Thirty years ago, Jeff Slosman woke up in the middle of the night, reflecting on his first 30 years of life. Slosman recalled, “I was visiting family in Florida and in the middle of the night, I sat up in bed and decided that the first 30 years hadn’t been the happiest, but that the next 30 would be.” The following day he gave his father notice from the 3rd generation family business, worked a nine-month transition, and hasn’t looked back.
Slosman, born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina, started National Wiper Alliance, a non-woven dry wipe manufacturer, in 1996 in the corner of a customer’s tobacco barn, where his only employer was his 85-year-old grandfather. He said, “My grandfather packed boxes while I made call after call trying to get orders.” His perseverance paid off and six months later, he rented his first 10,000 square foot facility of his own. Today, 23 years later, he employs 125 people in a half million square foot manufacturing plant, just outside Asheville, with another 150,000 square feet of purchased space available for his projected growth.
However, it wasn’t always an upward trajectory. Along with many other businesses over the economic downturn, National Wiper Alliance had experienced a decline in revenue. As the economy was trying to rebound in 2015, Slosman hired an outside agency, Integritive, to assist with his marketing efforts to close the gap and try to gain traction from orders he had lost over the past few years. It was during one of the initial meetings that Integritive suggested Slosman reach out to the Southeastern Trade Adjustment Assistance Center (SETAAC) housed out of Georgia Tech, which is a federally-funded program, providing matching assistance to firms experiencing declines due to import competition. “When I first heard about the program, I thought it sounded too good to be true. But after talking to Tracy [Barth of the SETAAC program], I not only began to understand what the program was, but quickly realized that this program and the funding was available for companies just like mine,” Slosman said.
After being accepted into the program, Slosman’s first goal was to make his company more visible. Working with SETAAC and Integritive, they chose to recreate National Wiper Alliance’s website, taking it from a static site containing only product specs to a dynamic website that would communicate the National Wiper Alliance difference, both in the messaging and through the site’s usability. The company also had two professional videos created to allow people to experience the culture of being in and working with the National Wiper Alliance plant. Barth said, “They had just been nominated for a prestigious industry award so these videos were a great way to showcase this achievement while creating content that they could use on their website and at trade shows to convey their value in an impactful way.”
In addition to using the funding to create business growth, they also focused on improving their processes, quality, and efficiencies. The team worked with SETAAC and an engineering firm to create plans that would modify one of their operating lines by redesigning an instrumental piece of equipment to make the machine more efficient and safer for loading. Once the drawings were complete, National Wiper Alliance employed a local machine shop to build it to spec. As a result, the daily output on that operating line has increased. Slosman said, “Prior to the redevelopment, we had a forklift loading one roll at a time. Each time a roll would finish, there was 15 minutes of downtime.” He continued, “Now we have an automated arm loading rolls and we are able to have additional rolls waiting so that when one is finished the next roll is automatically loaded.”
Slosman concluded, “SETAAC has been a true partner of ours. The funding we’ve received has allowed us to get started on projects that we may have not had the means to work on, helping us get to where we are today.” He continued, “Now that we have reestablished ourselves, we have an aggressive growth plan. We intend to double the size of the company in the next three to four years, so it’s incredibly important for us to increase our capabilities and continue to get the word out about our company.”