3rd generation at KAMO adheres to successful business model

Two hurricanes hit KAMO Manufacturing Co. last week.

 

So to speak.

The longtime downtown supply and equipment distributor recently was busy reconciling delivery problems. A shipment of trash can liners bound for Augusta couldn’t leave Houston, which still is recovering from Hurricane Harvey. In Florida, which was bracing for Hurricane Irma, Georgia-Pacific couldn’t move an anticipated consignment of paper products.

It wasn’t an ordinary day at the office. But KAMO is no ordinary company.

Next month KAMO marks its 70th anniversary in business. To describe what KAMO does, the shorter answer might be what KAMO doesn’t do.

“There are so many facets to our business. People still ride by and say, ‘I know KAMO! What do you all do?’” said KAMO President Harris Weinstein. “That’s always the difficulty with us because we do so much. How do you answer the question, ‘What do you all do?’ It’s a 30-minute conversation.”

Starting in 1947 as a janitorial supply company, through the years it grew its services and product lines to include food service and beverage supply; tools; hardware; facility maintenance; grounds maintenance; lighting; furniture, supplies and equipment for offices; automotive care; industrial packaging; and, starting just a few months ago, breakroom supplies and workplace safety equipment.

KAMO’s vast portfolio of clients – mostly in Georgia and South Carolina – includes offices, factories, hotels, hospitals, schools, restaurants, nursing homes and even private homeowners.

And in an era when consumers tend to prefer big-box wholesalers or shopping online, KAMO not only is thriving, it’s growing.

The company recently announced plans to expand its presence on Reynolds Street, where it’s been since 1950. KAMO purchased property currently occupied by Weeks Transmission at the corner of Reynolds and 13th streets, and intends to join the two buildings to better accommodate growth.

So how does KAMO successfully compete with the big guys? By delivering what the big guys can’t, KAMO’s owners said.

“We’ve always wanted to let the public understand there are reasons you buy products from us,” Jack Weinstein said. He’s KAMO’s CEO and Harris’ father. Jack’s two other children, Greg Weinstein and Stephanie Ware, also help run the business.

“Our competition today is nowhere near the same competition we had five, 10 years ago,” Harris said. “It’s changed from the typical local distributor to, now, every major industry is in our business. You’d better be much better at what you do if you’re going to compete with those people.”

The new nature of KAMO’s business largely explains its expansion. Whenever a larger company would venture into KAMO’s core business of cleaning supplies – and it has happened often – KAMO would reciprocate. For example, when an office-supply chain started selling cleaning products, KAMO started selling office supplies.

“Those people kept getting into our business. So instead, we’ll be in it too,” Jack said.

It also improves efficiency. A KAMO truck delivering a business’ cleaning supplies also can deliver, say, office supplies and breakroom supplies in the same trip.

“You’re really able to take the existing customers we work with and help them consolidate to one key vendor to take care of maybe four different categories,” Harris said.

Another recent efficiency move involved reorganizing KAMO’s sales representatives. Before, reps’ territories were divided solely geographically. Now the reps are in groups based on areas of expertise – one team might work with hospitals, another with schools.

“Now they’re specialists within their segments, so there’s nothing geographical,” Harris said. “Now we have teams. That way, everybody works together to specifically call on the uniqueness of their markets, to understand their markets a little better.”

KAMO also stresses training. Its employees will help customers learn how to best use the products they sell, to make customers’ purchases more cost-effective. Not all people who buy cleaning products online, for example, know how to use them properly or productively.

“You want to buy my wax? We’ll sell it to you in a bucket, but that’s not what we want,” Jack said. “Training is the whole key. Amazon can send you anything. They can’t send you a trainer.”

That touches on another KAMO philosophy – selling products based on in-use cost.

“It doesn’t matter what the cost of the product is, if we can do your floor with our finish over a lot more square footage and (offer) the training to put it down correctly,” Jack said. “What does it cost to do this floor? It doesn’t matter if my stuff is $20 and somebody else’s stuff is $5 if you have to use six of theirs to one of mine.”

In selling products, KAMO reps audit customers’ needs. KAMO discovered one client was using eight brands of disposable gloves, and few of them performed adequately. KAMO found just three of its vendors’ brands that worked better.

That’s one more thing bigger retailers won’t do, Harris said.

“They’ll sell it to you cheap and deliver it to you fast, but there’s a whole other side of our business that’s of no interest to them,” he said. “That’s why we win – the hands-on, the training, determining the best product mix. That part won’t ever go away.”

Another thing the Weinsteins hope will not go away is family involvement.

KAMO was founded by Augustans Ben Kaplan and Willie Moog – the first two letters of the men’s last names form the company’s name. Jack Weinstein, Moog’s son-in-law, embraced the business while Kaplan’s sons pursued other careers. Harris and his siblings represent the family’s third generation running KAMO.

And Jack has five grandchildren.

“My objective was for hopefully my children to be in the business,” he said. “Hopefully further down it’ll continue.”

Reach Joe Hotchkiss at (706) 823-3543 or joe.hotchkiss@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

The company still is called KAMO Manufacturing, though it hasn’t actually manufactured anything for about 40 years.

In the early years of the business, KAMO mixed its own cleaning products, relying on a “recipe book” that today sits under glass in KAMO’s showroom. It stopped making its last product onsite, a floor sweeping compound, in the 1970s, when the process became less cost-effective.

“Between the OSHA (federal health and safety) compliance and the range of products that were able to be manufactured, it made sense to have them manufactured for us,” Harris Weinstein said. Today its KAMO-branded custom cleaning projects are made elsewhere but are almost identical to the original formulas.

BETTER CALL SAUL

You might not know that KAMO’s familiar smiling, coverall-wearing mascot has a name.

It’s Saul – and it honors one of the business’ longest-serving employees.

Saul Jones joined the company in 1948, just a year after its opening, and worked for KAMO in several capacities until his death more than 40 years later.

Today, Saul can be seen on all of KAMO’s delivery trucks.

KAMO’s mascot actually had been part of the company’s logo since at least the 1970s. But when KAMO commissioned colorful murals that cover the company’s Reynolds Street building, artists subtly tweaked the character’s appearance so it more closely resembled Saul.

On one wall of the building, Saul is shown working, holding a push broom.

On another wall – posthumously bestowing a retirement that never came – Saul is shown playing golf.

 

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