Odds are that in your home, at work, and maybe even in your pocket, you have something manufactured by The Clorox Company. No. 8 on the IW 50 Best for the second straight year, owns brands ranging from the home care staples Clorox and Pine-Sol to Burt's Bees lip balm, Brita water filters, Fresh Step cat litter and Kingsford charcoal. The 105-year-old Clorox, first known as the Electro-Alkaline Company, knows that consumer tastes in any of these categories can change in an instant, so staying ahead in everything from research & development to supply chain management are paramount to continued success.
The manufacturer also knows that perpetual excellence starts on the factory floor with the people churning out the products.
"Fundamentally it's about executing, driving that continuous improvement mindset and no matter where you are and what you're making, having that workforce that is super excited about what they do every day," says Andy Mowery, Clorox's Chief Product Supply Officer.
The company recently reported sales of $6.1 billion, 80% of which is derived from products that are in the top two of market share in their respective category. Despite the reach of its brands, Mowery still thinks of Clorox as "a small big company," saying they are one-tenth the size of some of their competitors.
So how are they able to stay on top?
"I think what makes us different is our willingness and our ability as that small company to very quickly get to the folks who can make the decisions to say, 'This is the path that we're going to pursue,'" Mowery says. "We don't allow ourselves to get caught up in the bureaucracy of big companies might encounter."
For all the gaudy numbers charted on the IW 50 Best listing, Mowery says the most important data is its industry leading return on capital employed, a measure of profitability and efficiency. Clorox reported a 29% return on invested capital for 2017.
"That means that we make good disciplined decisions and [know] how to use capital to get benefits," the employee of ten years says.
The newest major expenditure is the 258,000-ft² Atlanta West facility where home care products are made. They added 100 new employees to the ranks, which is now at 8,700 worldwide, 6,000 of whom work in the supply chain. The manufacturer now has operations in 25 countries and territories, with plants in 11.
The Clorox Company
|The Clorox Atlanta West facility, opened in 2017, uses state-of-the-art tech to keep up with demand and cut down on waste.|
Mowery says that connecting the new state-of-the-art tech to the people is the key to driving that efficiency, as well as a near 12% profit margin.
The first step Clorox has made may seem counterintuitive: automating as much as they can. That is strictly a safety reason, preventing any worker from coming into contact with moving equipment or parts (aside from material handling applications). Mowery also pointed to their emphasis on lockout/tagout procedures. Clorox's overall recordable incident rate is 0.82, far exceeding the norm
"Generally within industry, below 1 is considered to be world-class," Mowery offers. "Typically U.S. manufacturer is somewhere around 3."
They do combine the people and tech when possible, as in a Kingsford facility in Parsons, West Virginia. An operator on the shop floor suggested placing QR codes on equipment that would prompt a technician's tablet to recall manuals, display troubleshooting video instructions, or record in real-time for a remote operator to see and offer assistance if needed. The solution was developed in the new Atlanta plant and is being implemented across other locations now.
The Clorox Company
|At the Kingsford plant in Parsons, W. Va., tablets tapping into augmented reality keep workers from running around trying to find paper work instructions. [This image was taken at the Belle, Mo. plant.]
Leveraging current tech is a big contributor to this "small big company" staying up to date with tech strategies to continuously improve. Mowery says their digital transformation only began in earnest last year, but was deployed in the areas to make the largest impact first: in the area of enterprise planning and transportation management. He points to product supply analytics group that takes supply chain data to predict trends and react.
This helped Burt's Bees lip balm to truncate product innovation by up to eight months and become first in market share over a 13-week period for the first ever. The Innovent idea contest is another way any boots-on-the-ground employee can open-source revolutionary ideas to boost the business. Burt's Bees Natural Launchpad to find and train new female leaders, as well as Glad MatchWare, both stemmed from the contest.
Mowery thinks Clorox's most recent innovation is garbage (bags), though, and that makes him incredibly proud. The R&D team in Willowbrook, Ill. found a way to make an incredibly resilient dual-layer trash bag that uses less plastic, called Glad ForceFlex. It's a win for the consumer, the environment and provides a material saving to Clorox.
With as many consumables that Clorox puts out there, their sustainability efforts can make a huge impact. By changing the lid on Hidden Valley salad dressing bottles, the company projects it will reduce 1.5 million lb. of plastic per year.
All of this could ensure that Clorox stays high on the UW50 list for years to come, as the efforts to protect the triple bottom line, encourage employee feedback and implement their ideas, and employ the latest technology to make their jobs easier should attract the best talent to carry the mantel.
"One of my favorite time of the year is when our interns do their exit presentations, and you see the way that they go after solve problems," Mowery says. "You realize that if you don't have the tools for that generation of folks, they're not going to want to come work for your company."