Business

Macon company goes from garage to global

Steve Stone really just wanted to make a little extra fishing money.

Stone, who had owned a successful plumbing company, had an idea: providing shoe and boot covers for the working man. The ones available from medical supply companies weren’t durable or large enough, so Stone started his own line.

Now, almost 10 years later, the venture he and business partner Randy Bennett launched from a Macon garage has gone global.

Their ShuBee line of disposable shoe covers, coveralls, floor coverings, safety glasses and other service industry products are seen on jobs from Alma to Alaska, from Africa to Australia.

“The product was in my mom’s garage, about as big as this room,” Stone said, looking over the conference room at the ShuBee distribution center on West Columbus Drive. “It’s a neat story.”

The company has become one of the top providers of products and consulting for the residential service industry. It’s in its fourth location in Macon, and there are plans to open new warehouses in San Francisco and Denver.

“We’ve outgrown everywhere we’ve been,” said Bennett.

The multimillion-dollar company might be one of the Macon’s best-kept secrets, but it might not be for much longer. The word of mouth that has fueled ShuBee’s growth for years has now landed the company a role in the upcoming season of a popular network TV show.

ShuBee has been named one of 20 preferred vendors for ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” meaning its products will be used on all sites where the show rebuilds homes for deserving families.

“One of the builders who uses our products was selected, and he recommended us,” said Bennett. “Hard hats, safety glasses, gloves, they’re using all the materials for their builds. ... Every one of the hard hats, we provided to them.”

ShuBee will have a banner displayed at the build sites, and the company has been given passes to the filming of any of the 27 new shows. The new season starts Sept. 27.

Stone said the company “is honored to play a role in such a great cause.”

“We’re excited about getting our team to those sites, to see what a great experience it is for team building. It’s fun to be a part of something like that and how you can be a part of changing people’s lives.”

SUCCESS STORY

Stone, 55, started his plumbing and air conditioning business with one truck. He grew it to 32 vehicles and $5.5 million in sales.

The key to his early success, he said, was networking with successful professionals. The idea of wearing shoe covers in the residential service field had been knocked around for a while, and Stone approached several trade organizations about the possibility of making better covers.

“The only ones available were the ones used in the medical field,” said Stone. “That didn’t work for the working guy, the guy wearing work boots.”

Stone’s brother James came up with the concept of more durable, non-slip shoe covers. He also designed ShuBee’s bumble bee logo. Stone and Bennett “took the idea and ran with it.”

In January 2000, ShuBee started up. Stone’s mother was shipping manager. Bennett, 37, hit the trade show circuit.

“I did a lot of traveling the first several years,” he said.

They added disposable coveralls to the line, with the idea of keeping workers clean from call to call. Then they added the first of their protective floor coverings, called the Red Carpet Treatment.

The bright red floor film served a dual purpose: protecting property while impressing clients with what Stone calls a “sight-to-gain-attention” design.

“People remember you for what they don’t expect, and that may be good or bad,” said Bennett. “If you make (the floor covering) red, the homeowner sees it. ... If you put on a pair of red shoe covers and walk in someone’s home, they’re going to notice.”

ShuBee now employs 18 people at its Macon distribution center and has independent reps all over the country.

The company has expanded its line to include various safety products, gloves and more types of floor and surface protection, coveralls and shoe covers. The company also added plumbing supplies, scented cleaning products and marketing materials.

From the zippered and collared coveralls to ShuBee Report Cards for customers, it all works together to help clients make a good first and lasting impression.

“All the products are designed to give (the clients) the peace of mind to make sure that they get that job,” Bennett said.

And, once they get the job, keeping it might be a matter of cleaning up after plumbing work with ShuBee Citrus Wipes or spraying some ShuBee Tropical Scent in the work area or in new air conditioning ducts.

“The No. 1 complaint from homeowners,” Bennett said, “is ‘they made a mess of my home.’ ”

“We want people to use our products, and we want them to know how to use our products,” said Stone. “The customer perceives value only in what they see. If you fix a toilet, all the work is inside.”

GROWING BUSINESS

For its consulting services, ShuBee draws heavily on Stone’s experience in the plumbing and air conditioning industry — whether it’s tips and techniques, or how to grow a company.

Arthur Thompson, owner of Express Plumbing and Drain, is a client and believer in ShuBee’s products and business philosophy.

“If you’re a contractor, you need to go beyond customer expectations,” said Thompson. “You want to protect that customer’s house. It shows that customer that about their property, which for most customers will be their largest investment.”

Thompson has known Stone since 1994, when he worked for Stone’s plumbing company. He’s not surprised at the success of his former employer, who he described as a “get-up-and-goer.”

“He has a vision for growing business, he lays out a plan and he shoots for those goals. And he reaches them,” Thompson said.

Stone seems to get as much satisfaction from the consulting side of his business as he does from the sales.

“I got helped in my plumbing business. It’s really fun to share the knowledge that other people shared with me, to share that knowledge and watch them grow,” he said.

Tamiko Slocumb has been with company from its start, when she was a nursing student who agreed to work part time.

“It’s amazing to see where we’ve come from,” Slocumb said. “Every time I talk to a client and hear their excitement, it’s exciting to be a part of something like that. I still can’t believe we started in a garage.”

About a year into the business, Slocumb started seeing how the company was growing “and what this could be.”

“I haven’t even thought about nursing,” she said.

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