Email Christina Meek
Email Jenny Fish
Newsroom HomeBlogsStoriesSoundtrack ProjectNewsroom ArchivesChamber Home Page

Action Chemical's Big-Picture Strategy Brings Big Growth

Action Chemical is considered a small-business enterprise, but its majority partner says he is employing a big-picture strategy that’s producing leap-frog growth. The distributor of janitorial supplies, office products and safety gear expanded its footprint last fall, moving into offices at 275 Cumberland after revenue doubled over a three year period.

Action Chemical also expects to hire its fifth new employee in 12 months, a 50 percent increase that will take its team to 15 workers. A certified minority-business enterprise and small-business enterprise, Action Chemical’s customers include Shelby County Schools, Methodist Healthcare and MLGW, but Action Chemical ships to customers all across the country. It sells products to clean glass, swab floors and deodorize rooms, provides safety equipment like orange cones and stop signs, and distributes safety wear like disposable lab coats and textured gloves. The fastest growing part of the company is safety products, in fact.

Charles Barnes, president and CEO, credits growth in part to the company’s adoption of a corporate business model and the willingness of employees to execute the philosophy. “Small companies sometimes think like a small company,” said Barnes, who joined Action Chemical in 2010 and a year later bought into the company. “I brought a corporate attitude to a small business. Planning is a big part of the corporate world, and I brought planning here.”

Starting small
Sherry Crowe, who talks with Barnes weekly from her Atlanta home, founded the company in 1994. She operated it from her Memphis two-bedroom condo. “It was just me,” she said. “I’d go out and sell, sell, sell. At night I’d do invoices.”

Eventually the business outgrew the condo, and she moved operations to 381 Cumberland. Crowe still made sales calls, where she crossed paths with Barnes. “We were fierce, fierce competitors,” she said.

Barnes spent most of his career life in North Carolina. He worked for Quaker Oats and then was national sales manager for Levi Strauss. He retired and moved to Memphis. “This is where my grandchildren were,” he said.

He got into the janitorial supplies business. He eventually sold his shares in a company, and when Crowe found out Barnes was available, she initiated a conversation. She wanted to stay in the business but be less active. After a year at Action Chemical, Barnes was willing to sign on as a partner. He owns 51 percent.

“I grew the business as much as I could,” Crowe said. “As hard as I tried, I could not make it to the next step. He has really been the inspiration for growth.”

Corporate model
Barnes took what he’d learned in the corporate world and applied it to his small-business endeavor.

He emphasizes year-to-year strategic planning. While at many small businesses the owner controls everything, Barnes said he departmentalizes Action Chemical and gives employees the ability “to do the right thing. Let people do what they do best.”

Action Chemical moved to its new address on Cumberland near Broad Street this fall. It’s housed in about 16,000 square feet, more than double its previous footprint. Barnes also credits this growth to providing more products to existing customers like Nike. “They responded well,” Nike procurement manager Dante Harlan said. “Action Chemical has been able to provide Nike with excellent hands-on service because they are local. They can come to any of our facilities at a moment’s notice. We feel they make us a priority when issues arise.”

External recognition
Barnes believes external recognition is helpful. In the lobby of the office on Cumberland Street, plaques of achievement hang on the walls. In 2012, Action Chemical was given the Robert R. Church “Quality-Excellence Award” by the Memphis Minority Business Development Agency Business Center and Mid-South Minority Business Council Continuum. That same year, the company was named “Vendor of the Year” by Memphis City Schools. Action Chemical, also awarded the MLGW Flame Award in 2011, was a finalist last year for the Robert R. Church “Minority Business of the Year.”

Extra Mile
Action Chemical distributes Gatorade to one local customer who buys bathroom paper products from the company. Doesn’t matter that the drink isn’t a janitorial or office product.

At Nucor, a Fortune 500 company and one of the nation’s largest producers of steel, employees at the Memphis plant must stay hydrated in elevated temperatures. Action Chemical offered to supply the drink to Nucor for less than they were paying another supplier, said Peggy McKnight, Nucor purchasing supervisor.

Action Chemical also agreed to deliver Nucor’s donation of bottled water for Memphis police bicycle patrols. “They not only delivered it but they matched our pallet,” McKnight said.

“If you’re going to be part of a community and you expect that community to help you grow, then you have to give back to it,” said Barnes. “I believe we do that.”

Story by: Toni Lepeska
Photos by: Isaac Singleton

Posted: 8/3/2016 7:30:00 AM | with 0 comments
Filed under: Action, Business, Chemical, Janitorial, Member, MWBE, Small, Supplies

Blog post currently doesn't have any comments.
Leave comment Subscribe

Is seven < than one? (true/false)

The latest news from the Greater Memphis Chamber. For more information, contact Director of Communications Christina Meek at (901) 543-3504 ( or Communications Specialist Jenny C. Fish at (901) 543-3558 (