Part I – The Early Years
OptiMA, Inc. is a company that has evolved out of a mix of well-timed opportunities and unfortunate events, but if you’re like owners Christine and Doug Klimavich, you believe that everything happens for a reason so you tend to take it all in stride.
The OptiMA story begins back in 1986. Doug was working for a national gourmet kitchen supply company. Impressed with his management skills, Doug’s boss asked him to help out with a new company they’d acquired; one that dealt in industrial cleaning supplies.
In true “undercover boss” fashion, Doug spent the first week working in the warehouse so he could observe the operations objectively. By the end of the week, he made recommendations that would substantially increase production while eliminating some jobs…including his own.
Intrigued by the cleaning product industry and eager to start their own business, Doug stayed on long enough in borrowed office space to learn the product line and on July 4, 1987, he and Chris opened D.C. Distributors in Westboro.
They chose the national holiday – Independence Day — as a sort of personal statement but three months later, on October 19, one of those unfortunate events occurred that affected D.C. Distributors and many other businesses around the country. On what has now come to be known as “Black Monday,” Wall Street experienced the largest one-day drop in stock market history and many of D.C.’s business customers started shuttering their doors.
What Do We Need to Get By?
By 1991, their business had stabilized and the young couple was thinking about starting a family. Wanting Chris to be a stay-at-home mom, they decided, meant she would have to leave her accounting job with Ernst & Young. One day, while chatting on the phone, Doug asked “just how much money do we need to meet expenses?” $950 a month was Christine’s reply.
Just then, a customer called in on the other line asking if Doug could recommend someone to clean his offices. “What’s your cleaning budget?” Doug inquired. $950 a month, the customer replied.
And so, D.C. Cleaning Company was born.
Part II – Taking it Online
In early 1997, Doug was in North Carolina consulting about cleaning supplies with one of his customers. As they toured the plant, Doug spotted some large rolls of white material. “That’s dry erase material,” the customer explained. “We take it into schools and convert their traditional black boards to white boards.”
A short time later, Christine got a phone call from a friend named Heidi. It seems she was a graphic designer and she had been asked to build a website for one of her customers but this was all new technology. What would they think about letting her practice by designing a website for D.C. Distributors?
Doug and Chris quickly agreed to let D.C. Distributors be the guinea pig but quickly hit a brick wall trying to decide which of their many products to feature on the website. With so many sales territory issues to consider, building a website that would have national exposure wasn’t as simple as they thought it would be.
Lightning Strikes – Twice
While they were busy sorting out content issues, something really strange happened: Heidi got struck by lightning. No, really. She wasn’t seriously hurt, but after such a big scare, Heidi headed for the hills every time a storm rolled around and the website project was forgotten.
That’s when one of those well-timed opportunities presented itself. Over the course of a couple of days, Doug got consecutive phone calls from three different D.C. customers; all purchasing agents from local school systems and each asked the same question: “Do you do anything with dry erase boards?”
The first time the question was posed, he quickly said, “sorry, no.”
When he got the second call, lightning struck again. No, not really – but he did flash back on the big white rolls of dry erase material in his customer’s warehouse in North Carolina. This time the answer was “Yeah, I might. Let me get back to you.”
By the time the third call came in, Doug had made arrangements to start stocking the dry erase material and his answer was “absolutely!”
Picking up where Heidi left off, Doug and Chris finally knew what their new e-commerce venture would feature and it had nothing to do with cleaning supplies. After spending their first 10 years in business together selling janitorial supplies, the future course in e-commerce was set and their product would be whiteboards.
Doug spent the next few weeks working around the clock, performing his D.C. Cleaners duties during the day and teaching himself HTML at night, sometimes until 2 or 3 in the morning (on dial-up!) so he could finish the website Heidi had started.
Part III – The Value of Search Engines
The first order came in from a local public school system on the same day the website was finally finished and launched. Christine and Doug remember it well. “We lost $55 on freight,” Chris jokes.
Next came the decision to spend $250 for Yahoo’s express service for priority search engine listing. “That was a lot of money to us in those days,” Doug remembers. “We deliberated for days about whether or not to spend the money but at the time the only alternative was to wait 6-8 months to get listed naturally.”
It turns out it was the right decision. The initial order was soon followed by three more orders in rapid succession. When asked where they heard about the website, customers reported that WhiteboardsEtc.com was the #1 listing on Yahoo.
The rest is history.
Within three months, D.C. Distributors was closed and OptiMA was born. What started out as a small company with a single website is now a major force in the national visual communication industry. OptiMA, Inc. now owns and operates a collection of e-commerce websites with a focus on visual communication tools, including WhiteboardsEtc.com, MyWhiteboards.com, MatsEtc.com and MyVisualDisplay.com.
In 2007, OptiMA, Inc. opened a new division which creates custom printed dry erase boards in-house and offers them on it’s newest website PrintedDryErase.com.
OptiMA’s original one-room office eventually spread into three commercial spaces that have now been brought under one roof in a, state-of-the-art 12,000 square foot combined office and manufacturing facility. As of 2017 this 12,000 square foot facility was now too small and the company has signed an agreement to lease a larger 34,000 square foot facility in the same office park.