Clifford, 38, and JJ Thompson, 36, Traders
It takes a lot to make a business successful.
Entrepreneurial drive. Technical acumen. Supply connections. An eye for trends. Luck.
It’s unique to get all those things in one family. But that’s what you find with the Thompson family and Thompson Traders, a Greensboro-based designer and manufacturing business that has products in the country’s largest kitchen and bath retailers.
Clifford Thompson, 38, is company president. His brother JJ Thompson, 36, is vice president of operations. They say their success is due in large part to their team, which includes their parents and sister.
Clifford opened Thompson Traders with his mother Alejandra in 2002. He had just graduated from Purdue University, where he studied economics and business. She had previously owned a successful design business which she and a partner had sold.
They traveled to Central Mexico, where Alejandra grew up and the boys spent their summers as kids, to visit artisans from different towns. They picked up a hand full of hand-crafted items and started shopping them around.
“Mom picked out these copper sinks. We went to these little trade shows and none of us expected anything from the copper sinks, but she had the vision there,” Clifford says.
The business started to pick up steam, but not quite fast enough for Clifford, who was about to start a family and needed a “real job.” He moved to Atlanta and JJ, having just moved back to town to study at Guilford College, and his sister Samantha joined the business.
“JJ basically saved the business multiple times,” says his brother.
It was still a small business with a handful of employees (JJ remembers buying packing boxes 30 at a time) when Thompson Traders got its big break at the International Builders Show.
“That is where Home Depot and Lowe’s both walked through the booth and said they were very interested and they gave us their cards. We never called them because we were intimidated and scared,” JJ says. “We didn’t know what the heck we were doing.”
Alejandra, who is the heart and soul as well as the lead designer for the company, and their sister, Samantha Thompson, who handles marketing and graphic design for the Thompson Traders brand, ended up at Home Depot’s headquarters pitching their product. They weren’t properly prepared – with data and spreadsheets and such that they would bring today. But those rustic, hand-crafted copper sinks sold themselves. At this point it was Samantha and Alejandra who were essentially doing everything for the business.
They were soon in the aisles of Home Depot Expo Design Centers.
“This fit perfectly for them. It was design-oriented. It was incredibly unique. These designs you couldn’t find anywhere in the world,” JJ says.
Their next break was luring Fred Star, former CEO of Thomasville Furniture, to be CEO in 2008. He brought the expertise on retail presentation, marketing and merchandising, and took the business to another level.
Clifford came back to the business in 2010 , and has since worked to expand its offerings to the wholesale dealer market placing Thompson Traders branded product in places such as Ferguson Kitchen and Bath, Beeson’s and many other independent plumbing dealers around the country and Canada.
“Chris DeVillers had a lot of vision and joined Thompson Traders when there was not much to join. He had a great job with Xpedx but wanted to join Thompson Traders because he thought we had something big”, JJ says. He has since led the charge to create a second brand, Sinkology, which is sold in Home Depot, Lowes, Menards and a number of other major retailers.
Adam Zakaria has been with us since we were tiny and is head of customer service and sales support. “This guy teaches us all how to talk to and deal with customer issues; it is like a natural innate talent he has at dealing with difficult/unpleasant customer situations. He is one of the many team members that has helped us reach success and delight our customers.”
Today, the company has expanded its offerings of kitchen and bath products from copper to hammered stainless steel, ceramic, and composite granite.
They work with factories around the world – which their father Cliff was instrumental in establishing. (A former vice president of data for Volvo, Cliff also built all the software that the company uses.) “Dad has been able to do things for the company that no one else could have or would have done,” says Clifford and JJ.” He taught Thompson Traders manufacturing partners in different parts of the world how to be more efficient and he wrote the software that is used to run the business.
JJ sees a lot of growth for Thompson Traders. And they don’t want to do it any place but Greensboro.
“We are arguably in the best place in the nation to have a business like our business. The logistics are amazing. All our biggest customers are within driving distance,” JJ says.
“We are very bullish on Greensboro,” Clifford says. “We see a lot of potential here.”