The Tampa, Fla., small business community has a designated hitter on their roster that is inspiring other entrepreneurs around south Florida.
Tampa’s Impact Industrial Supplies-owner John Diaz started down his career path as a supplier in tools, abrasives, adhesives and other supplies used in industry in the 1980’s. His dedication and the way he treated customers quickly advanced him to area manager several years later. But his career to a life altering turn when the company he worked for began to fail and long-time employees left for other jobs.
“I saw the writing on the wall and I left. The company is still in business there was a risk of closing. I had no job and four-month-old baby twins at home,” said Diaz. “I had considered a business before and the time to start was now. I had great relationships with customers and suppliers and thought by working at home, I would find the business-family stability I needed.”
Diaz set out to continue his relationships with previous clients and with a lifetime group of friends in his Tampa-hometown where he spent many days playing baseball. He launched his own business in his home, Impact Industrial Supplies relying on his previous experience as a supplier for products used in industrial companies.
“I had a staff of three people: my wife, sister-in-law and me. We had sales of $190,000 that first year,” recalled Diaz. “I’d make service calls during the day, come home for dinner with the family, and then go back to fill orders for the next day. “
As Industrial Impact Supplies grew, Diaz secured larger facilities. In 2001, he purchased a 15,000 square foot property in Tampa. But the business growth wasn’t without difficulties.
“Like many small businesses, I had challenges of establishing lines of credit and receiving credit from suppliers. But a customer of mine who I had known for a long time introduced me to some others in banking. There, I learned what could achieve with networking and managed to secure my first line of credit that became the foundation for strong growth,” said Diaz.
Diaz understands the value of strong business relationships. Diaz became involved with the Florida Minority Supplier Development Council at the same time he was starting Impact Industrial Supplies. Certifying his business as a Hispanic-owned company gave him an edge that other businesses lacked.
“Becoming a certified Hispanic-owned business gave me access to corporations that other businesses must spend more time and resources to access,” explained Diaz. “Once I start a business relationship, I value that relationship and deliver the best customer care I can.”
Industrial Impact Supplies customers include an 18-year relationship with Walt Disney World; an eight-year relationship with United Space Alliance; and Honeywell Corporation. It’s through these long term relationships centered on treating customers with respect that allowed the industrial supply company to grow from a $190,000 home-based business revenue over $6million.
“I recently found a list of my top 20 customers that I wrote down in 2005. Of those 20 customers, I’m still doing business with 11 of them,“ said Diaz. “Eight of the others are no longer in business. The other I lost to a national competitor. Retention in the industrial supply business is difficult and having retained those 11 businesses is a great accomplishment.”
While tenacity and learning the industrial supply business from the ground-up may explain some of Diaz success, education and learning business from the experts helped lead the way.
“I got my associates degree in business on a baseball scholarship at Hillsborough Community College. I continued my business studies, and played baseball, at Florida International University (FIU),” said Diaz.
But his business acumen didn’t stop there. Diaz attended the 2002 Annual Small Business Government Conference presented by Florida’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and the Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) that honed his entrepreneurial skills. Since then, Diaz estimates he has received more than 1,060 hours of consulting services and training from the SBDC.
The 21-year-old-company has realized a 21% growth over the last three years. Diaz continues to give back to his hometown community by supporting many child-support charities including Tampa’s Metropolitan Ministries, Big Brothers and Big Sisters and little league baseball. Diaz is still very active in the Florida Minority Supplier Development Council where he serves as the Minority Business Enterprise Chair and on the executive committee. He provides guidance to chapter members on how to maximize their minority business enterprise designation.
Being a small business owner in Tampa and contributing to the economy is something he is very proud of.
“We try to do more with fewer employees and pay above the local pay scale,” said Diaz. “The majority of my work force doesn’t have college degrees but I try to offer a competitive salary and a flexible schedule so they can find the opportunity to become successful. Two former employees were part time college students when they worked here. Today, they not only graduated but formed their own pharmaceutical company and I’m proud to know I could be part of their success.”
Creating that opportunity of success is important to Diaz. He admits his business philosophy comes from the baseball dugouts and the infield where he used to play. His dream wasn’t to be a small business owner but a third baseman in the major leagues. What he is quick to point out, though, is he had a plan when things weren’t unfolding as he hoped. He seized other opportunities when they arose.
“My advice to other entrepreneurs is they need to develop productive paranoia. There is no point in dwelling on failures and you shouldn’t dwell on your successes either,” Diaz explained. “Baseball is like that because one day you can go hitless and the next day go four-for-four. Be bullheaded; follow your gut instinct; don’t let events set you back and don’t let adversity slow you down.”