An occasional look at how an entrepreneur built her company to top $1 million in sales.
CANTON — If Maria Maculaitis appears to be drifting off while listening to a 30-second pitch, she probably is. It’s one reason she’s successful at turning contacts into contracts.
“My mind is already working while I’m listening,” said Maculaitis, a purchasing agent hired to buys goods and services – from raw materials and equipment to tools and supplies – for other businesses.”I’m thinking about who I might be able to hook them up with, at some point. You never know who you’re going to meet, or how you can help each other.”
Maculaitis, owner of Contractor Connection in Canton, has turned a 9-year-old part-time purchasing venture, started with two other women, into a $1.9 million solely-owned purchasing business.
The bulk of her sales come from larger corporations, which pay her a percentage on deals so their own buyers can focus on their core business. Her company focuses on one-time purchases that often take as much time as major core purchases.
At Timken, her largest client, she’s gotten orders ranging from a $30 bullhorn to a monthly $30,000 janitorial service contract for a steel plant. Maculaitis has negotiated and purchased trucks and service contracts for Timken and even helped with recruiting students for internships and full-time jobs.
“She’s very flexible and very diverse,” said Vincent Cuenot, a former purchasing agent with Timken Co. who gave Maculaitis her first contract. “She was always able to adapt to whatever we needed at the time.”
Today, Maculaitis wants to expand her business by helping women and minorities get access to contracts with larger businesses and municipalities.
Bill McWhorter, owner of Westside Materials Inc. in Cleveland, met Maculaitis about six months ago at an Akron Urban League event. He was feeling discourged before he told her about a project he had hoped his demolition and trucking company could take part in. She helped helped him find another source for raw materials with lower prices. That made the difference in landing a $3 million account annually for the next three years.
“It took me three weeks and numerous phone calls to come up with my part, with half of the materials. It took her two days to do her part,” he said. “She brings companies together. That’s truly her talent.”
Nine years ago, Maculaitis was a 27-year-old office manager working at a small family-owned industrial cleaning company in Canton. Her former boss, Tim Tarry, told her that he was ready to sell his company but had an idea for another venture. For many years he had listened to purchasing agents complain about the hassle of finding smaller miscellaneous products that didn’t fit with their normal purchasing activities. He also knew there were opportunities for women and minorities.
At first he considered being part of the new company. Instead he persuaded Maculaitis to start her own business with his daughter-in-law and another employee. He encouraged them to use their sales and human resource skills, and helped them get certified as a female and minority owned enterprise. Then he continued to mentor them before he retired.
“He was talking a foreign language to me. I didn’t understand diversity goals or how set-aside dollars are not being met, because there aren’t enough qualified registered vendors in the state,” she said. “No job should be given to anybody because of their gender or ethnicity. But certifications assist us in getting opportunities to help level the playing field. The rest depends on our performance and ability to deliver products and services.”
Cuenot, the former Timken purchasing agent, said he met Maculaitis through another contractor, then gave her an opportunity because of her positive attitude. He worked with her for years because of her ability to adapt and respond, whether the company needed to buy trucks, office supplies, or cots and blankets for people working long hours.
Maculaitis traces her ability to adapt and her passion for diversity inclusion to her youth. She was born in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, to an Italian American in the Peace Corps from Canton, and a Bolivian who spoke only Spanish. She spent most of her childhood in Peoria, Ill., the home of Caterpillar’s world headquarters.
“I met kids from all different nationalities and cultures in this small town. Then we moved to Mexico City, and I went to an international high school where students spoke 42 different languages and we learned about comparative religions,” she said.
“I understood what diversity meant at a young age. I thought everyone was exposed to diversity,” she said. “When I got older, I realized that I was the exception and not the norm. A lot of people have never left their hometowns or states.”
Now Maculaitis sees an opportunity to help bridge gaps between minority suppliers, municipalities and corporate America.
“The more I network, the more opportunities and obstacles I see from both sides,” she said. “When you know what the problems are, you can be part of the solution.”