For years, Jim Gray and Les Smith worked as teammates on the national sales staff for Spot Shot, a household cleaner. When Spot Shot was sold to WD-40, the new owners decided not to buy the other product lines. That gave Gray and Smith a perfect business opportunity.
“They came to us and asked if we would be interested in buying,” Gray said.
Smith said, “We looked at the numbers and it looked like it would be fun.”
The four non-Spot Shot products each had its own division, including one called Rock Docter, and Gray and Smith bought them in 2002.
They operate the divisions under their Apex Products LLC, out of an office in Lenexa.
Rock Doctor, used to clean, polish and seal granite, is their leading product. It’s sold to regional and national retailers in the hardware and home improvement industry including Lowe’s; and Bed, Bath and Beyond; and to some grocery store chains. Some Wal-Marts will start carrying Rock Doctor in January and February.
“We’ll be in a test group of stores,” Gray said.
Rock Doctor is also sold in Canada, and to stone fabricators and installers.
“When we got started that’s who most of our business was with,” Smith said.
The partners worked with an attorney and a local bank to go into business on their own.
Rock Doctor is manufactured in suburban St. Louis with Smith and Gray handling sales from Lenexa. The product is warehoused in the Kansas City metro area.
“That’s the beauty of this business – we don’t fill the product, and we ship the product through a third-party warehouse,” Smith said. “We are true marketers – we source everything out, following the model of Spot Shot.”
“From an investment standpoint, it was the way to go,” Gray said.
The company divisions besides Rock Doctor are Lifter, an automotive upholstery and carpet stain cleaner; Carpet+ and Flooraid+ for the flooring trade; and Spot Beater, used by the janitorial industry.
Q: New home sales have been stagnant, so where has your business come from?
People continue to do home remodeling, with many using granite.
“That’s been the most fun for us,” Gray said. “We’ve been able to ride that growth wave.”
The partners attribute some of Rock Doctor’s growth to smarter consumers using the Internet to educate themselves on how to care for granite. Gray said they’ve focused their promotional spending on search engine optimization, so people will find their website.
And Smith added, “Word of mouth has been great to grow our product. We are profitable.”
Q: Where have you seen the changes in your industry?
“The biggest change we’ve seen is the consolidation of retail,” Smith said. “In June 2002, there were 15 national retailers – now there are three. It means fewer retailers to sell products to. With fewer retailers it’s tougher to sell.”
Q: How do you compete with the other products in the market?
“What sets us apart is our product,” Smith said. “Our products tend to be a few dollars more than the big guys, but it’s perceived as high quality or value. They’re willing to spend a few dollars extra for quality. Our challenge is to get folks to try it.”
A year ago, Rock Doctor introduced a natural, non-toxic granite cleaner in a pump bottle.
“We developed it based on feedback from customers who wanted a green product and to address their concerns about using aerosol,” Smith said.
After a decade in business, Smith and Gray are focused on new product development.
“We are in the process of adding two new items – one is a tile and grout cleaner and the other is stainless steel product,” Smith said.
“We expect them to hit the market by the end of the second quarter,” Gray said.
New players have come into the marketplace in the last few years, but the partners are convinced they are moving Rock Doctor in the right direction.
“I think we’ve beaten them to the punch,” Smith said.