Distributing company owner aims to meet his customers’ needs
FREDERICK — Convenience stores could not be as efficient without Israel “Izzy” Salazar and his brainchild, TSN Inc.
The Frederick-based distributing company supplies rugs, squeegees and nacho trays to Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club and 45,000 convenience stores from coast to coast. Salazar supplies anything found in a convenience store or grocery store that does not generate income.
“We joke around here that we are the toilet-paper merchant to the world,” Salazar said. “That is not the way we really are, but that’s the way we look at ourselves.”
Salazar has built his small empire based on the idea that the customer is the most vital link in the company chain.
“I’ve had a basic philosophy I’ve used all my life in this business, and that is, ‘If a customer likes you and likes what you are doing, they are going to find ways to do business with you,'” Salazar said. “If they don’t like the things you are doing, they will find ways not to do business with you. It’s really simple.
“We’re the ultimate company where the customer is always right,” Salazar said. “If a customer says they want pink canoes, we’ll give them pink canoes. We don’t care. Our trucks don’t have brains in them. Our trucks will carry whatever we deem necessary to put in them.”
Salazar and Ted Nelson, currently the company’s executive vice president, formed the company in 1989.
“I was working for a large paper merchant that does the same thing we do now, a company called Butler Paper,” Salazar said. ” I decided I could do this myself, I didn’t need a company behind me. So I went ahead and started TSN.”
From day one of the operation, Salazar dreamed of big things. Some of his initial clients included King Soopers, Albertsons, Safeway and McLane Co. The company began operating as a brokerage firm, without a distribution center. They bought the product at the best price and sold it. A contracted distribution company would deliver the products.
“We did business with (these companies) the same way I was doing business with them at Butler,” He said. “We were selling them sanitation supplies and packaging supplies.”
Salazar quickly learned his competition didn’t fully understand the need for supplies to reach the intended destination quickly or the need to fill trucks to capacity.
“We felt we could be competitive with (the other paper houses) price-wise, but we were really going to beat them at knowledge of the product and service levels.”
From broker to distributor
Once the company truly found its niche, Salazar began to envision the future of TSN Inc. An Econoline van and a hand jack were the humble beginnings of the distribution side of Salazar’s dream. Approximately six months later, Salazar purchased an old Ryder moving truck.
“Then, we figured out we knew how to do the trucking thing better, so we went ahead and built a new facility in Boulder that was about 60,000 square feet,” Salazar said.
After building the ware-house/office/distribution facility, the group invested in its first four semi trucks.
“We took on the total distribution of our own product. Everything we were selling we controlled and delivered,” Salazar said.
Once Salazar decided to vertically integrate, TSN began to grow at somewhere between 20 and 38 percent a year for several years, and since then the company has grown at least 20 percent each year.
“We are having a very tremendous year. Most people tell me we should be happy, but I am never happy about that,” he said. “We are having a great year again despite the economy.”
Salazar contributes part of his company’s success to the products it sells. TSN supplies the food industry, which is somewhat insulated from the economic downturn.
“People spend their last dollar on food and that’s the business were in.”
The quiet company on I-25
In October 1998, TSN moved into its current facility at the Del Camino interchange, south of Longmont. The facility allows easy access to Interstate 70 and Interstate 25 for the company’s 75 massive 53-foot trailers.
“They are too big to be around city blocks. That was our problem in Boulder: We were always afraid we were going to run over cars and stuff like that,” Salazar said. “These trucks are built to be on the highway, not neighborhoods. It’s a real hindrance for us to be anywhere other than on a main artery.”
The facility is a 190,000-square-foot wonderland filled with goods, office space and some of Salazar’s vices. In a garage out back, Salazar keeps his set of personalized Harleys, his Porsches and his ’61 Corvette convertible.
Another hobby of Salazar’s is baseball. A former minor leaguer himself, he supports youth baseball in any way he can — even letting teams practice in the warehouse when it is too cold outside to play.
“We’ve been a big-time supporter of youth baseball for years and years,” he said.
But youth sports are not the only philanthropic activity in which Salazar is involved.
“I’ve always believed in almost a Biblical philosophy about giving. He really blesses those who give silently,” Salazar said. “(TSN) and I have been a big supporter of children’s Miracle Network, the Make -A-Wish Foundation, (we’re) heavily involved in the Boulder School District, we’ve built baseball and softball fields for (Boulder County) (and) we’ve helped with our local recreation centers here (in Weld County).”
According to Patti Speer, director of development for the Colorado chapter of Make-A-Wish, Salazar is one of the more generous givers.
“He is the major sponsor of Frank’s Ride for Children, a fund-raising motorcycle ride through Northern Colorado,” Speer said. “Twelve hundred motorcyclists ride through Northern Colorado and have a pig roast at the end. It is the most profitable external fund-raiser we have.”
A new venture
This is Salazar’s last year running the day-to-day operations of TSN. At the end of the year, he will name a new president while still remaining the CEO and chairman of the board.
“I have decided to go into business with my son. We are opening a chain of Benihana Restaurants together,” Salazar said. “I really wanted to do something he and I could do, something where he and I could be on the same level. I have no knowledge of the restaurant industry.”
Construction is currently under way on the pair’s first restaurant at Flatirons Crossing near Boulder. The $5.5 million project is expected to be completed in mid-January.