Leadership Blog

Celebrating Our 50th Anniversary


I don’t mean to brag or anything, but it’s pretty unusual to find a cleaning product that’s as beloved now as it was 50 years ago, like our Tarn-X® metal cleaner. It also isn’t every day that you hear about a family business like Jelmar that survives one generation, let alone three. And a staff of just 15 building a brand with national reach and hundreds of thousands of social media followers? Well, that’s just about unheard of.

OK, so I do mean to brag a little.

The point is, what do you do when you accomplish not one, but all of those milestones? Well, you celebrate, of course—and you bring along the people who helped make it happen.

And that’s why, on a beautiful Chicago evening this summer, I found myself in a concert hall surrounded by dozens of friends, colleagues and Jelmar fans. As it happens, Tarn-X® shares its 50th anniversary with another longstanding local institution—Chicago the band. And we couldn’t have been prouder to have the chance to celebrate together.

It might not seem like a cleaning company has a whole lot in common with one of the most popular rock bands in history. But I like to think of it as the intersection of two iconic Chicago brands, and I think our shared values were pretty clear at the event. Even though they were about to go onstage for two and a half hours, these Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees took the time to meet our guests and have personal conversations with all of us, including the Jelmar fans who won tickets in our social media giveaway. Not that I was surprised by the band’s kindness—as anyone who’s visited our city knows, we Chicago natives are pretty darn neighborly!

But all that genuine niceness belies another trait that I think Chicago the band shares with Jelmar: a healthy dose of no-nonsense, Midwestern, get-it-done attitude. Whether you’re selling 100 million records or turning a single product into a multi-million-dollar company with multiple product lines, that kind of sustained determination over time requires a special kind of outlook on the world. Ever since the days when my grandfather first began selling cleaning products out of a suitcase, our business has been about strong customer relationships and quality products, and that’s what’s helped us stand the test of time.

Of course, a company that thrives for many decades can’t do so without knowing how to adapt to changing customer needs and tastes. But there’s more than one way to approach evolution, and knowing how to separate the trendy from the timeless is key.

For example, right now you’ll find you’ve never had more choice when it comes to scents in cleaning products. If you’ve always wanted your bathroom to smell like lilac or your kitchen to smell like orange blossom, the cleaning product aisle is a whole world of possibilities.

Except when it comes to Jelmar products, that is.

You see, one of the great benefits of being a third-generation family business is that it’s a lot easier to look at the big picture—to make decisions based on our enduring values instead of giving in to fleeting trends. And for us, that means making products that align with the things we believe in, like making people’s lives easier while helping the environment and supporting women in business. The latest gimmicky fragrance or packaging design? In our experience, that’s a fine way to succeed over the course of a few months or even years, but not necessarily decades.

And I’d say that’s true for just about any organization, whether it’s a family-owned cleaning company or a best-selling rock band.

A huge thank you to all the Jelmar employees and customers who have helped us get to 50 years.
Here’s to 50 more!