September 2010 Issue of Maintenance Sales News Magazine
Copy of article that appeared in the September issue of Broom, Brush & Mop Magazine, and for the September/October issue of Maintenance Sales News Magazine.
Although the company’s history dates to 1918, there are plenty of new things going on at Flexo Products Limited, a Niagara Falls, Ontario, jan/san distributorship.
The distribution, equipment service and showroom portion of Flexo Products has moved to a new 37,000-square-foot facility in Niagara Falls. Flexo Products President Steve Parker said the new facility features 18-inch walls and a two-tone brick exterior.
“The heating system that has been installed has dropped energy consumption considerably, while the 25-foot height gives us flexibility to stock pallets higher. We have doubled the storage space from before due to extra square footage,” Parker said. “Meanwhile, our new inside docks make it easier to load and unload trucks, and we can store full truckloads of products inside. As a bonus, we have beautiful grounds on three acres of property.
“Since we have been there, we have brought down our operating costs and increased our stocking and delivering efficiencies. The new facility comes complete with a 4,000-square-foot showroom.” Flexo Products also has an overflow facility located in Niagara Falls along with branch locations in Toronto and Cambridge, Ontario. Meanwhile, the company’s manufacturing branch, under the name Parkside Professional Products, is housed in a separate location in Niagara Falls and produces such items as floor wax, degreasers, liquid and powder dishwashing and laundry detergents and disinfecting cleaners.
When it comes to jan/san distribution, Flexo Products’ main service region extends north to Toronto and Oshawa, Ontario, and west to London, Ontario, forming a triangle that encompasses the majority of the company’s customer base. Niagara Falls serves as the southern point of this service region. Among the company’s vast array of jan/san and paper products are such staple items as mops, brushes and brooms. According to Parker, there has been a push as of late toward higher-end products in this category, especially when it comes to mops. “I would say a couple of years ago, there was a big push toward cheaper off-shore mops. These were items that may have looked the same as higher-end products. However, many people recognized that their quality was not as good,” Parker said.
“I would say there is a resurgence of Canadian/U.S. made products as a greater number of people are willing to pay a little more for quality. He added it’s better for his distributorship to sell higher-end mops that include microfiber and are washable. These products are considered a bigger ticket item. Whether it’s a mop, hand soap, broom, disinfectant or any other type of jan/san supply, working with quality suppliers is a must for Flexo Products, Parker said. The distributorship strives to build lasting relationships with its supplier base.
“It’s not just about working with suppliers that have nice representatives, it’s more about how they perform when needed. It’s important they can react to the marketplace,” Parker said. “This is essential for us due to where we are located. Although similar in many ways to the United States, there are also differences that must be overcome when working in Canada. For example, sizes for some paper products are different. There are those suppliers that make a commitment to the Canadian marketplace and some that don’t.”
Regarding the overall economic state of southern Ontario, Parker said the current slow automotive manufacturing climate in the region has begun to liven up some after a period of major struggles.
“There is a strong automotive manufacturing base here which took a hit the same way Detroit and other U.S. automotive areas did in the United States,” Parker said. “The local automotive industry drives a lot of other business. I would say this has stabilized for now.
“Overall, our business (at Flexo Products) is very solid. We sell a lot of different types of products, which helps. We supply over 6,500 items, and work with a lot of government-related clients. This is pretty steady work during hard times.”
Of course, the Niagara Falls area, both in Ontario and New York, is known for its tourism and hospitality interests. In response, Flexo Products provides many types of items for this business segment, including hotel/motel amenities and dishwashing and laundry products.
Parker said the 2010 tourism season in the region is being described as “an average year.”
“‘Average’ is what the area hotel representatives are telling us. Niagara Falls is a big destination place, particularly for those people living in the United States. Right now, however, the value of the Canadian and U.S. dollars is fairly close. Because of this, it’s not quite as attractive for those in the United States to come here (in Ontario),” he explained. “A couple of years ago, the U.S. dollar was worth 30 to 40 percent more than the Canadian dollar. A hotel room that was going for $100 (in Canada) would cost someone from the United States the equivalent of $60. That was very attractive. Now, the currencies are about even.”
Another challenge to attracting more visitors to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls has been brought about by the relatively recent passport requirement, Parker said.
As of June 1, 2009, people from the United States and other countries arriving in Canada by air, land and sea must possess a passport or equivalent travel document. According to Parker, this impacted travel somewhat to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls as a lot of Americans did not already possess a passport.
There has been an effort, however, during that past 10 to 15 years to attract more visitors to the region. Parker said bigger hotels and a couple of casinos have been built with the goal that more visitors will stay longer.
“One issue for Niagara Falls over the years has been the amount of time people actually stay here. A lot of tourists will come for a day, stay overnight, and then leave. There has been an effort to try to get these people to extend their stay,” he said.
Due to today’s security issues when crossing borders, Flexo Products has been limited to the amount of business it conducts in the United States. Parker said the Canadian/U.S. border has become much more difficult to cross in a timely fashion when driving a truck full of different types of products.
One area that has helped Flexo Products grow in recent years has been the increased supply of products regarded as environmentally friendly.
“We feature a lot of innovative and new items,” Parker said. “Flexo Products also has a strong computer and logistics program in place. We focus on minimizing back-orders and maximizing customer service. We are a high service company. In tough times, people want to do business with companies that excel in these areas.”
The distributorship features an integrated online catalog as well as a printed version. Parker said approximately 16 percent of the company’s business is conducted through an Internet program called “Customer EasyOrder.”
“We have been doing this since 1999 and are now on our fourth version. It’s totally integrated with our main server. A customer can get a user-ID and password to use this system,” Parker said.
Along with ordering products, customers can view past work histories with Flexo Products, such as invoices, pricing, etc.
“I feel customers like to work with us. We try to make is easy for our customers to buy. That is where the Customer EasyOrder systems comes into play. People can go in and place an order in 30 seconds,” Parker said. “For example, a restaurant manager can place an order after closing down for the night and receive delivery in a timely fashion.”
Customer training is another key element to Flexo Products’ success. In response to this demand, company officials are in the process of creating a training room at its new distributorship facility.
“We find it’s a great way to bring customers into our place of business. Sometimes we even offer them the opportunity to have their own meetings at our facility,” he said. “For example, a cleaning contractor can bring his supervisors to our place. We will spend time showcasing our products, and then we leave them alone so they can conduct their own meeting. It’s all about getting closer to customers.”
In business for 92 years, Parker’s great-grandfather, Sam Seigel, started the company. Steve Parker purchased Flexo Products in 1988 from his father, the late Earl Parker.
“I’m a mechanical engineer and used to work in the aerospace industry. I also have an MBA in marketing and finance, and just recently received a masters certificate in supply chain logistics management,” Parker said. “I have found that all of these things are very important for running a business in 2010. Business is getting more sophisticated. You have to stay on top of it to succeed.”