It’s always good to “do the right thing”; but for most businesses, that’s easiest when sales are booming. Yet according to Michael Witt, chief operating officer at Blaisdell’s Business Products, doing right when times are hard—even if it means accepting some lost revenue—will pay off in the long run.
Witt’s wife Margee’s family started Blaisdell’s Business Products in 1950. In 2003, when she took over as CEO, the company’s sales had reached $2.5 million. According to Witt, the company has experienced double-digit growth yearly since, reaching $40 million in 2019. But then came the pandemic.
“In 2020, our sales dropped to $26 million; and in 2021, they fell to $22 million,” reports Witt. “We are projecting $30 million in 2022, although office spaces here are still only at about 40 percent occupancy.”
According to Witt, Blaisdell’s is a “very employee-focused company,” with an impressive 95 percent employee retention rate. In fact, during the pandemic, when sales fell by nearly 50 percent, the company wanted to do right by its employees—a move which proved astute in the long run. “We didn’t want to lay off any employees or furlough them during COVID-19, which meant we lost substantial money,” explains Witt. “However, the move has kept us in the driver’s seat. We have employees while others are struggling with labor shortages.”
And today, the company continues to watch out for its staff. “Here in the Bay Area, inflation is awful; everything has gone way up,” says Witt, going on to give an example. “Gas has come down, but employees are still paying $6.50-$7 a gallon. We had to do something to help, so we gave all our office workers a $500 a month raise and our warehouse workers about $250 more per month.”
According to Witt, Blaisdell’s is just as eager to help the local community, again putting its money where its mouth is—despite the drop in sales during the pandemic: “In 2020, we were still able to donate $40,000 to various charities in the Bay Area and we donated $50,000 in 2021.” In addition to product and labor, the company has donated $68,000 so far this year to local charities (see Winners, page 10).
So what does Witt think has made Blaisdell’s so successful?
“One, we are very customer-centric,” says Witt. “The customer is always right, even when they’re not. Another reason is that most of our employees have been with us a long time, and our customers and employees build nice long-term relationships. A third reason is our drivers: we don’t believe in turnover, so we pay them well, and many of them have
had the same route for five to 15 years. They also deliver to wherever the customer wants the product. And a fourth thing we do well is new customer acquisition. Our general sales manager has focused on that. With so many people working from home, we can’t just sit and wait until our customers come back to the office. We have 68 new customers so far this year—some small, some medium and a few really large ones.”
Where do they find new customers? “Most of them come from the big box stores,” reports Witt. “The independent dealers in the area pretty much leave each other’s customers alone. We focus on the big boxes because so many of them have gutted their salesforces. It comes down to service.”
Witt’s advice for other independent dealers looking for success is succinct: “You have to be able to bob and weave; to turn on a dime and make a decision. There’s no time to ponder. Things are constantly changing: price increases, inflation working from home; and who knows when there’ll be another pandemic. You need to be nimble and adjust quickly.”
Headquarters: Richmond, California
Top management: Margee Witt, CEO; Michael Witt, chief operating officer; John Banholzer, general sales manager
Online business: 76%
Main wholesaler: S.P. Richards
Average sales: $40 million