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Webco Chemical Corp.

Flour, water, yeast and a few other ingredients can be mixed either to bake a cake, a loaf of bread, soda bread, shortbread or scones. The proportions of the same ingredients and a few additional ones can create a completely different result. The same is true of cleaning solutions, Webco Chemical Corp. CEO Mark Puliafico emphasizes.

“We bring all these different raw materials together like you’re going to bake a cake,” Puliafico explains. “If you’re going to bake a chocolate or angel food or bundt cake, you use different ingredients. Some are common ingredients, but some are different to make it a specialty.

“If we’re going to make a laundry detergent, there’s a lot of similar ingredients we would use in a car washing compound,” he declares. “An automatic dishwashing compound contains a lot of the same ingredients in the dairy farm cleaner. The building blocks are very interchangeable in a lot of products.”

Webco Chemical Corp. specializes in cleaning products for a variety of industries but has had a long relationship with the dairy industry. “My biggest industry served is the dairy farmers,” Puliafico reports. “We make cleaning compounds and sanitizers for use on dairy farms. There’s only a few companies who make udder washers and teat dips.” The company also formulates, manufactures, packs and private labels green home cleaning products. “We do a fair amount of products in that area,” he notes. “We also get into industrial cleaners for metal finishing, paper mills, transportation cleaners – everything that’s cleaning and packaging we do.”

In-house R&D

Webco Chemical Corp. formulates products for markets and customers, or it can blend a product from its inventory of 500 to 600 chemicals to customer specifications. “We’ve probably developed about 70 to 75 percent of the products that we sell, and the remaining ones customers have come to us with their own formulations,” Puliafico estimates. “Sometimes we’ve actually worked with the customer to improve those formulations.”

Two chemists and Puliafico, who earned a chemistry degree from Carnegie Mellon University, develop products. Two quality assurance employees test the products to confirm they meet all specifications and regulations, and 11 formulators in the company’s 200,000-square-foot headquarters manufacture them. Additional employees operate four blow-molding machines that produce four different sizes of containers, run filling and packaging lines in a variety of configurations, drive the trucks to deliver the products, do general material handling and operate the warehouse.

Six additional packaging lines are housed in a separate building on Webco’s 20-acre campus for Bay Science, a division of Webco Chemical. The line is dedicated to manufacturing cleaning products for the consumer market.

“We needed additional space, so we set up special packaging lines to take care of the small packaging requirements for the home consumer market,” Puliafico explains. “In the building, we package from half-ounce bottles up to a gallon bottle. In the Webco building, which deals more with dairy farm and industrial-type cleaners, we do anything from a 16-ounce bottle up to tank trucks.”

Product Development

Developing a new product can take as little as 15 minutes or months, Puliafico says. For example, for a new window cleaner, he would have to know what color it should be, what it should smell like, and whether it would use ammonia or alcohol. “Give me your parameters, and I can put together a window cleaner in 5 minutes – it’s that simple,” he says.

But other products that require field testing can take several months, such as a new teat dip for cows that removes a particular bacteria species with 99.999 percent effectiveness.

Family Business

Puliafico’s father, Charles, founded Webco Chemical Corp. in 1956. “Some people grow up in the family farm – I grew up in the family chemical business,” Puliafico remarks. 

“Sometimes, I’d come in in the evenings and move boxes or containers around to help him, and I would label them,” he adds. “My father would call me the vice president of Webco when I was in sixth grade.”

When Puliafico joined the business after college in 1973, the company’s roster had increased to 10 employees. Puliafico did everything, he says, including developing products in the lab, checking product quality, blending chemicals in the plant, purchasing materials and truck driving.

Up and Down With Prices

Puliafico now deals with pricing fluctuations resulting from the chemicals Webco uses, which are derived largely from petroleum, natural gas, corn, soybeans, coconut or palm oils. The prices of these have been varying and have been affected by drought in some areas. “In the last few years, a great deal of my time has been spent in negotiating with suppliers, whereas in the past, the prices might change once a year,” he remembers.

To overcome this challenge, Puliafico follows seasonal dips in materials prices, calculates their historic highs and lows and tries to obtain 30- to 90-day pricing from vendors, who may typically only provide 15- to 30-day notice of price changes. He credits employee loyalty for the company’s success and to have the capabilities to manufacture products which may be in high demand with a fast turnaround for their customers.

Puliafico’s brother-in-law, Ed Ruggeri, manages the business, his nephew, Mark Ruggeri, is in charge of the Bay Science division, his daughter, Alicia, helps set up production schedules and purchase materials, and his niece, Heidi Ruggeri, works in safety and environmental concerns.

For the future, Puliafico talks with his customers about what they need and the next big trend in cleaning products. “The one thing about the United States is we’re a clean country,” Puliafico emphasizes. “We’re always cleaning. Something gets dirty, and it’s got to be cleaned. My dad always said wherever there’s a smokestack, there’s a chance for us to sell a cleaner.”

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