Purity No More

I was transferred back to the North Coast in 1965 by Ortho Chemical Company who I had worked for five years. I started with Ortho on the day my first of three daughters were born, June 1, 1960. My first job was in Ukiah running an agricultural chemical warehouse. I quickly was promoted to outside sales. Ortho treated me well during those first three years from the warehouse position to sales then transferring me to the great Salinas Valley to run an agricultural chemical manufacturing and distribution plant and then to the heart of California Agriculture Fresno. I had a great title, Staff assistant to the regional operations manager. The Fresno paperwork job and I did not get along at all so when a sales position opened up based in Santa Rosa, I couldn’t apply fast enough. The job was more like a lateral transfer but for me it was a god given gift. I moved my family that now contains two daughters and a gracious wife that I had moved around four times in five years beside birthing two children. 

In the North Coast from Marin County to the Oregon the main customer of Ortho was Purity Chemical Products Company based in Santa Rosa. On the first day of my new god given job my boss and I called upon Purity. Purity was managed by a well put together man named Charley Sloat. When I previously worked in Ukiah, Ortho was a direct competitor of Purity. Somewhere while I was in Salinas Ortho stopped direct sales of chemicals and dealt only with dealers like Purity Chemical Products Company. I introduced myself to Charley with as much charm as I could muster since I had competed directly with the Purity sales force just five years ago. I waded right into a conversation and asked Charley just what could I do to earn more of his business for Ortho. Ortho was wholly owned by Standard Oil Company of California. Purity Chemical was a local company that was started in 1924 selling chicken medical supplies. Over the years they expanded to selling agriculture chemicals and fertilizers. Since they were the first brick in the block, they enjoyed a classification of Co-manufacture or distributor of Agricultural chemicals. They in turn would sell to the local dealers who were spread around the north coast including Lake County with its vast acreage of pears. Pears require many chemical sprays per year and copious amounts of supplemental manufactured fertilizers.

Charley Sloat was a man’s man. He had a good handshake. A veteran of WW2 in the Air Corps. He flew B-17’s. When he returned home, he looked up an old friend, Don Martin, who owned Purity Chemical Company. Martin needed a manger. Charlie belonged to a hunting club, drank good liquor and smoked heavily. I could relate to all of these things except the smoking. Charley soon managed Purity for the founding owners Don Martin et al. Charley married well as his wife was a Comstock. He soon partnered up with Ed Keegan, a very recognizable and respected name in Sonoma County. There were two other salesmen calling on farmers and ranchers all over the north coast counties. A small store sold to home owners and especially swimming pool supplies. 

The first thing I asked Charley was just what could I do to earn more business from Purity. At that time Purity had distributorships with many other major agriculture chemical companies. Ortho was equal with these other basic manufacturing companies. Our product line would fit into Purity’s needs but some other company was going to see smaller sales. I was young and energetic. I wanted more of their business and I was willing to get into the trench and fight for it. Charley had one of the salesmen working 3 days a week in Lake County. By coincidence that man had also worked for Ortho in past years. Earl was an easy-going man of middle age just like Charley and Ed. The other outside salesman Frank was a different story. We had competed face to face against each other in the early 1960’s. That wound never healed. I was probably was just as much at fault as he was.

With me working calling on growers it was like an unpaid employee for Purity. I would spend three days a week up in Lake County, one day on paper work, Standard Oil really liked lots of reports. And I took Charlie out to lunch one day a week generally on Fridays. This arrangement worked well. I increased the sales to Purity and won Salesman of the year 3 years in a row. This award level has never been equaled in the past 48 years. Charlie liked to go the Hof Brow which was then located on Cleveland Ave. The building now houses a second-hand store. Back in the late 60’s it WAS the place to have lunch and network. Charlie and I were most often joined by Judge Jim Jones. Lunch always started off with a couple of martini’s all around followed by some local gossip. After the gossip and drinks the Judge would excuse himself and head back to court. Time for the judge to nap from the bench. Charlie and I would stay longer and have some traditional lunch.

My boss bought into the direction I would take. It was a definite shift from how the previous Ortho man had operated (or not operated). I enjoyed being on the front lines. Charlie and I became close friends, more like a big brother relationship. He had three daughters and I now had daughter number three on the way.

I increased sales for Purity and enjoyed being thought of as being an additional Purity employee. Somewhere in the late 1960’s Purity’s sales topped one million. Charley threw a dinner at Los Robles Lodge and my wife Shirley and I were included right down to the last part time employee. Charley treated everyone equally. My sales to Purity increased. I had mammoth sales increases in the late 1960’s. I received “Salesman of the Year” three years in a row.

In addition, Charlie took inventory once a year. So, my BIG sales month was November which recorded the sales of all of the Ortho Products Purity had made all year along. One year Ortho had this great promotional program, increase your sales over the previous year and pick out gifts from a book that looked like the Sears catalogue. Well, I told Charlie about it and he delayed his inventory that year out from November to December so all of the sales were posted in January. The effect was a lower current year and a mammoth following year. In the following year Charlie went back to November inventory. In essence, I posted two years of sales in one year. I was awarded almost everything in the book. A new coat with a FUR collar for Shirley. A new TV for the house, mixers, blenders, everything we could not have afforded.

I now had worked for Ortho Division for ten years, had rapidly moved up the ranks. Ortho’s offer to me for hard work was to offer me a transfer to Buttonwillow. Buttonwillow, California. If you turn down a couple of transfers with big companies your days were numbered. They did not like a high paid employee serving a relatively small area. I then received offers from two other agricultural chemical companies selling in the North coast.

Charley heard about the offers and asked Shirley and I to stop at his house on a Sunday afternoon. If I was to jump ship from Ortho, he wanted me to jump into his ship. I knew that would probable be my last change so I wanted it to be a good one. I wanted part of the ownership. Charley made a competitive salary offer and that I could purchase 10 shares of Purity per year. At that time Charley and Ed had a majority of the shares, but they needed to buy out Don Martin, et al and one of the dealers, Healdsburg Packing Company owned by three older men who also wanted to sell. Before I terminated with Ortho I engineered a sale of the Purity Santa Rosa Store, warehouse, and office to Standard Oil. This generated enough cash for Charlie and Ed to buy out Don Martin, and dealer Healdsburg Packing Company. My Ortho boss was very happy, he was promoted to the Branch Manager in Fresno. His family roots were in Madera, I continued work now for Purity and purchasing 10 shares of stock each year. Somewhere Purity changed corporations and they direct to stockholders issued the dividends. The shares cost me $500 per share. This is in 1970 money. I bought shares until 1974 when I left Purity to farm. At this time, I had 40 shares paying $495 per share each year. That is $20,000 per year on top of my salary.

In 1977 I was not working for Purity still owned stock and receiving the dividends. I received a call from Charley. Come by and have lunch. Charley had lung cancer. He and Ed wanted to sell their shares to the current employees. I had made a verbal agreement with Charley that if I was not working for Purity, I would sell my shares back to them. They in turn would sell them to the employees. 

Shortly after selling my Purity shares back Charley Sloat died. This is the man who brought me along in my profession. I miss him everyday.

Management of Purity then went to Frank. Kind of the Senior employee. Sales began to fall. The Santa Rosa store closed. Two new agricultural chemical companies opened up. Just recently I learned Purity Chemical Company completely closed up. There was not a sale to another company. The business was worth nothing. A current local chemical company offered to buy their inventory. Some of the employees were offered jobs. Nothing for the business. 

Purity was gone, the stockholders did have the Healdsburg warehouse to sell and divide up the proceeds. A small reward for the giant of a company now gone. I hope Frank is resting in peace.

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