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The Ford System Helps Keep the Region Clean

November 4th, 2011 10:14 am by Staff Report

Kingsport’s The Ford System has been cleaning up the region for more than 50 years.

The Ford System was initially started by Harry Ford and is owned and operated today by John W. Harrison III (Burr), and his son, John David. The company is a janitorial sanitary supply distributor with customers throughout Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

Burr and a silent partner, Mo Rainey, purchased The Ford System at the end of 1990 from former Kingsport alderman Alan Hubbard. At the time, Harrison was working in customer service at Arcata Graphics, later Quebecor, and Rainey with Jefferson Sales. Arcata was starting to wind down for the sale to Quebecor, and Harrison decided he needed to find another way to support his family.

Burr came in as the store’s operating partner and Rainey stayed in the background and continued working at Jefferson Sales. A few years into the partnership, Rainey decided to change jobs and moved to Atlanta, at which time Burr bought out his silent partner and became the sole proprietor.

As an industrial and commercial supplier of janitorial products and equipment, the business has remained relatively "untouched" by tough economic times.

"Our key for remaining a viable company in a tough economy is that we don’t rely on just one customer," Burr said. "All business and industry, large and small, need cleaning supplies and other necessities like paper towels and toilet paper," he added.

And business booms with threats of public health dangers like the Avian Flu two years ago. "We couldn’t keep hand sanitizer in stock, "John David explained. "In fact, our hand sanitizer distributor was working around the clock just to keep up with the demand and, at times, had a hard time getting product to make the sanitizer."

Along with the janitorial supply and equipment sales, The Ford System has a sister company, called Cumberland Services, that provides cleaning services to local business, schools and industry. The janitorial supply side of the company has 11 employees and the cleaning service employs 35.

When Burr purchased the company in 1990, he never really thought about it becoming a legacy business where one day one of his children would join the company. John David graduated from Radford University with a degree in Business Management and worked several years for a litigation support services company in Atlanta. The company provided scanning and documentation services to attorneys in preparation for trial. With calls for the company’s services at 3 a.m. in the morning, John David found the job to be extremely successful.

Soon, he found himself at the "next step of growing up."

John David explained, "it was time for me to start thinking about buying a home and having a family." With Atlanta’s high cost of living, John David decided to return home to Kingsport and join his father in The Ford System.

Burr and John David work together on making any major decisions, and John David has never regretted his decision to return home. He is now married, has a home and two dogs. The children will come later.

The Ford System is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information, visit the website at or call 423-247-4107 or toll-free at 800-826-5691.

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