John Underwood buys Advantage Maintenance Products Ltd.
“We treat people with respect and like they are family. We see our suppliers as partners and will keep building relationships with our valued customers based on fairness, flexibility and mutual respect.” (John Underwood, President and CEO)
Advantage Maintenance Products provides close to 600 distributors across Canada access to diverse product lines with thousands of products sourced from Canada and around the world. Our story is one of value-based private entrepreneurship, vision through challenges and opportunities, and growth. It is deeply embedded in the larger themes that have defined the history of business and entrepreneurship in North America.
In 1893, the same year that Henry Ford produced his first car, inventor and entrepreneur Cassius White invented the mop wringer, a wooden squeeze wringer with a Canadian-sourced wooden sap bucket. Produced at his Jamaica, Vermont plant it was one of the early tools in the North American cleaning industry and quickly became known as the White mop wringer. The company was incorporated as the White Mop Wringer Company (WMWC) in 1901, and, under the leadership of the founders’ sons, relocated to Fultonville/Fonda, New York in 1904.
The company was subsequently sold to Lee Vedder who, in the early 1920s, traveled to Detroit on business several times per year. His route took him through Southwestern Ontario where his favourite overnight stop was the Arlington Hotel, in Paris. Legend has it that the Grand River that flows through the charming small town, the maple trees and even the type of homes there reminded him of the Mohawk River and his hometown Fultonville/Fonda. Like many US entrepreneurs, Vedder identified Canada as a market to expand into. Faced with high import tariffs, he decided to set up a branch plant for manufacturing and assembly in Ontario and, in 1922, WMWC of Canada was established in downtown Paris.
Ron Underwood, who would purchase WMWC of Canada in 1991, joined the Paris operation in 1978 in the role of National Sales Manager. A natural entrepreneur who had previously started a number of companies in the janitorial maintenance industry, Ron brought with him a thorough understanding of the Canadian market and the industry as a whole. This allowed him to keep WMWC of Canada competitive in a quickly changing market. By the late 1980s, free trade between Canada and the US began making branch plant operations in Canada obsolete for US manufacturers. Whereas in the past, the US parent company had shipped semi-finished goods to have them finished at the Paris plant, this was no longer necessary. Under Ron’s leadership, WMWC of Canada began transitioning from being a manufacturer to becoming a wholesale distributor for the Canadian market. At the same time, Ron pioneered building relationships with suppliers of innovative products from around the world. To him, complementing the company’s existing product lines of metal buckets and wringers was imperative to staying competitive in a market that was quickly moving from steel to plastic.
In spite of an economically challenging environment, the 1990s were a time of great opportunity for a driven entrepreneur. Benefitting from Ron’s vision of diversification and forethought to align the company with suppliers of innovative product, WMWC of Canada moved into its current 72,000 square foot head office and distribution center facility at 105 Scott Avenue in Paris in 1992. The company was renamed Advantage Maintenance Products in 1999.
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Advantage Maintenance Products kept growing its market leader position by way of purchasing and integrating several competitors from across Canada: Wheels Maintenance (1998), PCW (Pacific Coast Wholesale) and Jobbers Supply (1999), G. Hardy Wholesale and Paul Clancy Wholesale (2001) and Geo Source (2008).
In 2016, Ron sold the company to his oldest son John who continues Advantage Maintenance Products in the second generation. John has 25 years’ experience with the company coming up through the warehouse to hold various positions including Distribution Manager, Purchasing Director and now heading up Sales and Marketing as President. John has been present at ISSA and Can Clean trade shows for more than 20 years and served for 7 years on the Board of Directors of the SSWA (Sanitary Supply Wholesalers Association) including the role of President in 2011/2012. With the support of his wife Kathryn and their two sons, John continues to grow his presence in the industry, by going out in the market to meet with Distributors across Canada, taking Advantage Maintenance Products to the next level as a leading Canadian national wholesaler.
Today, Advantage Maintenance Products offers customers over 2,000 catalogue items plus approximately 5,000 products outside of the catalogue from its Paris distribution center and branches/pick-up depots in Vancouver, Calgary, and Montreal. Advantage Maintenance Products continues to maintain the same core values that have guided the company since 1922:
- Dedicated customer service
- A culture of openness, flexibility, reliability and trust
- Long-standing relationships with customers and supplier partners
- Deep roots and ties in the community