The first time I chatted with my friend Jim, I was in a tough spot. I had just spent over $1,000 in carpet glue stripping products online, and it had not worked. I was on Day 2 of the biggest commercial project of my career, and nothing had gone as planned.
I called our local janitor supply company, appropriately named Janitor Supply Co. ;) hoping someone there could help me. I was scrambling to find out what to do. When we chatted on the phone for the first time Jim said, “That stuff you used is junk. Come in here, grab our product, and see if it works for you.”
I took his advice and decided to swing by Janitor Supply Co. to see what they could do. When I arrived, I was escorted to the back office where I first met Jim Gast. Jim had me take a seat in his office, and went on to explain the chemical components of what I had used on the floor and why it didn’t work. He then suggested a product that he thought would work better for me. I took a small bucket and went back to my job to test it out. As it turns out, the product worked just as he said it would. I went ahead and ordered another 60 gallons of it to keep our project moving along.
Once the ‘rush’ of that job had come and gone, I stopped in to chat with Jim and thanked him for the recommendation. Jim, in his mid-70’s at the time, had started Janitor Supply Co. and still worked in the business full-time. He had passed the day-to-day management into the hands of the next generation of leadership, but he still kept himself busy by taking on special projects. In addition to his exceptional work ethic, he also had a knack for connecting with people. His mixture of stories and charm brought an overall likability to him. He reminded me of a mix of Zig Ziglar, Warren Buffet, and a chemist. Smart, quick-witted, genuine, fiercely competitive in his business, had a drive to do it the best, and a desire to solve problems. Even in his mid-70’s, he was still working at his business and fulfilling his purpose each and every day.
Jim and I connected on several levels. Our commonalities went further back than simply our entrepreneurial endeavors. Jim, in his younger years, had installed sealed concrete and epoxy floors. Similarly, my high school years were spent in the janitorial world. It’s like we were a match made for a ripe friendship. We both knew what it felt like to run a mop bucket and the value of gritty, dirty, and, mostly, unappreciated work.
Through the years, my visits with Jim became more frequent. As our friendship grew, I shared more about our business and sought his input on how to proceed in certain situations. Each visit, we could easily spent 45 minutes to an hour discussing different aspects of our businesses. He made introductions to bankers, we worked together to create his brand of concrete densifiers and stain guards, we tested different products, and so much more.
Jim has also received an email I send to my team each weekend, called The One Pager ever since he got an email address. Jim, a late entry into the email world in 2014, read this One Pager each week. Many times, he would email me back a quote, his thoughts on something, congratulations, or just an encouraging note.
This week, I stopped by his office to see him and drop off a copy of my book. I made a special note for him on the inside of the cover and was excited to give it to him. But, when I pulled up, something was ‘off’. Jim’s car was not in the parking lot, and Jim was always at work during the workday.
When I walked in, I found out that Jim had been admitted to the hospital on Sunday and never came out. At the age of 81, one of my dear friends, a man who I aspire to be like when I grow up, a guy I love as a friend, had passed.
Over the last nine years, the guy who answered a call about some floor stripping product had became one of my closest friends. He taught me everything I know about chemicals, how products and cleaners work, and had become a trusted advisor in our business. Even more importantly, he shared stories about life. He told me about the things he did right, and the things he did not-so-right and the lessons he learned from these situations. He shared about his love for his work, as well as his love for his wife, and life in general.
The things I will remember most about Jim were his ability to be present and to encourage others. I don’t know if anyone sent me more notes to say ‘good job’ or about how they appreciated what I share or what I am doing. Most importantly, when we were together, he was all there. He was not distracted. He was present and made me feel like I was the most important person in his life in each moment that we had together.
It hurts to see someone leave, but I believe he lived the life God had for him. He played all out and inspired me to want to live that same way.
Jim Gast was an important person in my life, and it always felt like he was rooting for me to win. I hope that I can be just as supportive, encouraging, and present as he was for the important people in my life.