In a plant on Milwaukee’s northwest side, a workforce of about 15 employees brew large batches of a ubiquitous liquid known across the country and around the world.
Much like their forefathers who worked in the city’s breweries such as Pabst, Schlitz, Blatz and Miller, these workers carefully measure the right amounts of ingredients into giant steel tanks and continually test for quality. When the batch is just right, the liquid is piped to a production area, where it’s bottled, shrink-wrapped on pallets and shipped across the country.
But there’s one important difference between these workers and their historical counterparts. These workers aren’t making beer – they’re making Barbicide.
Since 1947, barbers and hair stylists have used Barbicide to clean and disinfect their combs, scissors, razors and other hair cutting implements. Glass jars of the blue liquid can be found in barbershops, beauty parlors and salons across the country.
Barbicide has a 65- to 70-percent market share in its line of products. For nearly 60 years, it was produced in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Last October, a group of Milwaukee investors purchased King Research Inc., the company that makes Barbicide. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The investor group was led by Kevin Scheule, owner and chief executive officer of Pak Technologies, a Milwaukee contract manufacturer. Schuele is the largest stakeholder in the investment group. To buy King Research, Schuele and his investors formed a holding company named BlueCo Brands Corp.
Pak Technologies has been in the contract manufacturing business since 1980 and was looking for a product to acquire, Scheule said.
“We understand the processes, equipment, production flow and formulating – putting the whole package together,” he said. “It was time to look for a brand that fit what we wanted to do.”
After the acquisition was complete, production was moved to one of Pak’s facilities at 8000 W. Good Hope Road on Milwaukee’s northwest side. Pak serves as King Research’s contract manufacturer.
Positions were offered to King Research’s employees in Brooklyn, but none chose to move to Milwaukee.
Pak Technologies mixes and packages Barbicide and the other products that King Research formerly made in Brooklyn, Schuele said. King Research has its own chemist and sales staff, but does not manufacture any of its products.
New brand, new blood
Schuele hired Alan Murphy as president of King Research in July. Murphy previously worked at GE Healthcare, where he held roles in sales, management and operations. Working at GE helped prepare him for a new role in King Research because of his extensive training, Murphy said.
“I got to go to their management development course in New York with all of the top executives,” he said. “I got to the point where it was like, ‘What do I want to do when I grow up?'”
Murphy, who started at King Research in July, will eventually buy in to become a shareholder of the firm, Schuele said.
“We needed to find someone who understood marketing, the process of selling it, who understood the chain of how it works from distributors to the different levels of sales,” Schuele said. “(King Research) was kind of stuck in the 40s or 50s, where it stopped. I knew we needed someone of Alan’s caliber to drive this company forward.”
Schuele and Murphy met through New Options, a salon at 523 E. Silver Spring Drive in Whitefish Bay. Murphy has used the salon for years, and Schuele’s wife and daughter have as well.
“My wife asked me to try it,” Schuele said. “I went in there on a Saturday and got a haircut, and I was talking about buying Barbicide. I said I was looking to hire a president. Michael (Kruczynski, the salon owner) was on the next chair, and he said he might have a great guy for me to talk to.”
Kruczynski took Schuele’s cell phone number and called Murphy.
“By the time I got to my office (Alan) was on my cell phone,” Schuele said. “We talked for 20 minutes. I said then that the connection sounded good, and we met and kept going.”
Murphy said his skills at marketing and sales, mixed with Schuele’s operations and manufacturing expertise, will help push King Research to new heights.
“My career has been in sales and commercial operations,” Murphy said. “I’ve never made anything. Bringing the two together has been wonderful – the sales guy and the ops guy.”
The pair are prepared to grow King Research and Barbicide by introducing the product into new markets such as health care, educational institutions and law enforcement.
In early 2008, King Research will begin selling wipes saturated with Barbicide, intended for use in the health care, law enforcement, university and other markets in need of sanitation.
Barbicide has been proven to kill nasty germs – viruses and bacteria such as HIV-1, Hepatitis B and C, multiple strains of staph bacteria, and even the fungus that causes athlete’s foot. Recent tests also have shown Barbicide to kill the MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus), a drug-resistant staph bacteria.
The wipes will be especially well-received because of recent MRSA outbreaks, Murphy said. The wipes are intended to clean hospital beds, tables, police squad cars, prison and jail cells, desks in schools and any other area that many people come into contact with one another and could spread germs.
“This kills (MRSA) on non-porous surfaces and helps prevent its spread,” Murphy said. “It kills 100-percent of anything you want it to kill. This is for professional use. Barbicide is a perfect application for that as well. It was 50 years before its time.”
The new wipes have already received clearance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and individual states will soon begin granting licenses for the product’s sale.
King Research’s sales staff is now demonstrating the wipes to potential customers, Murphy said. Customers can pre-order the wipes now, and the company expects to start delivering them in February and March.
“It’s a reflection of when each state approves it and does the paperwork,” Murphy said. “As soon as it’s done, we can ship to each (individual) state.”
Although Pak Technologies makes Barbicide for King Research, it won’t be making the wipes, Schuele said. Instead, the chemical will be shipped to Rockline Industries, a Sheboygan-based company that is the largest manufacturer of coffee filters and private label wipes. Like Pak, Rockline will be a contract manufacturer to King Research.
“When we were putting the wipes together, we saw the need and had a recognition that Wisconsin is the biggest producer of wipes and woven technology,” Schuele said. “It’s all here (in Wisconsin). It’s kind of ironic.”
Because of the potential for a significant boost in the demand for Barbicide, Pak Technologies is now renovating its 147,000-square-foot manufacturing facility at 8000 W. Good Hope Road. Pak has had about 15 employees producing and packaging Barbicide at the plant since the brand was acquired, Schuele said.
“We’ve got to be ready for this big push,” he said.
By Jan. 1, about $1 million will have been invested in the facility, including a new water filtration system, new and larger storage tanks and an automated system that will mix batches of Barbicide at the touch of a button, Schuele said.
“This is going to be a state-of-the-art disinfection facility that can really produce some product,” he said. “It’s going to be a world-class production facility. 8000 W. Good Hope Road will become the disinfection center of the world. It’s a big investment for us.”
Although output will greatly increase with the automated machinery and high-tech production lines, the number of workers at the Good Hope Road plant is not likely to increase significantly.
In total, Pak Technologies has about 60 workers, with 15 working in the facility that makes Barbicide.
“We’re not going to lose any jobs (with the automation),” Schuele said. “If anything, we’ll grow.”
Tools for growth
At the time of the acquisition, King Research had about 20 other products sold to barbershops, salons and beauty parlors.
One of those products, Love & Kisses lotion, was developed for use in the barber and beauty industry to protect beauticians’ hands against hair dye and harsh chemicals. Because Love & Kisses is a heavy-duty lotion, it’s being tested on diabetic patients, Murphy said. Many diabetic patients have dry and cracking skin on their feet, which can lead to infection.
“This can help moisturize (their feet) because it’s so heavy duty,” Murphy said. “It could be a high-end lotion for that application.”
Love & Kisses might also be marketed as a barrier cream for patients that have incontinence, Murphy said, and King Research’s chemist is working on a fragrance and dye-free formula.
King Research also sells Rinse No More, a rinse-free shampoo that the company plans to market to health care facilities and retirement homes.
Currently, Pak Technologies makes only Barbicide and Love & Kisses, Murphy said. The remaining products are now made by other contract manufacturers, but Pak Technologies will eventually produce all of King Research’s products.
King Research is also working to develop a body wash wipe to be used on bedridden patients, he said. The company wants to develop a suite of products that can clean and care for elderly or bedridden patients.
“We’re trying to keep them more economical,” Murphy said. “There is going to be a big increase in home health care that is not Medicare-reimbursed. And if we can deliver a good quality product at a good price, we can have a high impact.”
The company is also working on packaging its disinfecting products together, to sell more products at one time to salons and barbershops, Murphy said.
“We’re looking to add value with our current customer base by offering a complete disinfectant package and other combinations of products,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun – we have these brainstorming sessions then we just go,” Murphy said.
“We have to be creative. We bought a brand that is the dominant player in its market,” Schuele said. “But we have new products and emerging markets in the health care, law enforcement and schools.”
“Within the industry, there is more of an understanding of the need to disinfect,” Murphy said. “This is a 60-year-old company that grew 25 percent last year. We were up 61 percent in October of this year vs. October of last year. There’s no reason we wouldn’t see a continued growth rate.”
Last week, J.C. Penney Co. Inc. signed a three-year contract with King Research to supply the 950 salons in its stores in the United States and Puerto Rico with the Barbicide line of disinfectants, Murphy said.
“They were looking for us to be experts in disinfection, and we’re partnering as a strategic resource for them,” Murphy said. “It could have a very significant positive impact.”
Given their success so far, Schuele’s investment group is open to purchasing other brands that Pak Industries could manufacture.
“It’s got to fit into the competencies we have,” Murphy said. “If we can add value, then it would make sense.”
King Research Inc.
Address: 2730 W. Silver Spring Road, Milwaukee
Products: Barbicide and about 20 other products related to sanitation in the barber and beauty industry.
New focus: Taking new and existing products into the health care, law enforcement, educational and other industries.
Employees: About 20 independent sales representatives, one chemist and Alan Murphy, president.
Growth: About 25 percent since October 2006
Web site: www.king-research.com
Address: 2730 W. Silver Spring Road, Milwaukee, and two other manufacturing facilities on the city’s northwest side.
Industry: Contract manufacturing
Employees: About 60
Web site: www.paktech.com