Often times I am asked “How did you get into the floor matting business?” This is the story of how The Mad Matter came to be.
In 1985, I was a young officer in the U.S. Marine Corps going through training in Quantico, VA. My wife was pregnant and we had little in the way of material things. In fact, I recall rolling out my military issue sleeping bag on the floor as a bed. We used laundry and towels to help make the hardwood floor more comfortable. I was sprawled on my back looking at the bare white ceiling and I told my wife “I will never let us be like this again.” It was a defining moment.
I made the difficult decision to leave the Marines in 1987 and landed a job with a small family owned floor matting company in Maryland. I was making money, having fun but it just wasn’t enough. So I asked if there was any chance of ownership in my future. Of course the answer was “No, we are a family business.” My spirit was deflated but not gone. Not too long after that, I resolved to just throw myself into my job and make it what I wanted it to be. Well, this led to a run-in with the second – in – command to the point that voices were raised, names were called and he fired me. The owner at this time was on a two-week vacation. When he heard about the incident, he called me up and told me I was not fired, to just take some time off until he got back and we would have this matter resolved. Because I respected the man, I said I would not make any decisions until he returned. But I had two weeks to stew and review my situation. Sometime during that two-week period it dawned on me that the guy who fired me would eventually take over the company and be my boss. I would be in my late forties, drawing a pretty good income. And I did not want to put my future into that man’s hands. I had to leave, but what could I do? I was a mat salesman. Not exactly a profession with many opportunities. There just were not many mat companies out there. I was in my thirties, and as an adult the only jobs I ever had were in the military and as a door mat salesman. I never wanted to be at the mercy of an irrational employer again. There was only one option… start my own company.
My employer had been great to me, so I did not want to compete against him in the Baltimore – Washington market. My wife and I chose Atlanta because it was closer to our families. Early July of 1992, we both quit our jobs loaded up the moving truck like the Beverly Hillbillies and moved to Atlanta.
I had borrowed some money from my parents and others to get us started. But we really were strapped. And there were no more paychecks to count on. It may seem like we were in dire straits, but we were having a blast. I personally felt more alive at this time than I had ever felt before. By all accounts we probably should have failed. But, we were too proud to fail so we didn’t.
My wife was new to the mat business and I was new to all parts of the business that did not involve selling. We had to learn how to do everything a mat company did to survive. Selling was the easy part. Getting the product to the customer was the challenge. We had to learn every facet of the mat business and at the same time try to sell enough to make a living.
It was tight but we made enough of a profit our first year to purchase an old white Dodge Van for $900.00 to make deliveries. It looked like it had been through a war zone, but I could fix it up. The engine was caked with oil and ran a little hot, but it had possibility. When I pulled up to my home, the engine overheated and caught on fire. All the kids in the neighborhood thought it was neat and started to run toward me. I was afraid it was going to explode. Fortunately, the fire was extinguished, the van looked worse than ever, but it worked. Nonetheless, we persevered.
The van incident kind of characterizes my perspective of life. Failure is not an option. Perseverance is a given. The ability to make lemonade from lemons is expected. We could have failed, we could have chosen to quit, we could have just given up all hope, but we didn’t. And we never will. There is no virtue in mediocrity.
While still a small company, we have carved a niche in a few markets. And our customers know they can count on us. We still run into pitfalls and make mistakes but that’s life. I know that the Mad Matter’s path of success will be laden with potholes. The road might be bumpy, but it still leads to our destination. Enjoy the ride.