Drackett Professional Products
Drackett Professional Products
Wholly Owned Division of S. C. Johnson
Incorporated: 1915 as P.W. Drackett & Sons Co.
Sales: $570 million (est. 1993)
SICs: 2842 Polishes & Sanitation Goods
For over 70 years, Drackett Co. was a primary competitor in the homecare products market. Among its products were Drano drain cleaner, Windex glass cleaner, Vanish toilet bowl cleaner, Behold and Endust furniture polishing aids, Mr. Muscle oven cleaner, Scrubbee scouring pads, Renuzit air fresheners, and O-Cedar brooms and mops. The company became a subsidiary of Bristol-Myers Squibb in 1965 and was sold to S. C. Johnson & Son, Inc., in 1992. S. C. Johnson absorbed several of Drackett’s products into its own lines, sold others, and consolidated operations. The only remaining vestige of the original company is S. C. Johnson’s Drackett Professionals Division, which was still located in Cincinnati in 1995.
Company founder Phillip Drackett began his career as a pharmacist in Cleveland, but his personal interest in chemicals soon drew him from the end products to their components. At the age of 56, Drackett got out of the drug business entirely to start a bulk chemical brokerage with his wife, Sallie, in Cincinnati in 1910. When their sons, Phillip Jr. and Harry, joined the firm in 1915, the company was incorporated as P. W. Drackett & Sons Co. The company sold chemicals, including lye, ammonia, and epsom salt, under the “diamond D” trademark. But, like its Cincinnati neighbor and sometime competitor, Procter & Gamble Co., Drackett would make its fortune from the emerging revolution in American homemaking.
Drackett’s first consumer product, Drano, was developed from lye, a corrosive cleaner made by leaching wood ashes. Lye had long been used to dissolve animal fat into soap, and its cleansing power was well known. Drano’s creation and success can be attributed, in large part, to the installation of indoor plumbing in most American homes after World War I. According to Susan Strasser’s Never Done, an examination of housekeeping in the United States, indoor plumbing aroused a mixture of relief and apprehension in homemakers. While they no longer had to haul water and sewage to and from their homes, they now feared the specter of “sewer gas,” clogged drains, and backups. Introduced in 1923, Drano helped alleviate this concern.
Crystal Drano was a combination of solid lye and bits of aluminum that produced a hot, fizzing reaction that promoters called “churning action” to melt and scrub away dirt, grease and hair. The Dracketts soon proved themselves savvy marketers as well as an astute product development team. Sallie Drackett devised the Drano name, with the macron above the “a” that ensured there would be no confusion about the product’s intended use. Her drawing of a gooseneck pipe with a dotted line representing clear-flowing pipes remained the Drano symbol throughout the brand’s history. For nearly fifty years, Drano was virtually the only chemical drain cleaner used in American households.
The company acknowledged its shift from industrial to consumer goods by changing its name from Drackett Chemical Co., which it had adopted in 1922, to just Drackett Co. in 1933, when it went public.
Based on Drano’s commercial success, Drackett turned its attention toward the development of other consumer cleaning products. The company’s Windex, introduced in 1935, was the first successful glass cleaner on the market. Before its launch, window washing was reserved for spring and fall cleaning— and in many middle-class homes, it was reserved for the servants. But as hired help disappeared from the average domestic landscape, physically demanding and time-consuming chores such as window cleaning fell to homemakers. Windex’s blue formulation of water, its trademarked “ammonia-D,” and additional chemicals that hastened evaporation were both effective and convenient. The pre-mixed product eliminated hauling buckets, the need for a squeegee, and streaks. Windex’s convenience prompted women to clean windows and mirrors more often, thereby increasing sales. Both Windex and Drano captured and held more of their respective markets than all other competitors combined for decades.
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Drackett diversified into soybean processing. The early 1930s had witnessed the development of new methods of processing soybeans into the edible byproducts of oil and meal. World War II’s shortages drove increased demand for soybean oil, which was used in the food industry in margarine, shortening, salad oil, mayonnaise and other food products. Paint and varnish manufacturers also used it as a replacement for linseed oil, which was in short supply. Soybean meal was used as a high-protein livestock feed. Drackett’s corporate research facility developed a soy-based textile it called Azlon. In 1943 the Cincinnati Post reported that the fiber could be used in “hats, hose, underwear [and] blankets.” A dog treat called Charge was another moderately successful soy product.
These diversification efforts, along with continuously increasing sales of its core products, multiplied Drackett’s sales dramatically from $3.5 million in 1941 to a peak of $27.7 million in 1948, for average annual increases of over 30 percent. Performance during the immediate postwar era was torrid, with a stock split in 1946 and profits that just fell short of $1 million in 1947. However, growth declined in the latter years of the decade, to $21.4 million sales and roughly $580,000 net in 1949.
Drackett added to its already strong national production and distribution network of plants in Ohio, California, and Pennsylvania with the construction of facilities in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Over the course of the 1950s, the company enhanced the convenience of Windex with the introduction of a plastic sprayer bottle. The company integrated vertically with the acquisitions of Calmar Co. and Maclin Co., bottle and plastics manufacturers, in 1954. Drackett launched Twinkle brass and silver polishes around 1957. The 1958 acquisition of the Judson Dunaway Corp. gave Drackett control of Vanish, a toilet bowl disinfectant, and Delete stain remover.
Roger Drackett represented the third and final generation of the founding family to lead the company. He implemented a program of corporate rationalization that included the sale of the soybean business (which had suffered waning sales in the early 1950s) to concentrate capital investments in the company’s core consumer goods. Drackett took its major brands international with the 1958 establishment of Drackett Co. of Canada, Ltd. Increased funding for research and development, plant modernization, acquisitions, and aggressive promotion generated another impressive growth spurt in the late 1950s and early 1960s, with the company’s sales more than doubling from $19.5 million in 1958 to $49.7 million in 1963. This success resulted in Drackett’s listing on the New York Stock Exchange.
In the early 1960s Drackett also acquired Martin-Marietta Corp.’s O-Cedar division for about $9.5 million. O-Cedar— described as “the biggest name in mops”—produced a comprehensive line of mops, brooms, polishes, waxes, and related products in the United States and Canada. At the time of the company’s purchase, O’Cedar’s annual sales were estimated at $14 million. By 1964 Drackett had distribution outlets for Drano and Windex in Germany, Australia, England and other common market countries. Drackett supported its products with comprehensive advertising campaigns in newspapers and magazines as well as on television. By the mid-1960s, the company’s advertising budget was second only to its raw materials expenditures.
By the time it was acquired by Bristol-Myers in 1965, Drackett was earning more than $5 million annually on sales of $58.5 million. At the time, Bristol-Myers had sales of $265 million and profits of $23.1 million. With the support of its huge new parent’s research and marketing expertise, Drackett introduced new products, extended several mainstays, and expanded global distribution via Bristol-Myers’s established operations in the Middle and Far East.
Drackett used its new parent’s clout to challenge some of its bigger rivals in the household cleaner market. With Endust, Drackett presented the most effective challenge ever experienced by S. C. Johnson’s category-leading Pledge. Endust was promoted as a waxless dusting aid that would not leave an accumulation of wax on furniture. The pitch worked. Endust garnered market share from Pledge, and continued to threaten the leader’s dominance of the market for decades. Endust even carved out a new category, “dusting aid,” as opposed to “furniture polish.”
Drano got its first brand extension in over forty years with the 1966 introduction of Liquid Drano. Unlike the original, the new formula could be poured through standing water to unclog drains. Its much lower concentration of lye (2.4 percent compared to more than 50 percent), was also gentler on the new garbage disposals that were being installed in homes. Drackett also introduced an “all-purpose” version of Windex during the 1960s, but the product didn’t catch on and was subsequently dropped. The company acquired and aggressively promoted Renuzit solid air freshener beginning in 1969. Bristol-Myers also transferred some of its food marketing operations to Drackett, including Nutrament supplements and the Weight-Watchers line, in the 1960s. (Weight-Watchers was divested in 1979.)
Roger Drackett relinquished the company’s presidency to Nicholas Evans in 1969, but stayed on as chairman until 1972. The 1970s brought increased competition for both Windex and Drano. In 1969 Clorox acquired and heavily promoted Liquid Plumr drain cleaner. Drano’s share of the market declined from over 90 percent to less than half, as Clorox brought out savvy brand extensions like Professional Strength Liquid Plumr. Windex fared better under assault from all-purpose cleaners introduced around the same time. Although products like Texize’s Glass Plus, Miles Laboratories’ S.O.S. Glass Works, and Procter & Gamble’s Cinch knocked Windex’s market share down to 40 percent, the Drackett brand was able to maintain its leadership.
The 1989 merger of Bristol-Myers and Squibb marked a turning point for Drackett’s long-time parent. Bristol-Myers Squibb became the second-largest pharmaceutical company in the world, and concentrated ever more strongly on ethical and over-the-counter drugs, which constituted over half of annual sales by that time.
In 1992 Bristol-Myers Squibb announced that Drackett was on the auction block, spurring rumors that some of the country’s biggest names in household products, including Clorox, Procter & Gamble, and S. C. Johnson were all bargaining. By the end of the year, Drackett’s longtime rival S. C. Johnson won the bidding war with a $1.5 billion offer. The deal was Johnson’s largest purchase ever, and had far-reaching effects. Before, Johnson’s stable of brands included Pledge furniture polish, Glade air freshener, Raid bug spray, and Edge shaving gel. All were category leaders, but some analysts noted that they were up against lightweight competition. The Drackett purchase merged the number-one and number-five players in polishes and sanitation goods and took the privately held S. C. Johnson into more direct competition with “heavyweight” rivals Procter & Gamble and Clorox. In 1994 S. C. Johnson’s Executive Vice President for North American Consumer Products, Richard Posey, told Fortune that the purchase took his company “from Triple A baseball to the majors.” But for Drackett, the change in ownership heralded a move from the playing field to the bench.
The new parent kept Windex, which still commanded an estimated 40 percent of the nearly $200 million window cleaner segment, as well as Drano, which had relinquished its lead to Clorox’s Liquid Plumr brand cleaner. Vanish, leader in the toilet-bowl cleaning category, was soon joined by Johnson’s own Toilet Duck.
A combination of regulatory requirements and corporate priorities compelled the new owner to break up Drackett’s family of brands, however. In 1993 O-Cedar was sold off to Vining Industries to form the world’s largest stick goods supplier, with over one-third of that $500 million market. The Federal Trade Commission directed S. C. Johnson to divest Behold and Endust to prevent the creation of a furniture care monopoly. Renuzit, too, was sold off, so that Johnson could concentrate on its own line of Glade brand air fresheners.
Within six months of the Drackett acquisition, S. C. Johnson had transferred virtually all the division’s production to its Waxdale, Wisconsin, plant near its Racine headquarters. Cincinnati newspapers documented the ever-shrinking workforce, “teary farewells,” and “long good-byes” as the new owner consolidated operations to achieve the economies of scale enjoyed by its larger rivals. By 1995, only a “skeleton crew” remained to run the company’s institutional products division.
Cobleigh, Ira U., “The Drackett Company,” Commercial and Financial Chronicle, January 2, 1964, p. 5.
“Drackett Earnings Gleam on Research, Promotion,” Barron’s, February 9, 1959, pp. 34–36.
“Examine Synthetic Apparel: Soybeans Made into Hats, Hose, Underwear, Blankets,” Cincinnati Post, December 3, 1943, p. 34.
Fitzgerald, Kate, “How Johnson Will Gain with Drackett,” Advertising Age, November 2, 1992, p. 13.
Freeman, Laurie, “Drackett Fights to Keep Household Edge,” Advertising Age, February 27, 1989, p. 35.
Gallagher, Patricia, “Johnson to Relocate Drackett Units,” Cincinnati Enquirer, January 5, 1993, p. B5.
Gopnik, Hilary, “Drano,” Encyclopedia of Consumer Brands, Vol. 2, Janice Jorgensen, ed., Detroit: St. James Press, 1994, pp. 192–94.
Gopnik, Hilary and Donald McManus, “Windex,” Encyclopedia of Consumer Brands, Vol. 2, Janice Jorgensen, ed., Detroit: St. James Press, 1994, pp. 575–78.
Henkoff, Ronald, “S. C. Johnson & Son: When to Take on the Giants,” Fortune, May 30, 1994, pp. 111–14.
Hurley, Daniel, ed., Cincinnati: The Queen City, Cincinnati: Cincinnati Historical Society, 1988, p. 206.
Powell, Cheryl, “The Long Goodbye,” Cincinnati Enquirer, August 5, 1993, p. Dl.
“Recent Acquisition Adds Sparkle to Profits Picture at Drackett,” Barron’s, October 8, 1962, p. 20.
Rolland, Louis J., “Drackett Cleans Up,” Financial World, August 5, 1964, p. 19.
Van Sant, Rick,’ Teary Farewells at Drackett,” Cincinnati Post, February 25, 1993, p. 1A.
—April Dougal Gasbarre