As featured in The Wholesaler- September 2006
UTILITY marks 80 years of innovative chemical product development
Westbury, N.Y. — UTILITY, which was founded as The Utility Shops in 1926 by Jack Goldy in Staten Island, N.Y., has become one of the most favored and extensive chemical product lines in the plumbing and heating industries.
Today’s contracting professionals still rely on some of the company’s original products shown below, including:
Later known as The Utility Labs, the company continued expanding its product offering. When Goldy passed away in 1963, his nephew, Pete Tofte, merged UTILITY with Simplex Boiler Stand, a manufacturer of cast iron specialties. The business was relocated to Brooklyn, N.Y. Tofte, W. J. “Bill” Kranz and Morton Sadowsky became partners in the newly renamed Simplex-Utility Distributors. At that time, the company offered nearly 40 different chemical products and over 60 metal products (representing nearly 300 skus).
To ensure continued growth, the three partners sold the company in 1968 to Embassy Industries of Farmingdale, N.Y., a baseboard radiation manufacturer. Although Embassy did not retain the cast iron specialties, which they sold to OEM, they enlarged the chemical product offering and automated many of the processes.
In 1971, Bill Kranz and Pete Tofte bought back the chemical business and moved it to Westbury, N.Y. The company again was renamed, to Utility Manufacturing Co. Inc. The product line consisted of nearly 50 chemical products, which included a larger offering of drain and waste system cleaners and preventives, as well as an extensive offering of thread sealants, gasket and packing materials. Of course, the signature products from the early years, like Paste Soldering Flux and No-Drip Pipe Joint Compound, also continued to be offered.
Tofte retired in 1974, and the following year utility acquired Wonder-King, a Mt. Vernon, N.Y., manufacturer and distributor of chemical products for the oil heating industry. This acquisition included many well-known and respected brands, including:
Also through this acquisition, Mel Schwartz, the former president of Wonder-King, began his over 30-year association with UTILITY that continues to this day.
To accommodate the growing need of the two businesses — which were run separately for 10 years — UTILITY purchased another building in Westbury that was three times the size of its previous location.
In 1977, Bill Kranz’s son Audie Kranz — who had just graduated from the University of Arizona — joined the company as purchasing agent and installed UTILITY’s first computers.
“Although I started working full-time at utility upon graduation from college, I consider myself working in the industry since birth,” Audie Kranz said. “My father became involved with Simplex Boiler Stand in 1955, therefore it was a regular thing to accompany my dad there and assemble products, or ride with him to make sales calls, or from high school on I would work summers in the factory. My vocational choice was to study astronomy at the University of Arizona. The realization came to me while attending that my more practical future lay in business, while a career in astronomy would mean poor pay, lousy night hours, but would make a great hobby.”
Around this time, utility developed its popular Posi-Lok leak prevention system, which was inspired by Wonder-King’s considerable sales in sulfuric acid drain opener under the Grand Slam brand. This extra-heavy-duty sealing and verification system allowed utility to offer what they consider to be the safest packaging then — and now — available.
By 1985, UTILITY manufactured and sold over 90 different chemical products. They further expanded their product offerings in drain and waste system cleaners and treatments, as well as in boiler and heating system cleaners and treatments. A major development introduced and pioneered in this period was the first non-toxic boiler anti-freezes — the No-Freez line of products. In addition, Wonder-King offered nearly 100 different chemical products expanding into the plumbing end of the industry.
At the end of this period of explosive growth, it was decided to merge UTILITY and Wonder-King into one company under the UTILITY name. They combined the most recognizable features of each company’s logo to make one logo. This new logo included the original “Utility man” and the word “UTILITY” in its characteristic typeface, and used the blue color from utility’s characteristic blue and orange design. It also included the “W-king” logo and the word “Wonder” in its characteristic typeface and the magenta color from the original black, magenta and yellow Wonder-King designs. The entire product line was updated and condensed to eliminate duplicate items.
With Bill Kranz as Chief Executive Officer, in 1989 he promoted Audie Kranz to president and Mark Sophie, who was hired in 1978 to make deliveries, to operations manager. Around this time, UTILITY broke ground for a 50% expansion of the company’s facilities. The blue and magenta company colors — which were considered trendy in 1985 — were changed to the current blue and red. In addition, the design of the line was updated again, including the logo UTILITY continues to use today. The merged product line now contains over 105 different products.
In 2002, Bill Kranz retired after nearly 50 years in the plumbing and heating industry, and Audie Kranz purchased the balance of stock to become full owner of UTILITY. In addition to Kranz, Sophie and Schwartz, other members of the UTILITY management team are:
“The rest of our staff comes from many different walks of life, each bringing their unique talents and perspective to utility,” explained Kranz. “Note that more than a third of our staff has been with utility for more than 10 years. Half of those have been with utility for 20 years and almost 10% of the staff’s tenure is nearly 30 years.”
Today’s UTILITY has remained true to its roots. Its products are designed for professional use, specifically for the plumbing or heating contractor. The professional has always demanded a higher-quality product, one that can consistently be relied on, and customers have come expect that from utility.
“Many other companies have tried to increase sales by distributing to the home center and hardware markets,” noted Kranz. “The price pressures and lower standards of that market have created a separate stratum of product quality we at utility call ‘hardware grade.’ UTILITY always distributed exclusively through plumbing and heating wholesalers.”
UTILITY always was a manufacturing company — and not just a manufacturing company, but a chemical manufacturing company.
“This is our capability and what we know how to do,” Kranz said. “We understand that, so we capitalize on our strengths. We stay focused on our area of expertise and don’t dabble in other items that we could sell, but would divide our attention. Although our product line is very extensive, we completely manufacture over 94% of our products. This also means that we are fully in control of all aspects of these products, from formulation to packaging and decoration.
“This also has enabled UTILITY to expand our sales by private labeling products for many other companies. These companies have recognized our expertise, capabilities and level of quality and they understand what they excel at, marketing products to their customers.
“Therefore, it is natural to have us manufacture the products for them. In most cases, we supply complete product making it a turnkey operation for them. This facet of our business — which, over the years, has represented between 25% and 35% of our volume — has given us many advantages. The private label business tends to transcend the ups and downs caused by the seasonality that affects some of our shelf line products, such as heating season or new construction. This allows us to keep a more level production staff and to buy components in larger quantities. We estimate that we have private labeled for as many as 350 different companies.”
Virtually all of UTILITY’s products are manufactured in Westbury, N.Y., and distributed from there. The company also operates a network of warehouses nationally for customer convenience.
UTILITY uses a multi-pronged approach in its sales and marketing efforts. Factory-trained personnel support its sales, as well as independent sales reps. All of UTILITY’s representatives spend a considerable amount of time with contractors and other end users supporting the company’s products. UTILITY also supports sales with direct contact from its customer service department and what they call the best technical department in the industry.
“We offer some of the most informative technical bulletins, product information sheets and seminars,” noted Kranz. “In addition, we use direct mail, and, of course, we advertise significantly in trade magazines. All these methods, and many more, combine to effectively access our customer base in ways that work differently for each one.
“Although the technology of the mechanics of how we conduct business with our customers has changed, our method of business hasn’t. We have always been a company that stressed personal contact. We strive to get to know each customer to treat them as individuals and address their particular needs. We feel we can be much more responsive to them this way.
“In addition, recognizing that our customers are professionals, we have always given them the respect they deserve. Therefore, a core value that runs throughout our method of doing business is professionalism. This is often a very difficult concept to relate to others, but ‘we know it when we see it,’ and we insist that every aspect of our business is done in a professional manner.”
According to Kranz, the management philosophy at utility is to involve all of its personnel in the business: “We want each person on our production lines to understand that their job is not to just operate a machine, but they also perform an integral function in the completion of a product that allowed a contractor to complete his job. We use committees of personnel from different departments to get objective and subjective opinions on various marketing and business ideological issues.
Kranz also sits in on many of the meetings himself to ensure that all of employees act with a single and consistent way on the many issues that confront utility on a daily basis.
Some of these philosophies can be summed up with UTILITY’s various mottos:
UTILITY considers that its primary laboratory for research and development is in the field. “We are constantly polling contractors for their wish list and their suggestions to expedite their work,” said Kranz. “We take this information and we will design a new product or re-engineer an existing one to solve today’s problems.”
The latest addition to UTILITY’s product line is the Odor Kill Solid. It joins the other two Odor Kill products — Odor Kill Spray and Odor Kill Powder. These products primarily deal with two difficult properties of fuel oil. That is, its tendency to leak and difficulty to clean it up, and of course, its strong odor. Odor Kill Solid takes this a step further. Any time a contractor visits a home, whether he has spilled any fuel or not, when he leaves the home the smell of fuel oil lingers. It may be from his uniform or tools. If at the end of every service call, he leaves behind an open Odor Kill Solid, which covers up any industrial odors with a pleasant floral scent and lasts for up to a month, then his visit has left a good impression; a mark of professionalism.
Another new addition to UTILITY’s product line is Aqua-Plug. This is a leak-stopping cement that actually stops running water leaks. This powder, with the addition of a little water, forms a putty that can be pushed into cracks where water is seeping. It actually seals as it hardens, and can be used on all types of masonry — including swimming pools — because it sets under water. This is a cure to keep basements dry.
UTILITY’s popular No-Freez family of non-toxic anti-freezes also has a new addition — Aluminum Safe Polar Grade No-Freez. As with all of the No-Freez products, it is made with pure virgin ingredients, never reclaimed or reconstituted materials. UTILITY, which reports it was the first to introduce non-toxic heat transfer fluids to the plumbing and heating industries, has added one more product designed for use in new contemporary boilers that were constructed with aluminum heat exchangers. This specially engineered product contained a special additive package to inhibit the natural corrosive action of propylene glycol and coats the metal with a protective layer. This product is supported by very comprehensive technical data sheets, separate containers of Aluminum Safe Inhibitor package to recharge systems, along with utility’s well-trained customer service department.
Another new addition — Dry Lime Solv — is actually the re-invention of an existing product. “By re-engineering and updating it, including its directions and marketing thrust, we have re-educated the market that there is a better way to perform this task,” explained Kranz. “Traditionally the primary function of this product was to de-lime tankless hot water coils. This product can be used instead of muriatic acid (hydrochloric acid); since it is a powder, it is much safer to use. In addition, it is less toxic and more effective. We gave demonstrations at the NAOHSM Show in Hartford last May and it impressed the many contractors who saw it with its fast and vigorous action. This eliminates the possibility of spilling in transit to the point of use since it’s a powder. It also has applications for the new tankless water heater technology on the market today.”
Kranz believes that the key to UTILITY’s success is the high quality of the company’s products, along with product support and the hard work, know-how, perseverance, dedication and attention to detail exemplified by every member of the UTILITY team.
“This solid background has allowed us to achieve a success rate of increasing sales volume in every year of operations and the last two years have been exceptionally strong,” he said.
In looking back at his tremendous career with UTILITY, Kranz noted three things that have given him the greatest satisfaction while at the company’s helm:
Kranz considers this is verification that they have done something well. When asked about growth projections for the coming years, Kranz commented, “I can’t help remembering the comic with the punch line that says ‘Things are going so well, I’m worried sick.’ At this point in time we are continuing to grow our B items into As, and our Cs into Bs. Therefore, they will also be recognized as the quality problem solvers they are. We continue to navigate our ever-changing industry and remain focused on who we are — the foremost chemical company in the industry.”