'Everybody's got to wipe'

A jazz club piano player took the stage the other night, and announced that a guy from Metro Times was in the house looking for folks with out-of-the-ordinary jobs.

"I've got an interesting or unusual job," said a sports-coated gent perched on a nearby barstool. "I sell toilet paper.

Toilet paper?

"Everybody's got to wipe their butt," the guy said with a mischievous note in his grin.

Some select few have to make money off all that butt-wiping. And Roger Tucker happens to be one of the few.

When we got together the following Tuesday at The Woodward in the Compuware Building — where he sings with his band weekly, a sort of jazz and soul revue with lots of vocalist and instrumentalist friends chiming in — he told us a bit of his life story.

A former military police officer from Winston-Salem, N.C., he settled in Detroit after the service. He's spent about 25 years in sales, and about a decade ago got into paper sales, originally with Kodak.

At one point he interviewed for a job — and got an offer that he could refuse.

"I went out there with my résumé. They were like, 'Wow!" But what they offered was not enough, and I said, 'Give me distributor pricing, and I'll do it myself.' And they were in toilet paper and paper towels. And that's basically how I got into it."

It was hardly a success at first flush.

"Now, when I first started — my first year was 2003 — I had a total of $1,800 in sales for the year and I considered giving it up. My wife was like, 'Noooo, you can't do that.' So I kind of stayed with it. And last year I was over a half-million dollars. This year I'm already over a half-million dollars with a few more months to go. Maybe $1.2 million this year."

As a veteran-owned, minority-owned and small business, his Tucker Group Inc., based in Southfield, is the kind of outfit that government agencies are triply encouraged to deal with. And most of his business is with government. The Veterans Administration hospital in Battle Creek was one of his first big contracts, he says, followed eventually by the rest of Michigan and Indiana VA hospitals, and individual VA hospitals in several other states.

"The paper business is not a big one for black folks," Tucker said. "They don't let us in too many times, unfortunately, because it's a profitable business. And it's a business that even in a down economy, such as today, they're still going to sell toilet paper because everybody has got to use it, you know?"

And the typical reaction when people find out how he makes his money?

"Once I tell them I sell to the government they always have something smart to say. They say, 'Good, because they're full of you-know-what. ...'"

Naturally, Tucker reminds them that government work has been very good to him.

W. Kim Heron is Metro Times editor. Send comments to [email protected]
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