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photo: business
  Barbara Tomaszewski and John Moore, vice presidents of Evercare, stand near a display of some of Evercare's products, produced at the company's plant in Waynesboro, Ga.
ANNETTE M. DROWLETTE/STAFF
On a roll

Evercare success formula has turned lint into gold

The story began in Flint, Mich., in 1956.

Nick McKay and his wife, Helen, were getting ready to chaperone a high school dance. Realizing he forgot to take his lint-covered sport coat to the cleaners, the young electrical engineer came up with a quick solution: masking tape, a paper tube and a wire coat hanger.

The lint roller was born.

The next day in his basement he began work on a company to market the device, which he called the Lint Pic-Up. He named the company Helmac - "Hel" for Helen, "Mac" for McKay.

During the next four decades, the company's lint roller and lint brush products became worldwide best sellers, with nine of every 10 lint rollers bearing the Helmac name.

Although the company had grown beyond the expectations of its founder, in a world of corporate behemoths such as Procter & Gamble and Rubbermaid, Helmac was still the little lint roller company from Flint.

That's not the case anymore.

Since the 1990s, the company has reinvented itself as a diversified innovator in the consumer products category, creating industry buzz with aromatherapy-scented cleansers and a multi-purpose electrostatic sweeper.

The whirlwind changes during the past few years - including moving lock, stock and barrel to Waynesboro, Ga., and Alpharetta, Ga., more than two years ago - climaxed Jan. 13 when the company unveiled its new corporate name, Evercare.

A take-off on the EverCare product brand Helmac launched in 1998, the name change coincided with the debut of more than 100 new products at the International Housewares Association convention in Chicago.

"The change is the last step in a multi-step evolution to reposition the company," said CEO Nick McKay Jr., the second-generation company leader credited with transforming the business from a mom-and-pop manufacturer into a consumer product think-tank. "Today, this company is much more often associated with EverCare than Helmac."

THE EVERCARE NAME is plastered all over the company's 150,000-square-foot factory and distribution center in Waynesboro, but "Hel-" sometimes slips out when longtime employees, such as John Moore and Barbara Tomaszewski, talk about the company.

Both employees joined the company in 1994, shortly after the Harvard-educated Mr. McKay Jr. began reinvigorating the business. After nearly 20 years of double-digit growth, the company desperately needed room beyond its 40,000 square feet spread among several buildings in Flint.

But it was unable to agree with Michigan officials about tax incentives for the expansion project, so Mr. McKay Jr. made the decision in late 1999 to move manufacturing to Waynesboro and the corporate headquarters to Alpharetta.

The move, though necessary, almost killed the company.

For one, none of Evercare's production employees wanted to leave Flint, despite the fact few other opportunities existed in the rust-belt city. (See Michael Moore's 1989 documentary, Roger & Me, which details the city's devastation as General Motors shuttered plant after plant during the 1980s. Helmac's lint rollers get a brief mention.)

The handful of executives who went along with the move had the task of rebuilding the company's manufacturing and distribution systems from scratch.

"Nothing was documented," said Mr. Moore, vice president of manufacturing. "All of the knowledge, all of the practices were built in people's heads."

Company executives, including Mr. McKay Jr., put in 16- to 18-hour days, seven days a week for most of 2000 and 2001, doing everything from taking orders to showing employees how to operate machinery.

At the same time the company was incorporating products from the recently acquired housewares division of HBD Inc. into its distribution network.

photo: business
  Evercare's 2003 standouts include its aromatherapy-based cleaners.
SPECIAL
"We struggled a lot," said Ms. Tomaszewski, vice president of distribution. "It was June 2001 before we could truly stop to take a breath. But the good news is the company is stronger than ever."

There are no signs of past problems at the Waynesboro plant. Instead, there are signs on the walls with inspirational quotes by people from Thomas Edison to Vince Lombardi.

One room has a fitness center full of employee-donated workout equipment. Another has a library of self-help books and Internet terminals accessible by any of its 250 employees.

Each office worker carries a water pistol and has authority to squirt any co-worker - even the CEO - who misses a commitment or shows up late for a staff meeting.

"If you really let the team down, you better come in wearing a raincoat," Mr. Moore said.

It's all part of Evercare's six corporate values: integrity, personal growth, team-member respect, camaraderie, disciplined aggressiveness and undisciplined creativity.

The company credo appears to be working. Evercare, which started the 1990s with annual sales just over the $10 million range, has during the past decade grown at a compounded rate of 21 percent.

ONE OF THE COMPANY'S biggest strengths is the distribution network it has built during the past half-century.

Evercare's 1,500 retail customers range from mom-and-pops to major chains such as Target and Kmart. A small facility in Toronto keeps Canada flush with EverCare products.

So attractive are the company's retail channels that other manufacturers have aligned with the company to have their own products distributed under the EverCare brand.

About 65 percent of Evercare's products, including all of its lint products, are manufactured in-house. The rest are imports shipped to Waynesboro for repackaging as EverCare products.

The facility prides itself on filling more than 95 percent of orders within 24 hours. That not only keeps customers happy, but it keeps the company from losing money by not sitting on excess inventory.

Productivity and efficiency is a form of religion at the plant, whose electronic inventory management system tracks everything down to the cardboard boxes in which products are shipped.

It may sound like overkill, but when your competitors range from corporate giants such as 3M to Chinese companies making knock-offs with names like "Everycare," every penny needs pinching.

With sales on the uptick, Evercare is considering expanding the facility's distribution center. Its north wall was designed to be removed easily for expansion onto the rest of the company's 25-acre campus off U.S. Highway 25.

"We know continued growth is around every corner," Mr. Moore said.

STAYING COMPETITIVE means creating new and improved products, not engaging in a no-win price war with the competition on low-end items.

Mr. McKay Jr. - whose favorite quote is "Geniuses build brands, fools cut prices" - points to the International Housewares Association's last state of the industry report.

"It showed there was a wide disparity of firms that were growing and firms that were shrinking," he said. "In terms of firms that were growing, 25 percent of sales in the prior year came from products that didn't exist in the year before. That's a pretty telling statistic."

Evercare has poured money into its new product development team headed by Lena Heidel, a former Newell Rubbermaid Inc. executive.

Her group has helped create more than 100 new products, including two that generated the biggest buzz at last month's houseware association show: the Aromatherapy for the Home scented cleaning product line and the Sweep 'N Clean electrostatic sweeper.

Though many of the new products are original, such as the aromatherapy line, many are simply improvements upon existing product categories. The Sweep 'N Clean - with its telescoping handle, built-in squeegee and cleats to hold the wipe in place - takes the Swiffer concept Procter & Gamble introduced three years ago to a new level.

"There are electrostatic sweepers already in the marketplace, but it is our strategic directive to bring to market products that are the highest quality, highest value that we can offer at a price point to the consumer," she said.

But despite all the diversification and new product launches during the past few years, the venerable lint roller is still the company cornerstone, and it probably always will be.

Evercare has no intention of giving up its title as the undisputed king of lint rollers.

"Lint Pic-Up products are part of our heritage," Ms. Heidel said. "We will continue to defend our heritage out in the marketplace through new product development. We will continue to invest heavily to maintain our significant market share in that product line."

ONE ON ONE

Nick McKay Jr., CEO of The Evercare Company, formerly Helmac, has presided over some of the biggest changes in the company's history, including its move from Michigan to Georgia. He sat down recently with Business Editor Damon Cline.

Looking back now, has the relocation turned out as well as you hoped?

I would say that today we are a much more competitive company as a result of the relocation. And that's largely, if not entirely, due to the team of people that we have on board at this point. I'm a firm believer a company is only as good as its people. We are very pleased with the talent on board our team right now.

What's been the reaction to the name change?

It's been very positive. As we surveyed many of our buyers, without exception they all tended to show a much higher degree of affection for the Evercare name. There wasn't any compelling reason not to do it.

Of course the decision weighed heavily on your considering the origin of the Helmac name.

It certainly did. It was an emotionally painful one given that the company's namesake was my mom and dad. Helen McKay was a co-founder of the company and the name was a combination of her first name and my dad's last name. My father and I had many conversations on that issue and ultimately realized it was the right business decision.

When did the major emphasis on new products begin?

When we moved from Michigan to Georgia, it was abundantly clear that design was the key of value-added that we deliver to our customers. While we had done a good job, we hadn't really taken product design as a function and a discipline as we needed to.

The last decade has been one of substantial growth and diversification. What's next?

Our growth will come from one of three sources, and if we're wildly successful, it will be in a balanced fashion from each. One is organic growth, driving penetration and frequency of use through existing products. One is through product development. The third is through acquisition.

We're a company that has an appetite for acquisition. We've done a couple in recent years. We're not focused on acquisition to the exclusion of the two other growth sources. We're firm believers that balance in the long run generates return on investment.

COMPANY PROFILE

THE EVERCARE COMPANY

LOCATION: 1 Evercare Way, Waynesboro

FOUNDED: 1956, in Flint, Mich., as Helmac Products Corp.

PRODUCTS: Manufactures and distributes consumer goods in four household categories: cleaning, closet storage/ironing, bathroom and pet-shedding management.

MAJOR CUSTOMERS: Target, Kmart, Wal-Mart, Costco, Walgreens

MAJOR COMPETITORS: 3M, Procter & Gamble, SC Johnson & Co., The Clorox Co.

ANNUAL SALES: Undisclosed.

OWNER: Privately held, controlled by the founding McKay family and management

OPERATIONS: Headquarters in Alpharetta, Ga., manufacturing and distribution in Waynesboro and Toronto, Canada.

LOCAL EMPLOYEES: 250

HISTORY: Helmac was created to produce the lint roller developed by founder Nick McKay. The venture grew to become North America's leading producer of lint-removal products.

During the 1990s, under leadership of Mr. McKay's son, the company diversified its product line and began marketing its goods under the EverCare by Helmac brand in 1998. The company relocated everything but its small Canadian operation to Georgia in 2000.

Shortly thereafter it dropped the Helmac name from its products, and in January officially changed the corporate name to The Evercare Company.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 or dcline@augustachronicle.com.

--From the Sunday, February 2, 2003 printed edition of the Augusta Chronicle



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