Executive Perspective: Jim Roden, Prochem

September 13, 2000
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Driving through Phoenix to Prescott, Arizona, I had the privilage of viewing some of nature’s most beautiful landscaping that incorporated a palette of warm earth tones, cactus and wildlife. Native Californians, especially those residing in Los Angeles, usually don’t trust air they can’t see, but witnessing this splendor for the first time was something to behold. Having a resident tour guide driving the vehicle you are in doesn’t hurt either, especially if you’re simultaneously conducting an interview with one of the carpet cleaning industry’s most respected and well-known contributors, Jim Roden, President of Prochem.

Soon after our 90-minute drive, we arrived at Prochem’s recently occupied 42,000-sq.-ft. Prescott facility. We were soon accompanied by Jim’s brother Mike, who heads the Machine and R&D departments. What followed was an informative and eye-opening tour down the manufacturing line that included the engineering and research/development departments, the manufacturing offices, state-of-the-art powder coating operation, and tools/accessories manufacturing areas. You truly cannot appreciate equipment, any piece of equipment, until you witness the manufacturing process.

Along the way, both Jim and Mike stopped at various points to check certain processes, or to catch up with a long-time employee. “We have a very cooperative workforce and good employees. There is great support for our type of business,” said Jim.

There were no false pretenses here: Prochem is a company that has set family values as its foundation, followed by ethics, hard work and dedication as its structure. “I’ve achieved a lot of personal goals and would like to see Prochem lead the industry in innovations and provide employees with growth opportunities, not only financial, but as a result of being with a successful company,” said Jim. The path Jim and Mike have guided Prochem through is evident.

Personal History

Jim and his wife Shelly of 41 years met during their high school years, and together attended Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL. Together, they had six children. Their son John has worked his way through the company by welding, painting, assembling, etc. and now runs the machine center. “He’s very precise, has a degree in manufacturing/engineering, so this position suits him well,” said Jim. “Being able to design specific values, rather depending on pre-fabricated values puts us ahead.” During his off time, Jim likes to hunt game.

With his extensive background in chemicals, Jim opened the doors to Professional Chemicals in 1968 after working with Service Master to formulate products. “We started with shampoo, spotters, furniture cleaning chemicals, deodorizers, etc., and a line of disaster clean-up products, and in 1973, we got involved with dry cleaning furniture. We found we needed to develop equipment to meet the need.”

Shortly after, between 1973 and 1974, Prochem became aware of portable steam cleaning equipment. “We weren’t manufacturing at the time, but were reselling equipment. We always attempted to innovate and find the best solution for our customers, so developed an oil burner rather than a propane burner, as there were previous problems with propane safety issues and lack of maintenance on the equipment.”

With a smile, he added, “Mike came on board shortly after 1974 and reworked a design of what became the Model 100 and 150 series. His involvement has kept Prochem innovative.”

Inadequate heating issues led Prochem to conduct extensive testing, and later develop, an engine with a catalytic converter. The results paid off with more than 35% more heat by using a heat exchanger and catalytic converter. “The combination could give us the same performance levels as oil-burning does,” Jim said. The catalytic converter, which has been patented, helped launch Prochem’s name. This was the turning point of the company in the equipment market.

Jim feels that at one time, carpet was oversold, and now consumers have shifted back to ceramic and wood floors, as well as a better grade of carpet. “The other surfaces are taking higher percentages of a home’s square footage. To keep up with the changing needs of its clientele, a company needs to accommodate the shifts.” He also believes a truckmount alone isn’t the answer to success; it’s how it performs that makes a difference.

Growth for the Industry

I asked Jim to reflect on his many years in the industry in order to foretell what may be appearing in the carpet cleaning industry’s horizon. Here are his thoughts:

1. The individual craftsmen who have specific clientele will continue to do well. They will continue to do well once they have built a professional base.

2. Corporate cleaning firms and franchise groups will continue to adapt and serve the public’s needs.

3. Individual companies, once they establish themselves, do succeed.

4. Consolidation in larger markets will continue because of efficient advertising and finding/retaining quality employees. Less fatigue helps them to do better with equipment, which removes the fatigue factor. Make the last job like the first job.

5. The professional cleaner of the future should have an arsenal of methods so he/she can meet most of the cleaning/treatment needs of the client, rather than someone else meeting the client’s need.

6. The specialist has a limited number of clients. To go out and find someone to do specialty cleanings is difficult. But if you have the specialized training, then you have a gold mine. Performance comes with the individual.

7. Institutional cleaning is a custom market.

8. A poor drying situation (mold/fungus growth) contributes to playing havoc with asthmatics and allergy sufferers. It’s extremely important to have as rapid a drying process as possible.

Innovation and Expansion In April of this year, Prochem joined forces with Windsor Industries and Century 400, further strengthening the company’s roots in the cleaning and restoration industries. In addition to collaboration, there is its successful expansion into markets overseas. Prochem Legend and Performer hot water extraction cleaning machines are being used to clean Japan’s Chiba Marine Stadium and Domes at Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka. Prochem technology is also helping keep London’s Millennium Dome in top condition.

Personal Philosophy

To meet the needs of the customer, Jim looks for his customers to tell him what equipment or chemical is necessary in the field. “We do things that are innovative and provide for growth and improvement,” he said. Finally, I had to ask him the one question I had been thinking about all day: “If you had to pick one item that turned the industry around, what would it be?”

After contemplating the seriousness of the matter for a moment, Jim replied, “My philosophy is to develop the long-term concern. Companies that can take care of machines and not allow the customer to suffer, rate high. You must establish loyalty. The necessary ingredients are there for the best value and performance. But as volume grows, so must service.”

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