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April 2014
Evolving to Address Global Sustainability
By Kathleen E. Conroy

     Nearly four years ago, Mike Guggenheimer knew that sales at RSC Chemicals, an Indian Trail manufacturer of hands-on household consumer lubricant and cleaning products including Liquid Wrench and GUNK, were optimal.

     But what if the company pushed the envelope, capitalizing on the same basic technology RSC Chemicals had been using for 90 years, and formed a sustainable solutions platform aimed at big industry: deep sea oil rigs, waste management, underwater construction and dredging?

     What if a new business could produce safe absorbent technology to clean oil spills? Or produce high-performing readily biodegradable industrial lubricants to keep high-risk businesses safer from the start?

     “It made perfect sense to combine current technology developed by parent company Radiator Specialty Company  and sister company RSC Chemical Solutions, look to acquire and invest in similar bio-based partners, and form RSC Bio Solutions,” says Guggenheimer, who is CEO of the newer company.

 

Extending Their Reach

     “Radiator Specialty Company has a long-standing strength in formulating and manufacturing lubricants and cleaners, so the investments that led to RSC Bio Solutions are a natural extension of this core capability,” states Guggenheimer, 40. “And, Radiator Specialty Company has used bio-based ingredients for many years in its products.”

     Thus began a journey of substantial growth for Radiator Specialty Company and a series of acquisitions and partnerships, including Ohio-based Terresolve Technologies’ ENVIROLOGIC line of industrial lubricants.

     Guggenheimer and other company executives began working with Radiator Specialty Company owners Alan, Philip and Samuel Blumenthal to create RSC Bio Solutions. All three privately held companies are owned by the Blumenthals, a Charlotte family well known for their civic and philanthropic contributions including the N.C. Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, the Blumenthal Cancer Center at Carolinas Medical Center, and Shalom Park.

     Radiator Specialty Company (RSC), RSC Bio Solutions’ founding company, was created by traveling salesman I.D. Blumenthal, great uncle to the current owners, in 1924 after a chance encounter on a Charlotte business trip led him to find a new way to plug a radiator leak. Solder Seal was the first of many products of RSC.

     I.D.’s brother Herman joined the company in the ’30s, and when I.D. died, Herman took the helm eventually passing on the responsibility to his eldest son Alan in 1978, who served as president and CEO for 22 years. Currently, John Huber serves as president and CEO of RSC. Owners Alan, Philip and Sam, all brothers, are no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of the three RSC companies, but are “active and engaged owners,” describes Guggenheimer.

     In 2010, RSC adopted the name RSC Chemical Solutions to better reflect its range of products, which include lubricants, oils, hydraulic fluids, fuel additives, degreasers, cleaners and sealers.

     Guggenheimer describes RSC Bio Solutions as a separate but connected platform to RSC and RSC Chemical Solutions, a longtime name of trusted brands found in stores from Wal-Mart to Auto Zone. The difference? Bigger applications and entrance into a world of biochemistry where sustainability is key.

     RSC Bio Solutions manufactures and distributes safer bio-based readily biodegradable cleaning, degreasing and lubricating products for risky business—oil spills, hazardous waste mishaps, etc.—and oversees partners that do both. “Think large cargo container ships or even the simplest of turf lawnmowers used in commercial applications...that’s RSC Bio Solutions’ target audience,” says Guggenheimer.

     “The company’s founding story really embodies what we are all about, using chemical tools to solve a problem,” says Guggenheimer. “It ties into the ethos, the spirit of reliance, the ability to fix problems by your own hands. It really is who we are today.”

     In 1941, the popular Liquid Wrench product became part of RSC’s line, while automotive chemical, plumbing and hardware products were added after World War II. Rubber production for the retail line was moved from California to Charlotte in 1949. GUNK Laboratories was acquired in 1959, resulting in the addition of an entire line of degreasers, and in 1964 a new office was opened in Charlotte.

      In 2007, the company combined its entire work force at what is now 500,000-square-foot plant in Indian Trail where most manufacturing and distribution for all three companies takes place..

 

Investment in Emerging Tech

     RSC Bio Solutions is in close control of procuring raw materials and research and development for its industrial lubricants—hydraulic fluids and gear oils, predominantly—but uses a mix of its own blending facilities and outside manufacturing partners throughout the world.”

     Guggenheimer attributes RSC Bio Solutions’ rapid growth to identifying an “unmet” need in their search for other markets: “The key was finding industrial companies that were looking for safer technology without having to trade off cost or performance,” he asserts.

     And pushing RSC’s eco-friendly lean was key from the start. “For RSC as a whole, we are committed to running an organization that is sustainable—from an environmental and social standpoint, but also from an economic standpoint,” says Guggenheimer. “We are working to ensure the next 90 years are just as successful as the first 90 years and we see the economic value that safer, readily-biodegradable technology can deliver to our customers.”

     For several years, RSC had been researching and planning for its expansion into bio-based fluids while Guggenheimer took the lead in 2010 by negotiating deals with three partners.

     Through a partnership with Gemtek, RSC Bio Solutions is now the exclusive North American licensee of SAFECARE technology for cleaners, degreasers and solvents in the industrial market. A partnership with Sorbent Green and exclusive distribution rights to GREENSORB, an absorbent for solvents, oils, hydraulic and functional fluids, followed.

     Next came a partnership with Terresolve, involving an investment of growth capital and a minority ownership in the company (which has since become a majority ownership). In addition, the Terresolve ENVIROLOGIC brand of industrial lubricants is now available to RSC customers. “Now there is one company that offers a full array of high-performing, readily biodegradable alternatives to petroleum-based lubricating and cleaning products,” says Guggenheimer.

     RSC Bio Solutions also capitalizes on the two retail bestsellers produced by RSC Chemicals. RSC Bio Solutions provides ready-to-use, safer, GUNK Powered by SAFECARE and Liquid Wrench Powered by ENVIROLOGIC products formulated for industrial applications.

     Guggenheimer says this means that RSC and both divisions offer a one-stop shop for advanced, readily biodegradable lubricating, cleaning and degreasing chemicals in the industry “These powerful chemicals deliver an enhanced level of safety and business efficiency, reducing workplace hazards and costs across a wide spectrum of applications ranging from waste management and utility fleets to offshore marine and golf course maintenance,” he explains.

     Before joining RSC, Guggenheimer was an operating partner for Blackstreet Capital Management, a private equity firm based in Maryland, and previously held a number of general management positions for chemical and textile manufacturer Milliken & Company, headquartered in Spartanburg, S.C.

 

Competition and Position

     Customers of RSC Bio Solutions heavy-duty degreasers, bio-based surfactant blends and solvents, and lubricants go across the spectrum from construction and excavation companies to manufacturing firms with assembly lines.

     “The case studies on our website speak volumes,” says Guggenheimer. “Once users decide to try our products, they are sold on RSC Bio Solutions. We also have a long history of approvals from equipment manufacturers,” says Guggenheimer.

     There are many customers in the waste management industry. “Perhaps you have garbage trucks being used in a residential neighborhood, and a hydraulic fluid line breaks—you’ve got a real mess on your hands,” says Guggenheimer. “We have to prove that the technology is safer and it works without damage to your trucks. Our products are often better than petroleum-based lubricants; vegetable oils can offer superior lubricity.”

     Currently, the company’s best sellers are ENVIROLOGIC products—mainly driven by EPA regulations in the marine industry and lubricants used in large ships and other vessels. “Our products are used by big equipment in sensitive places,” says Guggenheimer.

     Airports and other aeronautical-related businesses tend to purchase the company’s cleaners, degreasers and solvents. “There are times when you don’t want chemical exposure to employees, and our safety benefits add real value,” explains Guggenheimer. “Oftentimes cleaners with water cannot be used in an airport hanger, for example. SAFECARE and GREENSORB draw oils out of the hanger, absorbing that oil and encapsulating it for safe disposal.”

     Guggenheimer is especially proud of one Charlotte customer, Jacobsen, which designs and builds advanced turf maintenance equipment—big lawn mower fleets. “When a turf mower breaks down on the 18th green of the golf course and has a spill, and we can provide a safe solution that has real value to the client,” he states.

     “We are very focused on and dedicated to environmental and alternative industries. We understand alternative technology. We are balancing breadth and scope with tailored customer service,” he says. “We cannot be everything to everybody, but we get to know our customers and their industries very well, as well as the application of our products to their needs.”

     Guggenheimer adds that other companies make misleading claims about bio-based products—or simply offer products that don’t work—and that does more harm than good to RSC Bio Solutions. “It’s more difficult to overcome a less than satisfactory prior experience,” he says. “And truthfully, some competitors’ products don’t work.”

     As a matter of fact, Guggenheimer says the Blumenthal family wanted to move RSC in a bio-based direction for many years but was wary of “greenwashing.” RSC needed to be sure that offering an environmentally friendly line of products meant more than just slapping a specialized logo on a plastic container. The bio-based products had to be as strong as their petroleum-based counterparts, according to Guggenheimer, to maintain the company’s reputation for quality.

     Asked about competitive products, Guggenheimer responds, “We don’t focus too much on the competition because we think we can help build a new marketplace where a number of players can be successful. We worry more about bad competitors who mislead customers and make it harder to build the market than we do about good competitors. I hope we see more strong products from others. We actually have a big oil company as a customer now, and are helping them to address the need with their customers.”

     RSC Bio Solutions looks to be positioned well as a thought leader in the ever-evolving world of eco-friendly functional fluids. Guggenheimer is on a mission to educate. He recently spoke at two bio-based chemical conferences, meeting with companies invested in being environmentally safer.

     “My vision for RSC Bio Solutions is to be a global force for change in markets using big equipment in sensitive environments. Some of these market areas have been historically very reluctant to change, but I believe we can show them how our products actually reduce risk,” he asserts. “I expect our thought leadership and investments in this space to develop opportunities for RSC and address a looming sustainability challenge we all face.”

     RSC Bio Solutions hopes to see significant growth on this platform. Guggenheimer says RSC also has plans for aggressive growth in their traditional consumer products such as GUNK and Liquid Wrench, as well as MotorMedic (maintenance chemicals for vehicles) and TiteSeal (leak repair products). He is quick to credit his colleagues and coworkers in bringing the company together in a “It takes a village” kind of way.

     “Although RSC Bio Solutions is fairly small now relative to the full RSC enterprise, it stands as a greater percentage of total sales in the future,” he says. “At the same time, bio-based ingredients have played a role in the core business for many years and we expect the use of these materials to accelerate across the board.”

 

Kathleen E. Conroy is a Greater Charlotte Biz freelance writer.
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