Scott Farmer is strolling the hallways of Cintas, smiling, talking, shaking hands. It’s a brutally hot day in July, but Farmer — lean, athletic — isn’t breaking a sweat.
As the president and chief executive officer of Cintas, Farmer often finds himself charging through the aisles of the company’s massive headquarters in Mason, just a stone’s throw from Kings Island amusement park. If  he’s not offering factory floor tours, he’s chatting with employees in a series of regularly arranged “get-to-know-the-CEO” cafeteria luncheons.
At the moment, Farmer is conducting a tour of the home office’s in-house store, “a show-and-tell session” as he calls it, smiling.
While there are uniforms displayed on mannequins, of course, the store also represents divergent new pathways for Cintas. “Here’s the first thing we got into, a separate operational division for the first aid and safety business,” says Farmer, pointing to a display of first aid kits.
This is where the new strategy for the corporation, and its future, was developed. Think about it: All those uniform sales people, all those uniform delivery people, all those truck drivers making routine calls on factory floors and inside the offices of building superintendents. Who wouldn’t have thought it a great idea that all these sales forces should be selling something other than uniforms?
“We had a lot of customers [for uniforms] who were going out and buying their own supplies,” Farmer notes about the emergency kits. “This has been a great business line for us.”
Likewise came the business of personal protective gear. “Then we got into the line of fire and burglary protection. Smoke alarms and such. This business has grown quite a bit, too.”
At this point, it’s worth noting what “quite a bit” means for Cintas in terms of business growth. Cintas has paid rising dividends to its shareholders every year since 1983, the year it began trading publicly. For fiscal year 2006, Cintas reported $3.4 billion in sales, up 11 percent, and profits of $327 million, up 9 percent. The company — named one of “America’s Best Managed Companies” by FORBES and one of “America’s Most Admired Companies” by FORTUNE — runs 14 manufacturing plants and seven distribution centers.
“Fire protection is our second biggest division” in all this, growing at double digit rates, says Farmer. After all, “every public building, either by law or insurance regulations, requires fire supplies.” And finding “built-in” business demand for its products is what the new Cintas is all about.

NO UNIFORM DIRECTION
Most on-lookers can be forgiven for being surprised that Cintas is branching out into new industries. “We were known forever as the uniform people,” acknowledges Farmer. “But we’ve been developing other businesses for the past eight years. Three years ago, we changed our tagline (to ‘the service professionals’). We realized we have a lot of business customers who need a lot of business details taken care of.”
Founded in 1929 by Richard “Doc” Farmer (an out-of-work trapeze artist and one-time prizefighter), the family firm was originally called the Acme Industrial Laundry Co. and has always built its fortunes on what its founder called the rag business. Farmer later changed the name of the company, in the 1960s, to Acme Uniform and Towel Supply. Not a tremendously catchy title, but call it a work in progress.
The origins of the word Acme (shades of Wily E. Coyote)? It stands for American Company Manufacturing Everything. Not a far stretch, because today, Cintas rents and launders uniforms (at a cost of about $1.30 per employee per day), sells uniforms outright, cleans and delivers floor mats (to the tune of 1.7 million per week), provides restroom cleaning services— in short, tells its customers it can be the single provider for just about any industrial need. With 7,000 truck routes servicing 700,000 businesses, the firm has positioned itself as the single best source for any company’s product needs with door-to-door delivery, to boot.
Some of the newest journeys on the path beyond uniforms? Cintas has expanded into the document destruction and storage business. “We’ve grown to become one of the largest” in this particular field. “We service 45 of the 50 top metros in this area.”
Another diverse direction is promotional products, the placing of companies’ logos on just about anything, from umbrellas to glassware.
Don’t misunderstand. Farmer stresses the core business has always been, and will likely always be, uniforms. Whether you are seeing the bellman at a Ritz-Carlton Hotel or a race car driver at Daytona Speedway, you are seeing a Cintas product. Or products. “Head to toe: Knit hats, boots, winter wear,” it all comes from Cintas. “We are proud uniform and first aid suppliers for NASCAR.”
In fact, 5 million people go to work every day wearing a Cintas uniform—put another way, that’s three percent of the nation’s civilian workforce.

PARTNERING WITH ITS WORKFORCE
“Cintas partners are thorough in everything we do, and we do what is right, not what is expedient. We have high principles,” maintains Farmer about his workforce (the topic, in one way or another, of a good 25 percent of the interview).
Through such external and internal programs as “Clothe the Kids,” “Cintas Team Spirit Program” and Matthew 25: Ministries, Farmer adds that community outreach is constantly on the minds of Cintas’ leaders and employees. “We do not take short-term gains at the expense of long-term values.”
It’s a back to basics approach that emphasizes placing Farmer routinely in contact, not only with his employees, but the greater community at large.
“Scott Farmer has been a godsend,” notes Joodi Archer of Matthew 25: Ministries Center for Humanitarian Relief, where Farmer sits on the board and has donated clothing, sewing machines, fabric and medical supplies for an estimated 3 million of the world’s needy.
All this isn’t to suggest Farmer, and his company, isn’t without harsh critics.  At the complete other end of the spectrum, the cover story headline of a mid-July CityBeat screams “Dirty Laundry: Uniform Giant Cintas Under Fire by Unions, Regulators and Congress.”
In the same vein, the recent accidental death of Cintas employee Eleazar Torres-Gomez at its Tulsa plant has sparked national bad press about employee protection issues and plant safety violations — intensely ironic, since that’s exactly the business that Cintas is in, providing protective clothing and first aid/emergency supplies to its clients.
Farmer tells of being “grief-stricken” and “deeply saddened” for the Gomez family, and that the accident “hurts us all.” And while Farmer won’t go beyond saying that the accident was — in his view — the result of Gomez climbing on top of a moving conveyer, “contrary to all safety training and procedures,” he does stress that all 32,000 employees — or “partners” as they’re known in the company nomenclature — are treated equally and fairly.

WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
What are you likely not to see Cintas doing anytime soon? Selling its products at retail outlets. Affirms Farmer: “We are a business-to-business service. We are not a business-to-consumer company.”
Suddenly, Farmer reverses course. “That’s not to say that’s forever. But for now, we look for services to serve our existing customer base, services that don’t need to be resold every time we go out to talk to them.”
“We look at fragmented industries, ones where we can gain a leadership position in the first few years.”
Take the document shredding business. “Up until the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, there really wasn’t much of a business in document destruction. They were small entrepreneurs.”
The industry and its potential customer base were jump-started by a ton of new governmental regulations regarding privacy, especially for employees and for patients in a health-care setting.  Lawsuits and potential future litigation are inspiring more and more companies to carefully dispose of confidential documents.
“We’ll continue to look for logical fits in what we’re trying to accomplish,” observes Farmer. “When we moved from being known as the uniform people into the safety business, people were surprised by that.
“Our biggest opportunity today is to penetrate more and more markets geographically.” If, by this, you interpret Farmer to mean, “today, North America, tomorrow, the World,” well, you wouldn’t be far off the mark. “I have always said there is an opportunity for Cintas to go offshore.”
Doing business in Europe, doing business in China, anything is possible, the Cintas CEO stipulates. “But we have to be smart the way we do it. … We’re studying what makes sense for us. But sooner rather than later, you will see us expand outside the United States.”