Alison Gutterman is the CEO and President of Jelmar—the unique, family-owned cleaning products manufacturer of CLR and Tarn-X products. She has brought Jelmar unprecedented success with her modern approach and leadership techniques. She is a member of six business peer groups (C200, WPO, WIPP, WBENC, NAWBO, ENACTUS) and has most recently been named winner for the “EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2017 Award in the Midwest” in the family business category.
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
My talent and passion for leadership were sparked early in life as I watched my grandfather, and then my father, start and lead Jelmar, turning it into the company it is today. Their success, passion for creativity and business savvy sparked a passion in the same for me. Leading Jelmar is much more than leading a business. It’s also an opportunity to honor the legacy of my family, empower other women leaders and cultivate an environment of lifelong learning for our tight-knit Jelmar family.
Tell us about your business.
Jelmar is the manufacturer of CLR and Tarn-X cleaning brands, which help solve some of our toughest cleaning jobs throughout the home. It has always been a family business, started by my grandfather, Manny Gutterman over 50 years ago – this year marks the 50th anniversary of Tarn-X® Tarnish Remover. All these years later, we’ve expanded to nearly 100,000 retail outlets nationwide.
Are you currently running any promos/contests/giveaways that you would like our readers to know about?
We are always running a giveaway in our newsletter. Each month, one new newsletter subscriber will receive a free gift basket of our products.
- The 2017 “EY Entrepreneur of the Year® 2017 Award in the Midwest” winner in the family business category, which recognized entrepreneurs who are excelling in areas, such as innovation, financial performance and personal commitment to their businesses and communities.
- The 2015, 2016 and 2017 “Safer Choice Partner of the Year Award” from the Environmental Protection Agency, in which its Safer Choice Program helps consumers, businesses and purchasers find products that perform well and are safer for human health and the environment.
- The 2016 “EY Entrepreneur of the Year® 2016 Award in the Midwest” finalist, which recognized excellence and success in areas such as innovation, financial performance and personal commitment to the finalists’ businesses and communities.
- The Loyola Family Business Center’s “2016 Illinois Family Business of the Year Award – Dean’s Award” The awards overall recognized companies with a strong commitment to both business and family, while the Dean’s Award recognized a business that excels in social enterprise, supply chain management or emerging markets.
- The 2013 “Business Owner of the Year” award from the National Association of Women Business Owners for her contributions in advancing women owned businesses.
- The 2012 “Enterprising Women of the Year” award by Enterprising Women magazine for her work in growing Jelmar as a whole, dedication to mentoring women involved in entrepreneurship, and community leadership.
- The 2012 “Jeffrey Butland Family-Owned Small Business of the Year” award, which is awarded to successful family-owned businesses that have been passed through generations.
- Northwestern University, Master of Business Administration.
- Syracuse University, Bachelor of Science, Speech Communications.
Where is your business based?
Jelmar is based in Skokie, Illinois, which is just about 15 miles outside of Chicago. We love the connection to the Chicago region, where Jelmar was started so long ago.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
Since I assumed the role of president, I have pushed to help Jelmar evolve into a more modern company in tune to consumer needs. Our social presence has grown exponentially over the years. And we actually listen to our followers and consumers. For example, I spearheaded new research demonstrating strong consumer favorability for companies that make a meaningful commitment to protecting the environment. And today, we are an EPA Safer Choice Partner for three years running.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
Jelmar’s social channels have been crucial in raising awareness of the business and offerings. We’ve increased our Facebook following over 540% in the past two and a half years through our efforts to provide relevant, useful and fun content to our readers. We run various opportunities that allow them to get engaged with the company, such as a “Week of Giveaways,” which was a Facebook contest we ran in June to bring excitement around our celebration of Tarn-X’s 50th anniversary and our partnership with Chicago, the band, who is also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
Working in a male-dominated industry and as the only third-generation female owner of a large cleaning products company, earning respect and gaining confidence has been a struggle. Early in my career at Jelmar, I was managing men in their 40s when I was only 25. They were more experienced than I and often dismissed my new ideas about marketing and sales, and some assumed I didn’t have the drive to put in the long hours and hard work they did.
How did you overcome these challenges?
I have had to learn to build my confidence, better defend my thoughts and ideas – despite the naysayers – and overcome my negative self-talk, or as I like to call it, ‘head trash.’ That would be all the negative comments from yourself, likely stemming from others, you have let build up in your head that are stopping you from reaching your full potential.
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
My two children, Michaela and Eli, are the two most important things to me. They motivate me daily to be an honest, hard-working business woman. I work to model positive values like strong work ethic and respect in my business and at home so they may learn to do the same. I hope to help bring them future success, and their future success is my future success.
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
Jelmar is a small, 15-person company, which allows us the flexibility to adapt to evolving consumer preferences and the ever-changing consumer landscape. We’ve done this many times from reformulating some products to align with EPA standards to package rebrandings.
Our size allows us the opportunity to take a step back and evaluate our needs and take the time to properly move forward in the right direction. For example, in 2016, we rebranded the CLR brand line to really align the products with one cohesive, fresher look. We were able to take the time to listen to our audience on the changes they’d like to see and and we reflected their thoughts in our new brand packaging.
What is the best advice you have received recently?
I recently read a Time article, ‘10 Things the Most Successful People Do Every Day.’ The last tip was my favorite – get a “jar of awesome.” Everyday write down something good and drop it in the jar to read later when things aren’t going great. It will help you appreciate those moments, reflect on your growth and achievements and help you pick back up and continue on.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
It’s important to acknowledge your limitations and be aware of what you do and do not know. From there, you can take actionable next steps. That could mean considering bringing on a new hire – someone who is smarter than you in your area of need, seeking learning opportunities like higher education, or surrounding yourself with knowledgeable outside resources, such as from peer groups.
What are your favorite business tools/resources and why?
Women-in-business and peer groups are incredible resources. These groups have provided me mentors and peers to inspire me, help me grow and learn from their outside perspectives and experiences and push me to realize my capabilities and successes.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
My dear friend Elise Mitchell recently wrote a book called “Leading Through the Turn: How a Journey Mindset Can Help Leaders Find Success and Significance”. It discusses not only success in business, but also the personal journey of getting there. It’s a great read for any entrepreneurs looking for inspiration on how to be a better leader.
What are you currently learning about for your business or looking for help with?
At Jelmar, we are looking at ways to incorporate technology and data and how it relates to our business practices, whether that is creating new products, marketing to our existing consumers or finding a new generations of users.
What are your goals for the next few months and how are you striving to achieve them?
We are working on expanding our product offerings to new markets. Our goal is to truly be a one stop shop for all cleaning needs in the home. Currently, we are working on introducing a new product that may be available in January of 2018. Additionally, we are working on redeveloping our website that will be tested and released in the coming months as well.
What social media outlets do you use? List them below.
My personal social accounts are:
The Jelmar social accounts are: