The Glissen Chemical we know now, a thriving family-run business and leading detergent manufacturer in the U.S., is certainly not the business it was in 1930. Over decades, one family has cultivated success in the foodservice industry through hard work and consistently reputable cleaning products; yet over these years, Glissen has held onto the identity that separates itself from larger name brands and makes it successful.
Glissen is personal and caring, servicing the same clients and maintaining its level of dedication and quality even as it continues to expand. It may no longer be the small mom and pop company with only one product that it was in its early days, but it still retains the charming family-run aspect. Glissen is old-school charm with a modern twist, a rare combination in an industry buzzing with impersonal corporate entities.
We recently had the chance to talk with Richard Ryan Knoop, who was recently promoted to the position of National Sales Manager with the Brooklyn, NY based firm.
Under the tuttlage of his grandfather Joseph Lehr, there is a distinct family atmosphere at Glissen and why this starting underdog has survived against the bigger giants. The story of Glissen Chemical is certainly a reaffirming one, emphasizing that with hard work, consistency and the willingness to adapt, anyone can thrive in the competitive foodservice industry.
How did you first get involved in Glissen Chemical? Did you feel pressured to take over the family business and enter this industry, given the generations before you that have been a part of it?
As far as taking over Glissen Chemical, I haven’t earned that honor yet. My grandparents always told me that they would hate for me to join the business if I didn’t truly love being there; there was no pressure from my family. The pressure came from within. I grew up with Glissen, and I knew I wanted to perpetuate not only Glissen Chemical’s legacy but also the legacy of my grandparents. When I was only 20 years old, I wasn’t ready to make that commitment; I went out into the world and had real life experiences. Every one of those experiences taught me something that I use today, and these experiences are what allow me to thrive now at Glissen.
Your grandfather is a legend in this industry. How did he reach this point, and what has he taught you that is vital to Glissen’s long-term success? How do you differentiate yourself from your grandfather in terms of the style of conducting business?
The first thing to understand is that no one becomes a “legend” overnight. My grandfather has been working in this industry for 67 years and practices consistency at all things in life. He has a saying: “the way a man lives is the way a man dies.” He conducts business in the same way he conducts his own life, living by the tenets of honesty, integrity, and one’s word as a bond. Basically, what I mean is that to become a legend, you can’t be on top of your game one day, then lacking the next. You can’t make the highest quality products and then proceed to alter the formulas after.
As far as arriving at my own style, I’ve coined a phrase that we hear a lot around Glissen these days; at Glissen, we operate the “old school” way with a modern twist. My style would include bringing this modern twist to Glissen.
How does the fact that Glissen Chemical has been run by the same family for decades impact the overall brand and user experience?
One of the strongest attributes of our company is its longevity as a family-run business. Since 1930, we’ve been loyal to our customers and vendors. We’ve always prided ourselves on making the highest quality products and conducting ourselves with the utmost respect. The industry is unfortunately becoming more and more corporate; I think that people get a real sense of relief when they deal with us, because they know they can call our office and talk to Joe or Rich when they deal with Glissen, not a machine. They know that they can stop by the office at any time and we’ll take them out to lunch, or give them a personalized look at our operation. We operate that “old school way,” and people really like that in a time when the world is becoming more isolated and more impersonal.
How do you maintain the divide between personal family life and the family business? How do the two influence each other?
It’s certainly hard to divide family and business life, but that’s to be expected; our family spends a tremendous amount of time together, so it’s only natural that we talk about our work week or day. Me being the youngest and having millions of ideas, I tend to bring up Glissen every chance I get; as a result, my family and business life absolutely influence each other, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some of our best ideas for running the company come through sitting around the dinner table together as a family; this is in keeping with Glissen’s identity as a family-run business. We push each other to think creatively and to continuously improve Glissen, which is how it should be.
How do you keep your brand from being “commoditized”? What’s the impact of the web on your business?
Primarily, we rely on education to keep our products from being “commoditized.” It’s our job to educate people on why our products are more expensive than those of our competitors, because our customers pay for more than just the products itself; seeing an item on a website doesn’t inform the customer that we use the highest quality of raw materials, and that we provide much better customer service than other name brands. We will never sacrifice quality for price, and the results show; our customers quickly learn that with our products you use less and save more in the long run.
Manufacturing a product in New York City can be an expensive undertaking. How do you meet the challenges of rising costs?
With the rising cost of every variable in our finished product, it sure is an expensive undertaking. We can’t pass along every price increase we get from our suppliers; as a result, we have to increase our production efficiency and analyze our purchasing very carefully. However, Glissen is certainly capable of handling these challenges.
In the past, what challenges has Glissen Chemical had to overcome starting as a small family business going up against large, corporate manufacturers?
When my grandfather was 19 years old, he hit the road with only one product. He boldly went up against the giants of Proctor and Gamble and other market brands. We’re still here 67 years later because we do it unlike anyone else; with our fantastic customer service, superior quality products and marriage of old-school charm with a modern twist, we provide what the bigger corporations can’t.
What do you think operations at Glissen Chemical will look like 10 years from now?
It’s hard to predict where we’ll be 10 years from now. After all, Glissen started as an extract company under my great grandfather. As the cocktail industry began to crumble, he developed our first product: Nu-Foam powder. When my grandfather was on the road selling, he noticed the industry transitioning to liquids and discarding powdered detergents. He then personally developed the formula for liquid Nu-Foam. He endured over 949 failures until he perfected this concoction, and it’s still the formula we use to this day. Essentially, this story demonstrates that Glissen has, over the years, adapted to the changing business climate. I’m confident that whatever the future holds, we will adapt, evolve, and continue to thrive.
To learn more about Glissen Chemical, please visit their website.