Dan Cheesman didn’t intend to start a general industrial and business supply company in 1982.
He created a rag business to occupy a well-defined niche, providing factories, garages, painters and others with the particular disposable cloth wipes they needed.
That worked, and lots of businesses liked Cheesman’s products and reliable service — but sometimes they asked if he could get them one more thing.
“When somebody asks for something, we don’t like to say no,” said Cheesman, 67, of Bridgeton. “We go out and find it for them.”
For decades, his customers kept asking and he kept saying yes, turning DMC Supplies into a provider of work clothes, janitorial supplies, absorbents, and much more. And rags.
Rags still account for more than 25 percent of business at Bridgeton-based DMC Supplies, but there, too, the products have diversified.
Most are knit cotton, not unlike that found in a T-shirt, Cheesman said. The company sells a large variety of those in various colors and weights.
But some customers need a very particular rag.
“For one customer, we start off with a certain yarn and have it knitted, and then we send it out to be bleached and cut,” he said.
Much of DMC’s rag bleaching and cutting is done in North Carolina, but some is done right at its Bridgeton office/warehouse facility.
Some industrial work that involves helicopters or jets, or even painting, is so exacting that customers double check each batch of rags before putting them into use, he said. “If it fails their testing, we take it back and remedy it.”
Most rags, though, are used to wipe down machinery, counters, whatever. DMC buys standard rag stock 44,000 pounds at a time.
A much requested — and therefore next biggest — part of the business is what you might call the rags people wear: work clothes, coveralls, gloves and such.
Cheesman said in his 30 years he’s seen gloves become mandatory in many industries and settings.
“Everybody is protecting their hands today, whether in medical offices, factories, schools, anybody handling anything,” he said. “Even farm workers, when they’re picking your crops, are required to wear gloves now, even if it’s 100 degrees out.”
DMC keeps about 30 varieties of gloves in stock, and offers about 100 kinds to its customers.
Then there are janitorial supplies — soaps, detergents, brooms, brushes, toilet paper, bags and more.
Cheesman has advice for purchasers of some of these items in bulk: Don’t be fooled by piece counts, as government often is.
In toilet paper, for instance, the extremely wide quality range makes sheet counts meaningless. “Toilet paper is like the meat market. It’s really sold by the pound,” he said.
But state government purchasers look only for the cheapest price per sheet, so they wind up buying the thinnest, smallest paper, he said. The same goes for trash bags, where they’ll buy 1.2 mil thick bags instead of the 1.6 mil that’s specified.
“That’s why we do very little public bidding. Sometimes you’re blown away because somebody accepts less than the specification,” he said.
DMC’s diversified inventory has given it a degree of stability through the downturn, he said.
That’s also true of the state’s other direct sellers to businesses of miscellaneous supplies, which numbered 160 in 2006 and were at 152 in 2011. Employment actually increased, from 2,302 to 2,535 in 2011, federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows.
“I’ve never had to lay anyone off in the past 15 years, but no doubt it’s getting harder,” Cheesman said.
His response has been to branch out some more, into specialty clothing and gloves for the fishing industry, and more supplies for first responders.
He’s also getting involved in sales again himself, something he always loved to do.
“I come from the old school. You go down the road with samples in your car and hopefully somebody’s gracious enough to respond to you,” he said.
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