“Our primary service region extends to an approximate 150 mile radius surrounding Springfield, but we ship products throughout the United States. We are centrally located in many ways — both within the city, our service region, the state and the country. That helps us assist a large demographic of customers.”
Officially, the history of MASCO Packaging Products & Janitorial Supplies dates to 1997, but like most successful businesses, the company’s roots extend further back.
Cress L. Maddox has spent a long career servicing the needs of away-from-home paper, packaging and jan/san customers in the Springfield area. He worked for 20 years at Capital City Paper, where he eventually managed, and then purchased (in 1990), a division of that company, to start Maintenance Supply Corporation — a janitorial cleaning service and professional window cleaning business. It remains a sister company to MASCO.
“Eventually, we moved next door to our current location, and started selling products from our inventory,” Cress L. Maddox said. “That is how MASCO Packaging Products & Janitorial Supplies began. At first, MASCO started primarily as a packaging distributorship, but has since shifted to 60 percent packaging and 40 percent janitorial, with the latter percentage continuing to grow.”
Today, to meet the needs of its growing jan/san customer base, MASCO provides such products as floor equipment and related supplies, cleaning chemicals, disinfectants and sanitizers, hand sanitizers, paper and tissue products, can liners and a variety of other items.
On the packaging side, products include corrugated boxes, food packaging supplies, poly bags, pouches, bubble wrap, foam, shrink and stretch films, and tape. Custom packaging is also available.
Within the jan/san industry, MASCO’s customer base includes all levels of education as well as manufacturing, health care and office facilities. Its main packaging customers include manufacturing, health care, offices and retail.
“We do have customers who purchase from both sides of our business. We’re a one-stop shop, when it comes to jan/san and packaging supplies,” Cress B. Maddox said. “That helps us remain unique.”
MASCO’s current 24,000-square-foot facility, located on the south side of Springfield, was built seven years ago. It includes office space, a warehouse and several loading docks. Due to Springfield’s location between St. Louis and Chicago, and the rivalry of area baseball fans, two of the loading dock doors feature either a logo of the St. Louis Cardinals or the Chicago Cubs.
“It’s funny the comments we get from drivers as they deliver us products,” Cress L. Maddox said. “Some of them only want to pull into the dock with their favorite team’s logo.
“We are very happy with our current location and facility. It’s worked out very well.”
Adjusting To Pandemic Demands, Current Changes
Representatives of jan/san distributorships across North America, and throughout the world, have many stories to tell of phones “wringing off the hook” by March 2020, as people desperately sought hand sanitizers and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) due to the outbreak of COVID-19. The same is true at MASCO.
“The initial demand was overwhelming, but thank goodness for our partnerships with key suppliers, such as Buckeye International. We never ran out of such products as soaps, sanitizers, disinfectants, masks and PPE items,” Dillman said. “We were able to service key accounts, such as health care customers. We even added key heath care accounts during the process.”
Wagner explained that MASCO officials heavily focused on approximately 10 core products, during the height of the COVID crises.
“So many businesses were shut down at the time. The only ones that were allowed to be open were classified as essential businessess,” Wagner said. “Therefore, it was important to get the clients who were open with the supplies that they needed the most.”
She estimated the greatest demand for COVID-related products lasted approximatively eight months to a year.
“It was during that time we, as a distributorship, saw the need to do things a little differently, in order to better help those customers who were still open,” Wagner said.
Although COVID remains an issue in many parts of the country, and world, life has returned to a certain level of normalcy. However, adjustments continue to be made, at MASCO, when it comes to servicing customers.
“The first adjustment, during the pandemic, was having to stay in the office more, rather than visiting with clients in person,” Dillman said. “That change has since lessen, but not to the level of what life was like prior to COVID.”
Cress B. Maddox noted that many state government office workers, in the Springfield area, continue to work from home. Obviously, that has a negative impact on the number of jan/san supplies being sold to certain government facilities.
“We soon learned, as the pandemic progressed, just how dependant we were on those facilities,” Cress B. Maddox said. “We have had to change focus and concentrate more on other markets, such as health care, involving facilities that must remain open.
“Currently, we do not know if the office building segment will ever get to the level it was, prior to the pandemic. We have also received more requests from customers who are seeking robotic cleaning equipment, as there seems to be fewer people available to actually clean buildings.”
Wagner added: “Those are definitely hybrid situations that we have had to deal with and adapt to, because of the pandemic.”
Despite such challenges, Dillman said overall business remains strong at MASCO, especially in the health care and manufacturing segments.
“The business climate, for us, is good, although it’s still tough to meet in person with certain customers. A lot of people are still working from home,” he explained. “There are also uncertainties with rising costs. It helps that we have maintained strong lines of communication with customers. That involves our ownership, as well as office and sales personnel.”
He added inflationary issues remain.
“We keep wondering when certain prices will stop increasing. It’s a challenge, and one that must be constantly monitored,” Dillman said. “It often helps to look for alternative products, which is why we attend such events as the ISSA Show. That allows us to find new products to offer, and manufacturers to work with, helping our customers along with way.”
Another global challenge that has been exacerbated by the pandemic is supply chain delays. The jan/san industry is not immune, although both Dillman and Cress B. Maddox reported such delays have eased.
“The main supply challenge right now is getting parts for equipment on a timely basis, as many parts come from overseas,” Dillman said. “It’s often necessary for us to search online, while also talking with suppliers, when it comes to securing parts. It helps that MASCO’s buying power remains strong, and that we work hard to keep solid relationships in place with suppliers.”
Another challenge that Cress B. Maddox reported on has to do with certain suppliers having trouble finding enough employees, which can cause shipping delays. Nationwide shortages of delivery drivers and in-house cleaning personnel are other concerns.
“We have recently seen equipment sales go up,” Cress B. Maddox added. “I think a big reason for that is facility supervisors simply can’t find enough people to clean. Therefore, they are trying to make up the difference, and become more efficient, by adding equipment.”
Good Service Never Goes Out Of Style
Business-related challenges and trends come and go, but for MASCO and other successful distributorships, taking care of customer needs — such as with self-inventory checks and training — is always present and essential.
“The problem with the pandemic was that before, we always felt face-to-face visits, involving members of our sales team and customers, were the best way to build relationships and increase sales,” Dillman said. “As (Cress L. Maddox) told me when I joined MASCO, ‘Make sure you are in front of them.’
“That has been a challenge since the start of the pandemic, but we still try to visit with customers as much as possible.”
One value-added service that MASCO provides is self-inventory checks. It involves a MASCO sales representative checking a customer’s inventory on a regular basis, and then restocking items as needed.
“We can customize that process, based on each customer’s needs,” Dillman said.
Wagner explained MASCO relies on strong teamwork, from different areas of the company, to make programs such as self-inventory checks a success.
“That teamwork involves our office staff, sales people, warehouse personnel and drivers,” Wagner said.
Another big factor to customer service is education and training — areas where distributor representatives can separate their businesses from such outlets as big box stores.
“Education is critical, such as understanding kill claims while using disinfectants,” Cress B. Maddox said. “It’s not good to wipe a disinfectant from a surface after two minutes, if that product has a 10-minute kill clam. We make sure customers understand the process. That was especially important during the COVID pandemic, and remains essential during the flu season.
“There are a lot of different products used in the jan/san industry. A good distributor representative understands those products, and can help with education and training.”
Such focus can also save customers a lot of money.
“It’s important that the customer knows exactly what he/she is purchasing. For example, that person may be paying for 1,000 feet of toilet paper and getting only 800 feet,” Dillman added. “We educate the customer on how to look out for such bad deals.”
Both in-house and on-location training is conducted by MASCO representatives.
“Let’s say there is a school district official who wants us to train that district’s cleaning personnel on how to properly use, and maintain, floor equipment. We will go to that facility with an equipment rep, and provide the proper training. We may even provide food and conduct a mini-roadshow, letting the personnel operate the equipment,” Dillman said. “It’s important to design and customize training to meet each customer’s needs. When it comes to our packaging side of the business, we will even show a customer the most cost efficient way to package products.
“We try to not just be order takers at MASCO, but rather dig deep and find out what the customer really needs. It often involves cost-efficient and quality products, along with proper education and training.”
Another focus at MASCO is helping customers with their sustainability and “green” product desires.
“The focus on sustainability has become huge, especially with our health care and higher education customers. Through training, we can show customers to best way to become more sustainable,” Dillman said. “It makes a big difference, to a growing number of clients, if we can show them how to prevent more waste from entering a landfill. There are companies today that even have entire departments solely focused on improving their environmental footprint.”
A Loyal Crew
In an era of low unemployment and many companies scrambling to simply find enough workers to fill orders, the talent at MASCO has remained incredibly loyal. Turnover has not been an issue.
“We have a staff of 11 at MASCO. That includes three sales people, office and warehouse personnel and drivers,” Dillman said “Our company has been blessed. Its success can be attributed to our ownership, employees, suppliers and customers. Everyone at MASCO is treated like family. That makes a world of difference. Several of us are also heavily involved within the community, serving on different boards and chambers.”
Dedicated service at MASCO starts at the management level. Wagner has been with the organization since 1991, several years prior to MASCO’s inception.
Cress B. Maddox started in sales at MASCO in 2007. Prior to that, he worked in the warehouse and drove for the business.
Dillman is the “new” guy within the management group, starting in 2015 after serving as a regional manager for Terminix, and spending 20 years in government work.
Other office personnel include: Purchasing Manager Jamie Burnett, Business Development Specialist Andy Lunt, Customer Support & Front of House Specialist Tara Smith, and Business Development Specialist Jim Allred.
Meanwhile, in the back, are Warehouse Manager Grady Peavy, Floor Equipment Specialist/Installer/Driver Lee Reynolds, and Warehouse Associates/Drivers Mark Magee and Ryan Moss.
Reynolds heads the company’s equipment service department, which Dillman said has grown in size over the past several years.
“We service all brands of equipment. When a customer calls, we will try to diagnose the problem over the phone, in hopes that the customer can fix it. If that does not work, we will fix it ourselves onsite or bring it back to our shop to be fixed,” Dillman said, “Lee, who is a retired railroad employee, is a ‘good fixer,’ and has also been specially trained.
“There is definitely a need for that type of service. Many customers have fewer staff members today, and no longer have a good way to fix and maintain equipment. That is where we can help.”
Meanwhile, the company’s drivers are often the “face” of MASCO, when it comes to interacting with customers on a regular basis.
“Our drivers do an outstanding job and get a lot of compliments. They know how each customer wants products delivered, with the help of our office personnel, who do a good job at taking customer requests,” Dillman said. “It’s important to dig deep, and make sure everything is in order for a smooth delivery. Again, it takes teamwork. There can be a lot of stipulations, as it relates to orders and deliveries.”
A lot of care is also taken to make sure MASCO’s warehouse is in order. That includes using an advanced management system, and conducting quarterly checks to make sure a proper supply of inventory is always on hand.
A Good Business To Be In
As 2023 begins, officials at MASCO remain active on several fronts to help continue the distributorship’s growth. That includes overseeing the company’s new ecommerce site, working closely with suppliers and helping customers with the many challenges they face.
“When it comes to everyone at MASCO — as well as our suppliers and our customers — we are all on the same team. The objective is to improve the health and well-being of people, and the facilities they occupy,” Wagner said. “I feel honesty and integrity serve as our company’s backbone.”
Wagner, and her co-workers, are also appreciative for the type of work they have chosen in the distribution business.
“One of the great things about working in distribution, every day is different,” she said.
Cress B. Maddox agreed, adding it’s exciting to see MASCO’s product line expand.
“We didn’t used to sell such items as snow plows, sprayers and spreaders. Today, we can litterly provide anything a customer could want, while taking care of a facility and its grounds,” he said. “There is also an up-and-down nature to the type of products that are in demand, which keeps us on our toes. It’s often seasonal. For example, now that it’s winter, more schools are asking for masks and hand sanitizers to combat the flu season. We also conduct a lot of business with ice melter.”
For Dillman, a major benefit of the distribution business is that it can provide good careers for people willing to work hard.
“To me, it’s about longevity: I see a career, and I see products that we sell that customers are always going to need,” he said. “It can be both a fun and challenging industry — every day.
“There are a lot of different products that can be sold in this business, and a lot of different segments to sell them into — providing many opportunities. Like one of our sales people, Andy Lunt, often says, ‘The smarter you work, the more money you can make.’”