David Leamy’s Custom Chemical Corp. turns environmentally friendly cleaners into cash

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photos by Will Crooks

David Leamy isn’t in it for the money.

For 13-years, the Upstate entrepreneur’s passion for innovation, and a willingness to try where others have failed, have helped fuel the growth of his Spartanburg-based small business Custom Chemical Corp.

And he believes big things are on the horizon.

“I’m not money-oriented,” said Leamy, founder and CEO of Custom Chemical Corp.. “I’m motivated by innovation and a desire to make life a little better. But I’m also about providing jobs for my employees. It’s about service, attention to detail, protecting the environment, and taking care of my family.”

Leamy moved to Spartanburg in 1972 from the Philadelphia area.

He graduated from Dorman High School in 1978 and spent two years at Spartanburg Methodist College before going to work for R.R. Donnelley & Sons.

“It was a really good foundation for learning and building a craft,” Leamy said.

Leamy then spent a few years in the concrete, chemical, and packaging industries before deciding in 2004 to launch his own company.

He said the company quickly established a volume business in the industrial institution and critical care markets, and became EPA registered in 2006.

During its first five years in business, Custom Chemical Corp. built its reputation on an eco-friendly line of degreasers, including its Green Gator, Green Gator Magnum, Action and DH-Limonene brands.

By 2010, the company had started to contract package medical products, Leamy said.

“Our industrial and institutional market segments continue to grow, but the attention to our medical products division showed us a stable platform,” he said. “And we began to grow the company with equipment and employees that have specific skill sets in those areas.”

Today’s Custom Chemical’s list of product categories comprises Environmental Protection Agency registered disinfectants, clean wipes, general cleaners, facility hygiene, transport cleaners, resource renewable products, floor care products, textile cleaners, odor control products, metalworking solutions, corrosion inhibitors, and engineered distilled water. Almost all of the company’s products are biodegradable and environmentally friendly.

The company also manufactures resource renewable cleaners and lubricants sourced from soy-based raw materials, coconut oils, and other natural soap and chemical derivatives.

Leamy said he recently moved into the kitchen and personal care industries with a lineup of dish soaps, drain cleaners, hand cleaners, shampoos and conditioners, pet shampoos, and soaps for automatic and self-serve car washes and pressure washers. The company also offers fragrances, such as bubble gum, cucumber melon, and piña colada.

The firm’s primary customers span the industrial, automotive, critical care, aerospace, remediation, janitorial, and metalworking markets.

According to Leamy, the company’s sales have increased to $1.5 million per year. He expects that number will grow to about $3.5 million during the next 24 to 36 months.

Custom Chemical Corp. has 10 full-time employees, but its workforce grows to about 15 during seasonal peaks.

In 2014, Leamy made the decision to move the company into its current 25,000-square-foot headquarters building on about 2.6 acres at 2320 S. Pine St. near the Habitat for Humanity of Spartanburg ReStore.

The facility, built in 1972, formerly housed Gateway Supply Co., a plumbing and HVAC supply company that relocated about four years ago to a facility at 1098 Asheville Hwy. across from Chevrolet of Spartanburg.

Leamy said his company still has room to grow in the space, which is significantly larger than its previous 6,000-square-foot home off Southport Road.

The plant has a laboratory that allows for research and development, simple analysis, and quality control.

It also has a fully equipped packaging division, a state-of-the-art water filtration and deionizing system, accounting and business offices, a walk-in sales counter, and ample space for warehousing and distribution.

Leamy said the company’s blending operation, which includes one 1,000-gallon tank and a 3,500-gallon tank, is also “state-of-the-art.”

“We innovate and make our own blends,” he said. “That’s really what we do.”

The company’s portfolio of products has increased from about 75 in 2009 to more than 140 today, Leamy said. But that number does not include a multitude of proprietary formulations the company provides for its customers.

One of the areas where Leamy said he sees the most potential for future growth is in metalworking solutions for critical support areas in manufacturing.

For example, the company has formulations for cleaning, removing rust, and polishing aluminum, chrome, stainless steel, and other metals. It also has cutting fluids, defoamers, and lubricants.

Another area of potential growth is in the critical area in medical facilities as well as pharmaceutical research and manufacturing facilities.

“I have surrounded myself with very talented, intelligent employees, clients, and consultants,” Leamy said. “I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘You can’t do that.’ Well, I like to prove to them that we can.”

Custom Chemical Corp.’s customers include Spartanburg-based Contec Inc. and ZF Lemforder.

Leamy said he believes innovation will be critical to the company’s future success as manufacturing processes continue to evolve and the need for more diverse, better-performing products increases.

“Our vision is panning out in that we continue to innovate in key areas,” he said.

To drive innovation, Leamy said he knows one of the most important aspects of his management will be to continue to foster a corporate culture and environment that will attract and retain talented employees.

“My rule of thumb is to treat people better and create a place where you don’t need to have another job. The way you accomplish that is by paying people a lot more,” he said. “I came from where many of them are. I know what it feels like.”

Leamy said he has always been open with customers and competitors in terms of sharing information. He said he found it to be the best approach to solving problems and maintaining compliance with regulatory standards.

He said the company invests a lot of time and effort in researching where other companies have failed in order to provide solutions for clients.

Custom Chemical Corp. is also meticulous when it comes to EPA guidelines.

“I have to share with people,” he said. “If you don’t share and you don’t network, you’re not going to go anywhere.”

Leamy said he has taken more of a leadership role in driving the company’s sales.

“We tried having a sales team for many years, but it just wasn’t working for us,” he said. “I spend most of my days in a suit and tie, meeting with people and talking about what we have to offer. We’ve found that it works better for us this way.”

Leamy said he plans to keep the company in Spartanburg. He didn’t rule out the potential for future mergers, or partnerships that could accelerate growth.

“The Upstate in general is a great place to be,” he said. “The diversity here is great. The quality of life is good. We’re happy to be where we’re at.”

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