Business

Forsyth businessman finds niche with Bee’s Wax

Brian Metzker is a salesman’s salesman.

He’s sold collection services to furniture stores, disinfectant products to doctors, baby furniture, family portraits in malls, eyeglass frames, dating services and fabric to fabric stores. He’s sold mattresses, cemetery plots, tombstones, newspaper advertising and encyclopedias door to door.

“I’ve been selling since I was 10 years old, since that’s when my father died and I had to do something,” said Metzker, 76. “I sold newspapers door to door. I made 2 cents apiece.”

Sometimes he created his own business. Often jobs overlapped as he did several things at the same time.

“The only thing I have not sold is used cars,” he said.

Since the mid-1970s, Metzker’s company, World Class Promotions, has sold The Original Bee’s Wax furniture polish, even though sales didn’t really take off until the late 1990s. Since then Metzker and his wife, Maxine, 78, have concentrated on selling the polish, which can be used on a lot more than wood furniture. With four part-time workers, the business is operated out of their home tucked in the woods about 10 miles north of Forsyth.

Born in Paducah, Kentucky, Metzker moved with his family to Pittsburgh when he was about 6.

“I didn’t have a clue,” he said about what he would do when he grew up.

He worked full time while going to high school, then enlisted in the Army on his 18th birthday. After six months at Fort Gordon and Fort Knox in Kentucky, Metzker went into the reserves.

“I don’t know how I came up with it, but I decided I was going into the garbage business” after getting out of the Army, he said.

He got some accounts picking up 55-gallon barrels from trucking companies, renting a flatbed truck to haul them. When prospects asked the price, he picked $10 a barrel out of the air. He got complaints, but the companies agreed to pay it. He found out later that the going rate was usually $2 a barrel.

He started working for a finance company as a collector in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, moving to another agency before realizing he could form his own collection business and make more money. He had that business about 12 years.

While in the collections business, Metzker attended the University of Pittsburgh for a couple of years. About that time, he started an aerosol business making specialty aerosols.

Some of the people at the furniture stores he called on to sell collection services told him they couldn’t find a furniture cleaner that wouldn’t leave fingerprints and wouldn’t build up the wax. Furniture polish was sold as a cream at the time.

“There was this guy I knew who was a chemist that did aerosols, and ... I said this is what we need and see what you can do.”

That’s how The Original Bee’s Wax polish came about, but at first it was “a sundry item,” he said.

Metzker saw another need and set about trying to fill it with the chemist’s help.

“At that time cross infections were a big deal between doctors and patients,” he said. “They had to wash their hands a lot. We came up with an idea to put a disinfect cleaner -- a hand cleaner -- in an aerosol.”

Then Metzker moved to Atlanta in the 1970s.

“Pittsburgh was on its way down,” he said. “The mills were closing, but Atlanta was going up.”

He started selling family portraits in a mall. But soon he put together his own photo promotion business. That’s when the World Class Promotions business was founded.

After a few years, the family photo business was going away, so he and his photographer began doing glamour photography. Then they set up at Harley-Davidson stores and photographed people sitting on fancy motorcycles.

Along the same time, Metzker was in business for himself as a factory representative for furniture dealers and did this for a number of years.

He also had a baby furniture business selling highchairs that could be turned into other uses and sold through home demonstrations.

For family reasons, he moved back to Pittsburgh while continuing his job as a furniture rep, which he did for about 17 years.

BEE’S WAX TAKES OFF

When the furniture business began to turn south in the late 1990s, his wife, Maxine, had a great idea, he said.

She said they should sell the Bee’s Wax to furniture stores over the phone.

“It had always been around, but we figured now is maybe the time to do something with it,” he said.

Most furniture stores had not heard about the aerosol Bee’s Wax.

“We just started calling and offering to send samples,” Maxine Metzker said. “It began to catch on.”

The Metzkers “have never spent one dime on advertising,” he said. They find customers mostly by word of mouth.

But the product received a big boost when it was featured in a House Beautiful magazine article in early 2000 -- but the Metzkers didn’t learn about it until months after it hit the newsstand. The magazine has referred to the product in subsequent articles.

As customers used the product on other surfaces, such as glass counter displays, they found it helped prevent fingerprints and smudges. It is now recommended for use on granite, leather, marble, stainless steel, mirrors, car windshields, glass shower stalls and music instruments. It also repels static from TV screens and computer monitors. However, Bee’s Wax should not be put on any flooring, since it will make it too slippery.

The product is almost entirely sold for resale in a variety of stores, not just furniture or antique stores.

One of their longtime customers is Phillips Furniture, which has two locations in Warner Robins.

“They are real great people, very friendly, outgoing and accommodating,” General Manager Linda Lombardi said. “They always provide a lot of information about the product and give us hints on how to use it. ... We sell so much of it and I’ve even sent other people to them and told them how great they were to work with.”

Lombardi said she believes the Metzkers have been successful because of “their integrity, honesty and good service.”

While Phillips Furniture has been selling the product for more than 15 years, don’t go to the Bee’s Wax website hoping to find a list of dealers where it’s sold. It’s not there. And while stores and individuals can order from the website, the company doesn’t store credit card information or billing information on computers -- whether the order is taken by phone or online.

“I hate computers,” Brian Metzker said. “Anyone could hack into our system and make everything disappear.”

His wife agrees.

“It’s safer because our customers are protected,” she said.

Customer information is stored on thousands of standard white index cards. They are organized alphabetically in two sets -- one arranged by state and then city name and the other set by dealer name. The product is sold in all 50 states and Canada.

The Metzkers moved to Forsyth about three years ago. He was familiar with it when he worked out of Atlanta.

“I always liked Forsyth,” he said. “It was always a nice little place.”

Since the Metzkers only order what is needed to fill customer orders each week, it eliminates the need for large inventory space. They are able to use a detached garage in the backyard to bring in and redistribute the product.

While Brian Metzker has made a number of business decisions throughout his career, he didn’t struggle to pick the top one.

“I guess the best business decision I’ve made is to do this exclusively,” he said. “It’s a challenge to get something started, but once it gets going, it’s like a snowball going downhill.”

To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.

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