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Executive Interview

AMN Executive Interview With Dan Clarke, Senior Product Manager, Permatex

Dan Clarke is the senior product manager at Permatex. He is responsible for product management, new product development and research. He also plays a lead role in the commercialization of new products and management of marketing activities. In today’s interview, Clarke will share with AMN readers details behind the launch of a new product category for the aftermarket as well as some insights into the development of new product innovations at Permatex.

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Amy Antenora has served as editor of aftermarketNews since 2002 and has worked in the field of journalism for two decades. A graduate of Kent State University, Amy also earned her AAP designation from Northwood University's University of the Aftermarket in 2009.

permatex-daniel-clarke-3Dan Clarke is the senior product manager at Permatex. He is responsible for product management, new product development and research. He also plays a lead role in the commercialization of new products and management of marketing activities. In today’s interview, Clarke will share with AMN readers details behind the launch of a new product category for the aftermarket as well as some insights into the development of new product innovations at Permatex.

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Permatex recently carved out a new niche for itself with the launch of the Grease X Mechanic’s Laundry Detergent. Tell us a bit about what went into creating this new product and what kind of reception it has received in the marketplace so far.

For starters, a great deal of research and development went into the making of Fast Orange Grease X. We invested a lot of time in the field, visiting shops, fleets, talking to technicians and do-it-yourselfers, as well as countermen. We not only clarified what we already knew was an issue, but also discovered a few things that helped set us on the right course. While there was no doubt that greasy, smelly clothes were one of the more frustrating parts of a mechanic’s life, it was accepted as a situation that one had to live with.

We also uncovered the many methods and concoctions that techs were using to try and get their work clothes clean. Everything you could imagine – from baking soda to vinegar. But, what really caught our eye was the use of our Fast Orange Hand Cleaner as a pre-treater. I guess the techs figured if it got the grease off their hands, why not their clothes?

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While using Fast Orange Hand Cleaner turned out to be one of the more successful remedies, it only did part of the job. The grease came off the clothes, but the odor and residual grease in the washer was still there. Knowing what kind of technology we have in our Fast Orange Hand Cleaner gave us the clues about what we needed to add to take care of the rest of the issues.

Our final formulation of Grease X is what gave us the breakthrough we needed to launch the first-to-market laundry detergent made specifically for automotive technicians and serious do-it-yourselfers and helped us to create an entirely new product category at the same time. Fast Orange Grease X powers through stains and effectively eliminates odors from fuel, oil and auto fluids. We also added a proprietary enzyme that helps repel future stains.

The initial response to the product has been fantastic. Going in, we had a good feeling that we had a winner on our hands, but the initial sales and response was more than we expected. Surprisingly, our biggest customers at the beginning were the in-store personnel at parts stores who gobbled up much of the initial inventory. Once we went full retail, the sales were exceptional.

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We introduced Fast Orange Grease X at the 2016 National Hardware show this past May and won the “The Retailers’ Choice Award” from the North American Retail Hardware Association. This award selection is made by a special panel of retailers for innovative new products that they feel are unique, interesting and hold great promise for sales in their stores.

All of this success did not come without its fair share of naysayers. There was some speculation on Facebook and social media that Fast Orange Grease X was really manufactured by a major detergent company and just carried the Grease X label. I can assure you that is not the case.

I’m proud to say that Fast Orange Grease X Mechanic’s Laundry Detergent is a genuine Permatex product, specially formulated by our highly talented chemists.

Has the development of this product opened the door to other innovations or new potential products down the road?

Yes. Fast Orange Grease X has opened the door for other innovations and opportunities. We’ve taken some products in our Fast Orange Hand Cleaner line from the automotive shop to the DIY/consumer garage and home as well as to work areas in other markets such as industrial and plant operations. Our recent launch of Fast Orange Xtreme Hand Cleaner is an example of how we answer the call for a particular ‘pain point’ with some of our customers.

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Fast Orange Xtreme Hand Cleaner was specifically formulated to deliver unsurpassed cleaning power, leave little residue and remove petroleum odors. It features Permatex’s proprietary MicroGel technology for better cleaning efficiency and new odor eliminating technology that neutralizes the smell of gasoline, oil and other common odors. It also incorporates an advanced skin protection formula that contains premium skin conditioners aloe vera, glycerin, lanolin, vitamin E and jojoba oil.

We are also introducing the Fast Orange Grime Magnet in the hardware and auto retail channels this January. It utilizes a highly engineered foam, designed for cleaning up catastrophic oil spills, to scrub and absorb petroleum-based greases and fluids from skin and surfaces. It is infused with Fast Orange Pumice Soap, which is activated by water.

The foam holds 14 times its weight in oil, immediately absorbing it on contact, but releases and repels water so it dries out completely and will not develop mildew. The user can quickly clean up a mess and also clean and scrub their hands with soap and water without re-depositing the oil. Once the oil is in the foam, it will not come out. It grabs oil like a magnet to metal.

We have several new and innovative products in the works for next year that will be focusing on areas other than hands.

What kinds of changes in automotive design and production are influencing the way Permatex creates products?

As you may know, automotive design and production has change dramatically over the years and will continue to do so. As a result, service procedures that worked in the past may not be suitable today. Likewise, products that technicians may have routinely reached for in past years, may not work as well when exposed to the extremely high operating temperatures of today’s high-performance engines or may not be compatible with the new fluids used in these power plants.

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In order to stay competitive in the service business, we are continually developing products that keep pace with new technology and help us to stay ahead of the service curve. An excellent example is the proliferation of synthetic motor oils and those with advanced friction modifiers that tend to break down traditional RTV gasket makers over time. To address this issue, we developed a new generation of specialized RTVs, which include Permatex Ultra Synthetic RTV Gasket Maker and Permatex Gear Oil RTV Gasket Maker.

The same impetus for innovation applies to non-service products such as hand cleaners. It’s not that vehicles have gotten dirtier; rather it’s the demand by our customers for hand cleaning products that do more than just remove grease and grime. Pros today want hand cleaners that clean better, eliminate odor, leave no residue and offer better skin protection.

We are launching a new product at this year’s AAPEX and SEMA shows called Fast Orange Anti-Bacterial Foaming Hand Wash. This new product features an anti-bacterial formulation that kills germs while leaving hands feeling softer and smoother. Fast Orange Anti-Bacterial Foaming Hand Wash is a great way to disinfect hands after using a hand cleaner. It leaves hands with a neutral, fresh scent, is gentle enough to use everyday, and will not leave skin dry and cracked.

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In addition to Fast Orange and Grease X, Permatex has been known for the Spray Nine brand. I understand the brand went through a re-launch earlier this year for its flagship product. Tell us about this.

As a heavy-duty cleaner and degreaser, Spray Nine has been a great success in Canada, not only for automotive applications but other markets as well. Because of its EPA approved formulation for killing germs, we marketed it in U.S. while focusing on it as a disinfectant that could clean and degrease. However, we realized that we were not a typical disinfectant and we were not promoting the product’s real strengths. So earlier this summer, we took the Spray Nine brand back to its roots and re-launched in the U.S. as “Spray Nine Heavy Duty Cleaner/Degreaser” with the added benefit of disinfecting.

Spray Nine dates back to 1955 in the automotive market, where it was used to clean wheels, white wall tires and other areas around the vehicle. It was also the industry’s first “spray-on, wipe-off” cleaner. Because of its incredible versatile cleaning capability, Spray Nine applications eventually moved in and around the garage and home.

This national launch sets the stage for promoting the product’s ”Triple Threat” capabilities as a tough task cleaner, a very effective degreaser and a disinfectant. Now, when we are compared to most other cleaners and degreasers, we come out ahead because we offer the extra advantage of disinfecting where they do not.

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In addition to the name change and brand repositioning, we also have a new label design that looks similar to its historic days and are supporting the launch with advertising, public relations, social media activities, merchandising and promotions.

Ultimately, what are the two or three key words that you feel defines Permatex as a brand? How do you hope to be seen by the consumer?

The first words that come to mind are the five used in our trademarked slogan, “Always Right On The Job.” I believe this best describes the promise that Permatex offers its customers, reflecting both the reliability of Permatex products and the ability to offer the right solutions for the job at hand.

We want to ensure that both professionals and do-it-yourselfers, alike, continue to view us as the trusted, quality leader, and the one source with the right products for all of their automotive needs. We want customers to know that we are constantly innovating solutions on their behalf and delivering products that they can use and trust to work the first time, every time.

Permatex also is known for its gasketing, threadlocking and epoxy innovations, which are valuable tools for technicians. What kinds of training and education do you offer for technicians on your products? What do you find to be the most effective method for training?

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For the longest time, professional training clinics for our customers and curriculum-based programs at automotive high school and trade schools have been the mainstay of our educational efforts. While we continue to offer and maintain these programs, we have invested in the new mediums that have become very popular with our customers, such as YouTube, Facebook and other social media outlets.

As we introduce new products and product improvements, we need to train, inform and educate our customers at all levels of distribution. That’s why we have dramatically expanded our video library with a new technical knowledge series that offers specialized features on gasketing, threadlocking, and epoxies. The videos highlight proper application steps, tips and tricks, and dos and don’ts about the most popular Permatex products in these categories.

The videos feature voice-over instruction from a Permatex Product Manager and a live video demonstration by an ASE Certified Master Mechanic. They run between three to six minutes long and are segmented by specific topics, so that users can quickly and easily find the exact information they need.

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