Running a small business or two

My early Life and, Running a small business, or two

My wife and I have, for most of our marriage, been business parteners in addition to man and wife.  To make ends meet we cut yards when we were first married. Later we added landscaping in to he mix and “Scenic Landscaping”  was born  in Memphis TN.  That was in additon to woring at the Fedex hub and trying to get a few hours in to finish college.

As the years rolled by, and after an uneventful and short career in real estate working for Crye Lieke in Midtown Memphis, I ended up at Certified Chemical, a division of National Chemsearch, a chemical sales company out of Texas that focused on water treatment chemicals, cleaners and other assorted supplies. It was a 100% Commission only sales job, but in the beginning  also included a very small draw on the commission.  My boss was out of Tupelo Mississippi.  My territory was W Tennesse and included many accounts in metro Memphis and then up in to Dyersburg and several other rural areas N of Memphis.  It was a  fun but very challenging job. I covered a lot of different industries with the product line offered by Certified Labs.   Every day I was out the door with a car load of samples of popular  products out in the territory, as well as a lot of Swag to give away.  I had to turn in a weekly  schedule along with daily goals to my boss. This was before cell phones and email, so we had phone conversations every few nights. The calls were sometimes long, since I had to go over some of the sales calls in detail. Usually we had a few reviews of victories, and a few reviews of calls that did not go so well.  The calls  we reviewed also were full of reminders  to follow, the company’s sales template called the “Gears of Selling,” a 4 or 5 step process / template to move the process of sales ahead in a certain order. First Gear was to be professional and not sell products, but sell yourself and get interested in what the customer was interested in which was typically, family and hobbies. Then the sales person moved the process ahead using these “gears” to get to the closing and sell something.  If you are reading this, and are,  or were ever, a sales rep for a division of  NCH, and remember the “Gears” steps, go to my Contact page, and send me a message and remind me of what all the steps were.   The customer base at Certified labs was a very diverse cross section of businesses and industry.  I called on the old Coppertone Sun screen plant, owned by Plough Inc manufacturing off of Jackson Ave in Memphis,  and many others manufacturers in the area,  and also called on Memphis Public Housing Authority,  the City bus shops, and all kinds of small and medium sized businesses in and around Memphis and in to the rural areas outside of Memphis. One of the larger customers was a prison farm N of Memphis. I usually dealth with trustees there, and the farm  manager. One thing I NEVER liked doing was going in to that prison. I usually went in and visited the cafeteria, and the boiler room occasionally to check on the water treatment chemicals.  Certified was an interesting job, and I met a lot of hard working people. But after about 4 months, I soon realized that the expenses to cover car maintenance, as well as other overhead that the company charged to me, was a real drain on the commissions and that was how I got paid, so I  started looking for a new opportunity.

I answered an ad in the local paper listing a sales job “Selling chemicals” and among the benefits there was a company car. Our car had taken a beating with all the miles put on it driving all over the region  between Memphis,  Brownsville, Dyersburg, so a  job with a company car sounded like the job for me.  Money was tight, we had a new baby and another mouth to feed.   I had already taken a second job working in a near by grocery store to make ends meet, in addition to working at Certified Labs. We  had decided to trade in our car and buy a little better used car. Our luck hit rock bottom in the car buying category. We ended up with a 4 cylinder Ford Taurus, a terrible car. We were facing a pretty large repair bill not long after buying it, and were feeling pretty low.   When I saw that ad for the job at Cone Solvents, I knew I HAD to get that job – AND THAT COMPANY CAR!   I called in to get the appointment, and was given a time to meet Mr Goodman, the boss at the Memphis Branch of Cone.   I arrived a few minutes early, in my suit and tie, and as I was getting out of the car, smelled something familiar, and bad – our ol Ford Taurus was overheating.  ( I had parked AWAY from the door to the offices, and out of sight)  There is nothing like getting out of a car that is overheating and then pullling up the hood and seeing FLAMES coming up out of the engine right when it is time to go to a job interview! That will defintely get the adrenalin going, at the WRONG time! I found an old rag or something to get the flames out and just as I was closing the hood, I heard a RIP coming from my suit pants.  I was really in a mess now.   I decided to go on in to the interview and take my chances.  I crept up  to the door up the steps sideways and entered and was THANKING GOD when I opened up that door, the receptionist’s desk  was positioned so I could HIDE my rear end and no one could see my shredded and ripped pants.   Thankfully I was called back to the office and turned the best way I could to face the office and keep my bottom unexposed.  I had to walk  backwards most of the way back to the office where I was interviewing.    I sat down and Mr Goodman and I had a nice interview, and I answered all of the questions about different things in my personal and very short professional life, and he keyed in on a few things I was really not that famliar with but I faked it the best i could. It dawned on me at some point during this appointment that this company did NOT sell the kinds of chemicals I thought they did. I thought I was in an interview for another sales position selling cleaners, detergents, disinfectants, and lubricants, like at Certified Labs, however I was working on getting  a sales job  for a raw material chemical company.  I thanked the manager, and as I was leaving briefly met the man I would  be replacing in the field, that would be my new boss, if I got the job, and  said “Thanks,” then left to go home.  I got home, and of course changed clothes. (Time to look for a new suit!)  and told Anne about my crazy trip and what had happened to our DA%N car.  We commiserated together after I told her that one big obstacle seemed to be that I did not have a degree yet. I had left school without finshing my degree, a decision I always regretted, and promised myself to finish.  After a few hours, I decided to pick up the phone and do some follow up on the interview.   I called in to the office and was connected to Mr Goodman, the manager that was retiring. We said our pleasantries, and I told him I was just calling to thank him  for the interview and was hoping to be considered for the position.   He hesitated, for just a moment, and then proceeeded to tell me that  I was the only person that had ever called him back  to thank him for an interview, and for that reason alone he was going to give me a shot at the job even though I had not finished my degree.  To say Anne and were excited, would be a big understatement!

I was at Cone Solvents right at a year. During that time, our small  family was growing, with our middle son, Ben, on the way.  I  decided it was time to get out of the TN Air National Guard. I had been over at the 164th TANG (Tenneessee Air National Guard  Aerial Port Squadron for just over 7 years.  I relaly enoyed the Air Guard, a lot. Some of the greatest people were there that really helped me a long. But, from what I recall the Guard at that time had too many people.  It was a little hard to get promoted, and I had a young child, and another one on the way.  I decided to get out and maybe get back in larger. So I requested adischarge and recived it with an Honorable  Discharge,  and left, VERY appreciative of the time there.   I had some really great memories of trips to Alaska, Japan, S Korea, Panama ( ok, that trip was not not so positive) , Germany, Newfoundland/ Goosebay Labrador, and other places and experiences I never would have had and loved all the people I met.  A regret I always had was not getting back in the Guard, as I thought I would. Life got in the way.

In 1998, I joined Harcros Chemical co in Little Rock Arkansas as a sales rep for them in Central Arkansas.  As my career there progressed I moved to Atlanta for a short stint as a manager there, then took a quick detour to  Alabama before heading back to Conway Arkansas, all still with Harcros.  At some point I had started a “side hustle” named Chemistry Connection and started buying some surplus chemicals from a few friendly suppliers and customers, and was selling them to make some extra cash.  That morphed in to more sales and  resulted in an Ebay store that my wife managed.  In those days selling on Ebay was really a BIG thing.  The internet as we know it was  a totally different space. It was more internet than just “google,” which did not even exist then.  Ebay was getting a lot of traffic and was the most visited site other than maybe Yahoo, which had an early and very effective search engine.  Yahoo had also started up Yahoo stores, which orivided an easy way  to build a website on your own, even if you were not a coder.

I decided to to take that next step and build a “Yahoo Store,” and started putting hard to find chemicals and ingredients on a new website called, SaveOnCitric.c om . As far as I know it was one of  the first websites developed to help the small business or do it yourselfer find chemicals and ingredients online and get them shipped out without going through a lengthy process of opening up a business account with a large distributor.  The “regular person” could buy anyting from A to Z literally – Ascorbic Acid, to Zinc Sulfate and a lot of chemicals in between. Out biggest sellers were citric acid, ascorbic acid,  bentonite clay, caffeine powder and a few surfactants, with the most popular being “SLSa”  sodium lauryl sulfoacetate.  As time progressed, we added another website  and continued to add to the product line.   The business really continued to grow as the home crafting business really exploded. More and more people were figuring out how to make extra money and build sustainable businesses out of their homes making all kinds of creations like  soaps,  bath bombs, and other hair and skin care products.

Operating a business during COVID was very difficult . . . . ( write another post about operating a business during COVID 19 . What  a challenge that was. Thankfully, I had some really hard working, and very smart people to keep it all goong in the right direction.

We sold Chemistry Connection to Incline Equity and Wholesale Supplies Plus in Decemeber of 2020.  Until a  year after I sold it I had thought, and would typically say that  the sale was a good experience and that we were treated very fairly, although we did sell it  for an amount I consider a discount because of the economic situation we were worried was headed our way as COVID continued. However my thoughts of a good experience were changed at about the 1 year anniversary. Right at a year to the day after we sold it we learned that we were, unknowingly dragged in to the middle of some problems created when the team that bought us , (Chemistry Connection,)  as part of their “package ” deal, ended up selling the company Wholesale Supplies Plus to another private equity firm. In turn the people we had been dealing with had  all left Wholesale Supplies Plus. It appears at this point, a year after the sale  we ended up in the middle of a “good guy” vs “bad guy ” scenario whereby  we have had to endure a lot of undeserved grief from the new buyers and new CEO.  So a year after the sale, we are STILL reeling and trying to get everything settled (there were conditions to be met later after the sale,) and we just can not get any help from anyone and are just racking up bills from attorneys.  I have learned a lot, and no, it has not been a good experience.

In  2021 we started up a new venture, Level 7     Level 7 Chemical is a new idea to offer a wide variety of industrial and commerical chemicals, and many  supplies on a website more geared to business. ( write additional post about new business start up overall and during covid blah blah

Started focusing on real estate more . . . Hughey Properties. . .  .. AirBnb. . .  listings in destinations instead of around Conway. It has been very challenging since there is a lot of competition in the real estate market everywhere. . . .another article / post . . . blah blah blah

Linked In – Mark E Hughey