In the s the company began a nationwide expansion. In the s the company's product line grew to include consumer detergents and institutional cleaning specialties for restaurants, food processors, and dairies. Yet early in its history the company actively pursued customers outside of the consumer and institutional markets. By purchasing the Magnus Company in the early s, Economics Laboratory gained access to the industrial specialty market.
Meanwhile, international expansion began in the s, with the establishment of the company's first overseas subsidiary in Sweden in The company grew large enough by to become a public corporation. Earnings per share rose higher than an average 15 percent annually for the next 20 years.
The mids marked a high point in the company's history as earnings grew 16 percent every year. This was exceeded only by a three-year performance between and , in which profits eventually reached a 19 percent growth rate. By Economics Laboratory was divided into five divisions.
The Magnus division produced items for the industrial market, while the institutional division manufactured dishwasher products and sanitation formulas.
In the consumer division, home dishwasher detergent as well as coffee filters, floor cleaners, and laundry aids were produced. The Klenzade division provided specialty detergents to the food processing industry Klenzade had been acquired in Overseas sales were controlled by the international division, founded by future chairman and chief executive officer Fred T.
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Lanners, Jr. Of all the company's products, detergents for household dishwashers became its bestseller. In the early s, despite the fine company performance, Economics Laboratory attempted to expand its business by offering several new service and equipment packages. One such package offered on-premise laundry services for hospitals and hotels.
This business was strengthened by the purchase of three subsidiaries all engaged in the laundry industry. Another package offered sanitation and cleaning service to the food industry. The company's dishwashing operation service, for example, addressed every aspect of the procedure from selecting the detergent to training the employees. This trend toward offering services to supplement specialty chemical products represented Economics Laboratory's new market strategy.
According to Fred Lanners, then president of the firm, service activity was indispensable to building markets and the single most important asset to offer customers. Prospective company employees were hired according to whether they had the ability to give an impression of total commitment to the needs of clients.
Aside from laundry and sanitation, future plans included offering a comprehensive cleaning service to food establishments and a chemical surveillance service to food manufacturers and handlers. The ideas for the structure and implementation of these service packages emerged from Economics Laboratory's research and development department.
The increasing importance of this department resulted in a staff of by In the company underwent a number of changes as the profit margin dipped to ten percent. Sales of dishwashing detergent had slowed and the expansion of international operations had a temporary adverse effect on profits.
Both causes for the reduced profit gains appeared easily correctable and no major reorganization was in order. Yet the disappointing figures happened to occur at the same time new executives filled positions in Economics Laboratory's management. Osborn, son of the founder Merritt J.
Osborn, ended his long tenure as chief executive officer in so that Lanners, the first nonfamily member to achieve such high executive status, could assume the new title.
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Lanners began at Economics Laboratory in the research and development department, becoming first the chief scientist and then the assistant to the research and development director. At the time of the management shift, E. Osborn's experience at the company covered 50 years. The third-generation descendant, S. Bartlett Osborn, stepped up to the positions of executive vice-president and chief operating officer.
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By business had resumed at an accelerated pace. Sales increased 16 percent and earnings per share rose International sales now increased at a faster pace than domestic sales. Profits, however, did not substantially increase; the unimpressive 6. The new employees in marketing represented the firm's largest sales personnel increase ever in the course of one year. The hiring of new staff marked only one tactic in management's strategy for growth. This manufacturer of chemicals and pollution-control equipment was purchased in to improve the company's industrial market share.
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As the company's traditional lines of business in consumer and institutional products neared the limits of market penetration, Economics Laboratory looked for ways to supplement the operations of the Magnus division. Company management hoped that the acquisition of Apollo could offer that supplement.
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At first the subsidiary served this function well, and both companies found the relationship mutually beneficial. Apollo gained the financial backing necessary to enter new markets, particularly overseas, and Economics Laboratory broadened its business in the industrial sector. The Apollo subsidiary now held the responsibility for selling all Economics Laboratory's industrial chemical specialties. In addition to marketing coal additives, catalysts, and dust-control products to the electrical utility and mining industries, Apollo's sales staff was given the added task of selling lubricants, pulp-processing compounds, and temperature reducers to the metal processing and paper industries.
The major advantage Apollo's business activities held for its parent company was the ability to raise the industrial service operations to the same level of success as the Economics Laboratory's institutional services. Prior to the acquisition, Economics Laboratory's industrial business suffered from an inability to offer comprehensive services to its customers.
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With the purchase, Economics Laboratory acquired not only a company, but also technical service engineers to supervise product implementation. In Philip T. Perkins assumed the title of president and chief operating officer. The new top executive had joined Economics Laboratory in as vice-president of the company's consumer division. As a graduate of Michigan State University, Perkins used his self-created bachelor's degree in food distribution to assume a number of positions in consumer operations both at Economics Laboratory and other companies.
His experience in Economics Laboratory's consumer division attracted the attention of his colleagues; after three years of employment he was chosen as the company's most valuable employee. Prior to becoming president and chief operating officer, Perkins held the position of executive vice-president and chief operating officer of the international division.
As a new top executive, Perkins was considered particularly useful in overseeing the international operations. Before assuming his new title he had developed a plan to consolidate the program into a highly efficient network. His plan was credited with helping to maintain the division's impressive growth rate. Aside from continuing to expand international operations, Perkins planned to increase research and development spending by 25 percent. The last remaining promotion entitled to Perkins was the advancement to chairman and CEO.
Although it was generally assumed that Perkins was being prepared for this final promotion, tradition at the company protected the incumbency of its older chairmen. For this reason, no one expected the year-old Lanners, then chairman and chief executive officer, to be relinquishing his duties in the near future. Perkins's promotion, however, never materialized. In a surprise move Economics Laboratory recruited and hired its new top executive from outside the company. This abrupt shift in was said to have been management's response to a sharp decline in sales of pollution-control chemicals.
In attempting to remedy the situation, operating units were restructured and a new leader was sought with a strong background in chemistry and experience in the industrial sector. The recruitment process singled out Richard C. Ashley, former president of Allied Chemical and a group vice-president of the parent company.
Ashley's degree in chemistry and his successful experience in the chemical field met the company's qualifications. Ashley's talents were expected to be particularly useful in addressing the ailing Apollo subsidiary. The move to realign operating units represented the first in a series of steps devised to increase Apollo's business.