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How this woman is making Tarn-X and CLR interactive

Old and dull does not describe the maker of Tarn-X.

The metal tarnish cleaner, introduced 46 years ago by Skokie-based Jelmar, is the top brand in its category in the U.S. And CLR, the company’s 30-year-old calcium, lime and rust remover, also holds a top spot, according to IRI.

They are among two-dozen products sold by family-owned Jelmar, where President Alison Gutterman has zeroed in on marketing innovation and new product development to reach a new generation of customers since she took over six years ago.

“We’re focused on how we can create dynamic interchange between our consumers and our brands of products and making it more of an interaction versus us just pushing product at them,” says Gutterman, named 2013 Woman Business Owner of the Year by the National Association of Women Business Owners in Chicago.

Jelmar’s products clean household items from appliances to barbecue pits, patio furniture, showerheads, tile and stone.

A few years ago, the company put QR codes on all of its products for consumers with smartphones.

“Consumers, when they are at the shelf level, if they don’t understand how CLR works, they can scan the QR code and either watch a video, see frequently asked questions, see our television commercial,” Gutterman says.

Jelmar has also run campaigns on Ibotta, a smartphone app that allows consumers to get paid on PayPal for participating in brand marketing initiatives, and campaigns on Shopkick, an app that lets people earn points and redeem them for gifts.

Changing the company’s TV advertising has been another focus.

“We’ll show a variety of products that we manufacture in one 120-second commercial,” she says. “In the past, we tended to focus on one product, and now at the end of all of our commercials, we have a tagline to our website.”

And the company is now able to track where consumers are seeing its commercials, “so we’re able to allocate our money better,” Gutterman says.

Jelmar has focused on developing environmentally friendly products. Among such new products are CLR Mold & Stain, a bleach-free cleaner, and CLR Stain Magnet, an all-purpose, multisurface stain remover. The company has five products that carry the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment designation, Gutterman says.

Her efforts are paying off. Gutterman declined to share revenue details but says Jelmar has enjoyed consistent growth, even through the recession and as she launched a new division targeting industrial customers.


For entrepreneurs looking to stay relevant and competitive, Alison Gutterman advises:

Do

Listen to consumers. “You have to search out what consumers are looking for and not be afraid to deliver on what they want even if it’s different than what your premise was when you started your company,” she says.

Be slow to hire and fast to fire. “You can’t make a mistake because then you’re not going to have the people that are going to want to go out and search for new ideas and new avenues and ways to grow your company,” says Gutterman, who employs 14.

Don’t

Let concerns about return on investment freeze you. “A lot of these [new marketing] programs, the back end hasn’t been created for you to really understand how you’re going to get that return. But try it because if you wait until that’s figured out, you’re going to miss out on some of the things that are cutting edge.”

Neglect customer service. “It’s such a key driver of your business,” she says.

Photo by Heath Sharp