Goodwin Co. planned the party of a century for itself last Friday. Literally.
“I never thought that this company would be 100 years old,” said Don G. Goodwin, grandson of the founder, Thomas A. Goodwin.
“I’m sure my grandfather is looking down on us and he would be the proudest.”
The Garden Grove-based company is family owned, one that nowadays involves its fifth and sixth generations.
It’s evolved into a 300-employee contract manufacturer with revenue approaching $100 million annually by providing chemical blending, liquid filling and packaging and product fulfillment for brands such as Simple Green, Mother’s Polish and Jay Leno’s Garage.
It has 500,000 square feet of industrial space in Garden Grove and near Atlanta that can store 1 million gallons and mix 60 million gallons a year.
Don T. Goodwin recently became the fifth-generation president, taking over from his father, Tom Goodwin.
“It’s very rare to have a 100-year-old family business,” Don T. Goodwin said in an interview in his office in Garden Grove. “It has to do with the credibility of the leadership. I looked up to my dad and grandpa. I wanted to be like them. I wanted them to be proud of me and do right by them.
“It was always my dream to follow in their footsteps.”
The Goodwin family traces its entrepreneurial roots to the late 1700s in Pennsylvania, with relatives who made shoes and furniture and ran a dry goods store. In 1922, Thomas A. Goodwin left the Midwest with his family to set up operations in a 1,500-square-foot shed behind a restaurant called the Pink Elephant in East Los Angeles.
They manufactured what in those days was called “sundries” such as glass cleaners, laundry soap and ammonia. The founder would visit mom-and-pop stores, take their orders, make the products, and then deliver them the next day. Don G. Goodwin joined the company in 1949, the year after the founder died.
“After my grandfather died, the company just about died as well. My dad didn’t like sales,” Don G. Goodwin recalled. “We were surviving, but not much.”
In fact, Don G. found himself working at other jobs in the 1950s because he wasn’t sure the family business would survive the 1950s.
“The first 40 years were kind of slow,” he said. “Our business was the size of a gas station for the first 40 years. You’d think, ‘What are you going to do tomorrow to keep the business going?’”
In the early 1960s, the company became the first in the nation to switch to selling ammonia in plastic bottles instead of glass, which customers disliked because of the potential for breakage.
“It was a revolution for us because we went from No. 2 or 3 in the market to No. 1. We became the top seller of ammonia in the Southern California market. We doubled our sales.”
Even today, Don G. says, “I made so many mistakes,” particularly in marketing the products.
His grandson, current President Don T., won’t have any of it, noting his grandfather “was the third generation and business really took off under his leadership.”
In 1964, Goodwin made a major pivot by agreeing to make a product called “Swipe.” It was Goodwin’s first contract manufacturing job and helped boosted annual sales by 20% from the prior decade.
The company in 1973 moved to 12102 Industry St. in Garden Grove where its square footage doubled to 47,000.
“We paid $11 a square foot—today they’re asking $350 a square foot,” Don G. said.
Just after it opened its facility, the company was approached by Alan Rypinski to make what became one of the breakout products of the 1970s—Armor All to clean cars.
“It was like getting aboard a rocket ship. That product took off,” Don G. said. “We were doing everything except the sales. Buying raw materials, manufacturing it, and shipping it to customers.
“That was the game changer for Goodwin Co. It put us in a completely different league. We went from $2 million to $5 million practically overnight,” he said.
Regional producers of products lost market share over the years to large multinational brands, so Goodwin ended its own brand of products in 2017 to concentrate on contract manufacturing.
It moved into making a product called DEF, or diesel exhaust fluid. Around 2009, the government mandated all diesel engines—whether in trucks, trains, farm equipment or ships or farm equipment—contain a separate fuel tank to hold DEF, which is used to clean the exhaust systems and eliminate the knocks.
“DEF is a huge market worldwide,” Don T. said. “It makes diesel trucks incredibly clean. Diesel trucks are probably cleaner than all our cars and nobody knows that.”
Goodwin spent millions to build 20,000-gallon stainless steel tanks that should last 50 years, Don T. estimated.
“We build things to last so the next generation doesn’t have to pay the tab,” Don T. said. “When you’re thinking in terms of decades and generations, you can do that, versus thinking in terms of quarters.”
The company currently makes 13 million gallons of DEF a year with the capacity for 25 million gallons. Rail cars enter its facility every three days, making Goodwin perhaps the largest user of rail cars in Orange County, Don T. said.
The pandemic created its best year ever in 2020 when its disinfectants like sanitizers were in high demand. Its employment reached 400 and sales were a record, near $90 million.
“We’ve been able to reinvent ourselves,” Don T. said.
The company, which is owned by Don T. and his father Tom, doesn’t have any plans for an initial public offering nor is it seeking private equity.
At its 100th party, executives celebrated the past and discussed the future.
Don T. wants to broaden its range to include at least one product on every aisle in a grocery store. He’s installing new equipment to speed up manufacturing to try to do fulfillment orders at a cheaper rate than what Amazon charges.
He wants customers to have “a premier experience,” so that it’s considered a relationship business rather than a commodity-like transactional.
It’s spent $1.2 million on new equipment this year. It’s built three new departments for research, purchasing and sales, hiring 10 employees thus far this year.
“This place is worth it and we’re going to invest money and people into it and we’re going to keep this thing going as long as we can.”
The Key to a Successful Family Business
In 1986, brothers Gary and Tom Goodwin recognized an opportunity to expand Goodwin’s contract manufacturing capabilities of Armor All on the East Coast by opening facilities near Atlanta.
They approached their father, Don G. Goodwin, who was then CEO, about their plan. The father tested his sons.
“I didn’t think it was a good idea because we had all the business we could handle,” Don G. recalled. “They told me, ‘We’ll do it with or without you.’”
That was a turning point for Don G., who realized his sons loved the business and wanted to keep it going.
“I had confidence they had the ability because they knew the business inside and out.”
Don G. eventually retired in 1996, and the sons took over.
“They unlocked the door to the jail and now I was out free. They’re going to find out what it’s like with sleepless nights and all those things that go along with a small business.”
When asked why six generations of Goodwins have worked at the firm, the two Goodwins said their family members have always been involved in the firm and worked hard to earn their keep.
“I remember as a kid, my dad would drag me down here on the weekends because he’d weld stuff together and I would just figure out what to do around here all day,” current President Don T. Goodwin said.
Don T. worked on the production line while in high school and drove a forklift. When the company expanded to the East Coast, his father asked Don T. to go to Atlanta to work for the summer and to bring along his friends.
“The whole family participated in the business over the years,” Don G. said.
“The company’s been very good to all of us. It’s my love. It’s been part of my life for more than 70 years. I still have the feelings for it.”
—Peter J. Brennan