Published: APE Magazine, April 2016
“We remain the ‘PDQ’ people”
While forty years of success has turned their small business into a global competitor, RAE Products & Chemicals remains a family-owned and operated enterprise that holds true to its core values: Professionalism, Dependability, and Quality (PDQ). RAE also delivers on these three attributes in the more famous use of the P.D.Q. acronym, “As in, pretty darn quick!” says RAE’s President and owner, Donna Rae Gruenberg.
“Most paint suppliers don’t inventory their paint like we do,” Donna Rae points out as she walks through one of her company’s five, fully-stocked warehouses. More stock for RAE means shorter delivery times for RAE’s customers. And having this much paint on hand doesn’t affect RAE’s excellent paint quality. “We turn over stock quickly so we always have fresh paint,” she adds. RAE sells year-round and worldwide to users as far away as Dubai and Zanzibar. An Illinois family business shipping to customers in exotic locales half a world away might seem very distant from how RAE began, but “only for those who aren’t aware of our ongoing commitment to ‘PDQ’ and to our customers,” Gruenberg continues. “Meeting each customer’s satisfaction, no matter the distance, has been the core of our business success since our beginning.”
That is since 1976, to be precise. That year, RAE incorporated and started selling traffic and industrial paint from the Gruenberg home in suburban Chicago. Donna’s stepson, Guy Gruenberg, personally delivered RAE’s paint shipments. Donna’s husband and Guy’s father, Fred Gruenberg—an engineer turned paint specialist—helped create formulas that steadily improved RAE’s paints. The company has always offered their buyers better paints at competitive prices, in keeping with its work motto of “PDQ”
The family’s hard work and commitment took RAE from a three-employee paint business in 1976 to its current place as an industry leader whose multi-talented staff across six divisions still champions quality over short term profits.
Case in point: RAE just won Grainger’s “2015 Best Small Business” award, its second Grainger vendor award in three years, for “best-in-class delivery and customer service with an innovative product line that continues to expand”. Two years earlier, RAE was honored with Grainger’s “2013 Diversity Supplier of the Year” award, given to outstanding, diverse suppliers.
With a female president and owner/operator at the helm, RAE, and its clients also enjoy important Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) certifications on the local, state and national levels. Donna Rae Gruenberg hopes cities like hers will continue to steer contracts to small, women- and minority-owned businesses that need them. “We are an important part of our communities’ economic future.”
Fred Gruenberg, RAE’s acting CEO, agrees. His natural enthusiasm is obvious when he says he finds RAE’s continued success, “euphoric.” He’s also happy to explain how RAE has remained an industry leader in a paint market that has witnessed constant innovation, particularly in the last 15 years. “We’ve always embraced the creation of more environmentally friendly paints including Low VOC paints and water-based paints, as well as paints that last longer, look better, and offer more coverage at lower prices. RAE carries them all, and more.”
“We are not just a paint company anymore. We are also one of Graco’s largest Pavement Maintenance Distributors in the U.S. We supply stencils, preformed & extruded thermoplastic, 3M marking tapes, MMA plural component markings, masonry and graffiti cover-up paints, Florock seamless flooring resins,… our product line reflects how application processes have changed over the past 40 years,” says Kurt Gruenberg. Kurt, the Gruenberg’s youngest son, joined RAE as a teenager in 1984. Now, as Vice President and Director of Marketing, he directs RAE’s burgeoning online business.
Currently, Kurt and his team are working on RAE’s 4th generation website, which is geared towards mobile and tablet users. RAE’s new responsive site drives real-world sales to remote and exotic locations like the aforementioned Zanzibar. “To keep up with evolving customer demands worldwide we have thousands of product offerings for sale throughout multiple online stores.”
Above all else, RAE recognizes that it has survived for forty years in a changing business because it is not, in Fred’s words, “money motivated.” “Having a lasting reputation is more important than short-term profit. We thrive on our reputation. We stand by our products 100%. Our customers, our distributors, and our long-term future depend on it.”
In the near future, RAE is looking to add more employees to help with support with their growing sales. Continuing the tradition of being a WBE/DBE business is also important to a company that has been a minority business player in a field often dominated by men. Donna’s granddaughter Samantha, who is RAE’s Operations Manager, is poised to take the helm at RAE when the time comes. “I can see RAE with continued success for 40 more years, and more,” she says confidently. If history is any guide, she will.