Michelle Taylor's first customer was a north-side hotel that ordered 3,000 janitorial gloves a month. She got up at 3 a.m., processed the order out of her garage, and delivered the gloves in her car.
Less than three years later, Indianapolisbased Milor Supply Inc. delivers 36,000 gloves a month, plus janitorial equipment and supplies and safety equipment, to universities, city and state governments, hospitals and a host of other industries across the country.
The 35-year-old black female entrepreneur has moved out of her garage and runs Milor-a name devised from letters in Taylor's first and last names-from a 40,000-square-foot warehouse on the city's near-east side. She now has five employees.
Taylor, who started her company with personal funds and a Small Business Administration loan, boasts clients such as Purdue University, Columbus-based Cummins Inc., Wishard Hospital and the city of Indianapolis.
And Taylor's got her sights set on landing clients in entertainment and homeland security-specifically casinos and airport security.
But she's hesitant to tout her success.
"It just takes determination," she said.
That and a desire to move on to something new once she feels she's mastered the old.
That's where she found herself in late 2001 after spending 10 years in Anderson working for Ford Motor Corp. and Delco Remy.
Taylor landed a production supervisor job with Ford shortly after receiving a bachelor's degree in organizational leadership from Purdue in 1991.
Six years later, Delco lured her away with an offer in operations and logistics where she spent four years as a project manager. During that time, she earned a master's degree in business from Indiana Wesleyan University and a lean manufacturing certification from the University of Kentucky, a notable accomplishment within the manufacturing industry.
"I got to the point where I'd achieved what I was hired to do," she recalled. "It was time to move on."
So she did a self-assessment to figure out what she wanted to do next.
"I wanted it to be something fairly easy," she said. "Not rack-and-pinion steering."
And she knew she had to get into something people use every day.
"Everyone needs toilet paper and paper towels," she said.
While Taylor was ready to leave corporate America, she said her experience there gives her an edge over her competitors.
Understanding operations and logistics allows her to assess a customer's needs better than her competitors, who she said focus more on sales.
Mckenzie Scott Lewis, head of diversity and inclusion at Clarian Health Partners, said Clarian is a benefactor of Taylor's determination and expertise. He has seen her in action. When Taylor pitched her company to a group of vice presidents, directors and managers within Clarian's supply chain, she was the only woman in the room. "These gentlemen are pitched to daily," Lewis said. "If she hadn't proven herself then, we wouldn't be talking now." Taylor was able to demonstrate innovations in inventory management during that meeting nearly two years ago. "She was given an opportunity and she went to the game to win," Lewis said. Clarian has purchased cleaning supplies, light bulbs and safety equipment from Milor ever since. While determination has helped get her where she is, Taylor admitted being a black woman-a "double whammy" as she calls her minority status-hasn't hurt.
"Companies are beginning to embark on showing a greater involvement in diversity," she said.
Various state and federal programs and mandates are intended to spur minorityowned business growth. And while initially fueled by mandates related to government contracts, business executives are working to respond to growing ethnic markets, changing demographics and increased demands on their supply chain.
Sharon Myers, purchasing manager for the Capital Improvement Board for the Indianapolis Convention Center & RCA Dome, said her organization has tried to diversify its vendor base.
Myers started buying housekeeping, janitorial and restaurant supplies from Milor in February 2003. But not necessarily because Taylor is a minority.
"We look at pricing first," Myers said. "And Michelle understands that. Not only do we look at the dollar value, we look at the service we receive, and she provides very good delivery for us."
Taylor, who last month received the New Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the Indiana Black Chamber of Commerce, said her minority status sometimes gets her in the door, but sometimes slams it shut.
"Sometimes, the mandate doesn't matter," Taylor said.
As an example, she said a southern Indiana organization, which she declined to name, refused to work with her because she's a minority.
Taylor initially got a nod from the firm's general manager, who told his buyer to purchase from Milor. The buyer ordered a week's worth of trash bags, a move that prompted Taylor to increase her inventory to have six weeks' worth on hand, a standard practice.
After the first week, the buyer said he no longer wanted to do business with Milor.
"He fulfilled some internal mandate they have of working with minorities," Taylor said. But just enough to say he did. And that's not enough, Taylor said.
"I can't just let it go," she said. "You have to stand up for yourself."
She eventually filed a formal complaint with a public commission that oversees the organization, but doesn't know what will come of it.
Today, Taylor is just as driven as she was three years ago. She recently traveled to Detroit Metropolitan Airport to pitch a new product to airport security-nylon slipcovers for passengers who must remove their shoes before going through security checkpoints.
Still, she's happy she no longer has to get up at 3 a.m to make deliveries. She's even happier that her two daughters have watched a minority woman grow a business from garage to warehouse.
"There's no telling what they will do," she said.