When you want to learn from experience, ask Jack Miller. Celebrating 50 years in distribution.
Life of a Jan-San Man? Just “Ask Jack”
When it comes to living the Nichols four squares of Career, Family, Health and Community… Jack Miller of our Greater Detroit distribution center emulates this core Nichols Way. When he sold his business Industrial Cleaning Supply (aka ICS) to Nichols in 2013, he was simply once again following his heart. In this case, he realized the need to prioritize family and health with his love of his work and customers. We are proud to share his journey as we honor his 50 years at Nichols and his dedication to the industry.
When talking to Jack about this tried and true start to his JanSan career, he said simply, “My brother knew a guy.” In 1967 Jack’s big brother sold O’Cello sponges. The guy his brother referred to was the branch manager of Sanitary Supply in Waterford, Michigan and Jack became their first outside sales person. Relationships matter. O’Cello went on to be acquired by 3M, and just a few years and a lot of learning later, Sanitary Supply fired the entire team including Jack and closed up shop. (Don’t worry, they tried to hire him back right away… Jack declined.) But the branch manager Jack, and a few others opened ICS. Within the same shopping center as the former Sanitary Supply. The typical battles for customers ensued, but that’s another story!
“Conceive, Believe, and You Will Achieve”
After a few years, Jack was offered the opportunity to buy ICS. “My Dad advised against it and recommended we just start a new company. But ICS had great lines like Rubbermaid, Spartan and 3M… and that would have been a major challenge to get those for a new company. So we sold our two cars and our horse trailer, re-financed all of our farm equipment, borrowed money from both my father and father-in-law, and went for it. I just thought, all I have to do is double the sales.” Jack and his wife Sharon used the company van and began their adventure. By the way, they also farmed 100 acres and Sharon was a dental hygienist. She quit that job to help grow ICS when they bought the company.
- Make Mistakes
- Set Goals
- Stay Positive
- Use, Know and Demo the Products
Double the Sales?
Yes. In fact, goal setting is one piece of key advice Jack offers to our team frequently. “If you want to make money, tape a dollar bill to your dashboard and go make money,” he says. And some key advice on how to do that? Positivity! One of Jack’s early industry mentors was a sales representative at Crown Matting out of Toledo (JanSan capital of the world). This rep always had a positive attitude, dressed professionally, and made sure to be prepared for calls, demoing mats and ensuring the customer actually feels the product. “He did it right.”
This gentleman set the stage for Jack’s manufacturer sales representatives expectations. And through the years leading ICS, when he onboarded new sales reps at ICS, he was very picky about who he let his new hires go out with, knowing that they would learn from these experiences. According to Jack, the very best way for a new sales representative to learn critical product knowledge is to know and experience the products for themselves. “Take it home, clean a toilet. Borrow the machine and clean your carpet, it needs to be done anyway. When you use the stuff yourself, you believe in it. If you teach yourself what really works, then [recommending it] to your customer comes from your heart.”
When you really believe in a product, you can use that product to open a lot of accounts. “I earned a lot of new customers with Pinky,” Jack said. Pinky? Sharon was a big Pinky Tuscadero fan… from the show Happy Days. And so when she and Jack introduced this new clinging restroom cleaner, the name “stuck” so well that even when Nichols acquired ICS the name and the product lived on. Check out these videos Jack created a few years ago. He truly shows us how believing in a product can help you sell it!
As the business grew, Jack, Sharon and their family also grew their farm and their boat. In practicing the Family and Community aspects of the four squares, each April they would take the boat to Florida and enjoy an extended vacation on the Intracoastal. Beginning around 2005, each Spring his friend Mike Olthoff would give him a call (one of a few each year for over seven years). They would get together for lunch and grow the relationship.
In 2013, Jack and Sharon decided that Health and Family were aspects of their lives most in need of their attention, and finally came to an agreement with their friends. ICS became a part of Nichols. Jack works part time with his son and Grandson on the family’s now 400 acres of corn and soybean. And still he devotes time to solve his customer’s problems and to mentor others in the Nichols family. He and Sharon continue to find time to wrestle their boat from the kids and spend days at their getaway in Caseville, Michigan. Dawn Richards, Greater Detroit Sales Leader, is lucky to have the “Ask Jack” segment in each of her team’s sales meetings.
In October 2020, we tracked a 50-year-anniversary for Jack with the ICS/Nichols company. Due to COVID, the celebration was a bit delayed but not forgotten. The entire Nichols family is humbled by Jack’s contribution to our team and to his over 50 years of experience in JanSan.