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Front Page » April 27, 2006 » Business Focus » The business of clean
Published 3,450 days ago

The business of clean

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Alan Peterson holds up the last privately labeled product his company now sells, and he says his favorite. Peterson's grandpa started the business in 1941.

For most people, 65 years is nearly a lifetime.

For the Peterson Chemical Company it has been many lifetimes. And for Alan Peterson, the business has been his lifetime.

In 1941, Karl and Ethel Peterson lived in Price on Third West and Fourth South in an adobe house, while Karl worked hard in the mine at Horse Canyon. Then one day there was an accident; Karl had broken his neck in a mine accident, and he could no longer work as a miner.

At that point he decided to go into the candy business, forming the Peterson Candy Company.

The Peterson's, however, knew more about candy than just what it tasted like. Ethel's maiden name was Startup, a well known name in the Utah candy business, one that is still around today.

The Peterson Chemical Company crew consists of Randy Gold, Jean Gerrard, Gordon Mathie, and Alan Peterson himself. The company's small fleet of delivery vans go all over Carbon and Emery counties.

The business they began started in the basement of that adobe home and grew and grew and grew.

Later the company added other snack foods to their line, like Clover Club Potato Chips. But even with the added lines the business was a struggle.

The company eventually moved out of the basement and into a new warehouse built behind the house in 1960. Business was tough, but the family survived.

Then in 1966, Karl convinced his son Dick to come to work for him, rather than working at the Carbon-Emery Bank. It was then that things began to change for the business.

Along with Karl and Dick, two other sons, Ted and Jim, also worked in the business. At that time the business also changed it's identity to Peterson Chemical, because they were finding that there was so little profit in candy that they had to find another line of business to support it. And so was born the only free standing janitorial supply company in Carbon County.

Karl Peterson founded Peterson Candy Company in 1941.

By 1970 the company had almost weeded out all the food stuffs from it's lines, except that it continued to make punch base for a few more years. In the late 1960's Jim left the company to become a chemical engineer. In 1972 Ted died of surgical complications. So the business was left to Dick and Karl. After 1972 Dick began to run the company.

But selling janitorial supplies still did not produce enough money to support the business so in the mid-1970's Dick also got into repairing mining batteries and recharging fire extinguishers. Alan remembers that well.

"That was when I was about 14 and I used to come in after school for a couple of hours a night and recharge fire extinguishers," said the present operator of the company as he sat on a couple of boxes of toilet tissue in the company's warehouse. "I also used to mix up punch base when we handled it, as well as mix chemical cleaners from formulas my grandfather had acquired."

In those days many of the mining machines were powered by big batteries, some of which weighed many thousands of pounds. Dick hired Gordon Mathie at that time to work on the batteries. He is still with the company and is well known by Peterson's customers.

A year or two later Dick also hired Jean Gerrard to answer the phones and be a secretary for the company. She still works for the company as well, in the front office.

"We used to have a route to pick up the extinguishers and bring them here and recharge them, but that ended after the Wilberg Mine disaster," said Peterson explaining after that the government regulations made charging the extinguishers in the mine the rule and not the exception. "You had to have mobile equipment to do that and we didn't pursue that."

Peterson Chemicals warehouse is loaded with stock, but often people come in wanting something he doesn't have. He then spends time trying to find someone in town who does. He says his company is there to solve people's problems, and if that means helping them to get an item somewhere else, so be it.

Diesel technology also improved so much that the large mine batteries were phased out, so that part of the business went away too. In 1980 Alan's mom, Joanne, died and then the next year his father had a heart attack and a stroke and later died.

Alan and his grandma were now in the business together, and Ethel wanted out so by 1983 he had bought her out and was the sole owner and the manager.

"It was hard when my dad left and I took over, because to all my dads customers I was 'the kid.' I was about 23 at the time, so I guess I was a kid, but to me it was tough dealing with all those older customers who saw my dad as the man. In fact the thing I hated the worst when I took over the business was dealing with people," he laughed. "Now the people I deal with are my favorite part of this business."

But at the time his company, after losing some of it's most profitable lines had to go back and learn how to service janitorial lines again.

"We have a lot of customers, but our industrial lines are what keep us going," stated Peterson. "We had to learn that we could compete with the box stores not by going price to price, but by providing service others can't give."

Dick Peterson was well known to many in the coummunity. He was the man who brought the company into the janitorial supply business.

Presently Peterson Chemical supplies materials in two ways to the community; by delivery of bulk products and large lots and by selling retail out of the front of the warehouse.

"We get a lot of business from walkins and a lot of them also make comments about how organized the warehouse is," says the owner. "We have had to learn that every customer no matter how big or how small is important to us. We have to give 100 percent service to everyone who deals with us."

Peterson says he doesn't hesitate to find a source for people who need something even if it means sending them somewhere else in town.

"We gain loyalty and respect by doing that and I know that it comes back to help us in the long run," he says. "But we try every way possible to get people what they need. This business is not a sideline for us like it is for many others. We're serious about having five kinds of toilet bowl cleaners for customers, because they have different needs."

Sometimes a existing customer will ask for something he doesn't stock and he will bring it in to serve their needs.

"That's a nervous situation for us," he says. "They may want that item now, but managers change, purchasing agents change, companies tastes change. We stock it but I feel a lot better about having it on the shelves when I have two or three customers that are using it. Nonetheless we are here to serve our customers and if that is what it takes, we will do it."

Alan Peterson stands in front of the house where Peterson Candy Company was started. It's right next door to the present warehouse and store, but the family no longer owns the home.

Peterson is also a well known outdoors recreation advocate in the community and in fact around Utah. He says people often try to put labels on him because he constantly works to keep public lands open for multiple use.

"I get people trying to put a label on me," he says noting that he not only rides ATV's and dirt bikes, but also mountain bikes and hikes as well. "I like to think of myself as an outdoor recreationist. I like all kinds of outdoor activities."

The business has been and still is a family business. Alan remembers climbing all over the warehouse shelves as a boy with his cousins; he also remembers only a few years ago when he used to push his now near teenage daughter around the warehouse on a cart as she held a toy gun and hunted animals that were hidden there, such as mops that were the lions.

What about a fourth generation Peterson running the business?

"I don't know; I only have the one daughter and I kind of doubt that she will want to run this business," he said. "I think she wants to be a veterinarian and that wouldn't really fit in this place. I think the neighbors might complain when the dogs started to bark."

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