Business Success Story: Reckitt & Colman: The Making Of The World’s Largest Household Products Maker

By | December 29, 09

Business Success Story: Reckitt & Colman: The Making Of The World’s Largest Household Products Maker

It is now about 170 years when a certain businessman called Reckitt, refusing to give up on his chosen career after experiencing two failed businesses, founded what was to become one of the biggest companies in the world – Reckitt & Colman

This is a story that will inspire you to making success of your business; however the difficulties you may be facing right now, or even if you have tried and failed at running businesses before. The circumstances between the time Reckitt & Colman was founded and now may be different, but the principles of success which were applied are still the same.

Read on and enjoy it.

Born in 1792, Isaac Reckitt had always desired to own a business. Not deterred by the failure of his two previous businesses in which he lost all his capital, Reckitt moved on to borrow money from his relations, and with it purchased a starch factory in 1840.

His first business card simply read “Isaac Reckitt Starch Manufacturer – late Middleton” for he had purchased the business from Charles Middleton. The factory was situated in Dansom Lane, which today remains the location for the company’s U.K. pharmaceuticals factory as well as its main U.K. office.

Whilst Isaac started the business, there were no developments until his four sons became old enough to help. Indeed, it was Isaac’s son Frederick who became the company’s first chemist and his other son, George, its first salesman.

From this point on, the business was known as Reckitt & Sons. For the first nine years in the company’s history, the only product sold was starch. But by 1854 Reckitt & Sons sold 22 products which competed in four product categories: starch, laundry blue, metal polish and washing paste.

During this time, the company began to expand its sales throughout England and to further diversify its product line into related areas. But despite this, it took seven years for the company to make a profit. Unfortunately, in 1862, only four years after he had paid off all his original loans, Isaac Reckitt died at the age of 70.

Reckitt & Sons also grew through the development of new markets. Its first export took place in 1864 when it sent laundry blue to Montreal, Canada. The Canadian market was developed through agents until finally a branch was opened in Vancouver and in 1924 a factory was acquired in Montreal.

Competing in these new markets was fierce and it was because of this that Reckitt & Sons decided to join forces with a company based in Norwich, England, by the name of J&J Colman.

Jeremiah Colman, Like Isaac Reckitt, was also from a family of millers. Jeremiah began milling mustard and flour in 1814. His diversification into starch and laundry blue took him into direct competition with Reckitt both at home and abroad. However, in 1913, the two decided to join the forces of their South American businesses.

The partnership worked well and by 1921 they were working together in all their export markets until eventually, in 1938, they formed Reckitt & Colman Ltd.

Colman’s expertise in the food industry was further enhanced by its purchase in 1903 of Keen, Robinson & Co., manufacturers of food and soft drinks. The acquisition of the RT French Company based in New York, USA, which made food, mustard and spices was appropriate and it strengthened the company’s presence in North America.

Keen’s Mustard was one of the original brands marketed in Canada.

The company entered the pharmaceutical business in 1929 when they began the development of a liquid antiseptic that would not harm human skin. The leading brand in the market at the time was Lysol, which was an excellent household disinfectant, but was not designed to be used on the skin.

In 1932, Dettol antiseptic and disinfectant was launched and it became the company’s biggest product marketed in Canada. Little did they know that in just over 60 years, the company would also come to own the Lysol brand.

Reckitt & Colman continued to grow both through internal development of new products and the continuous improvement of existing lines. In order to fulfill its vision, it also pursued a strategy of acquisition to both strengthen its portfolio and its presence around the world.

It purchased the Airwick Company in 1986 and with it the famous “Magic Mushroom” and “Stick-up” products, Boyle-Midway in 1990, bringing with it many leading household brands.

It also bought Lehn & Fink in 1995, which added Lysol and Prosolve to the fold.

In 1999, Reckitt & Colman Plc and Benckiser N.V. merged to become Reckitt Benckiser Plc and became the world No. 1 in household cleaning.

To solidify its global leadership position, the new company acquired Tiga Roda – an Indonesia pest control business in 2000, and again took over Oxy, a leading household business in Korea and disposed of firelighter business and Dr. Becher, both being non-core businesses, in 2001; and acquired outstanding minority interest in India and Sri Lanka the following year.

Reckitt & Colman, now Reckitt Benckiser, has continued to build on its solid foundations by concentrating on what it does best – marketing a wide range of quality, strongly branded consumer products. With its leading brands and its passion to be the best, it has well prepared itself to tackle the challenges of the 21st century.

Today, Reckitt Benckiser is undoubtedly a world leader in the manufacture and marketing of household, toiletry, food and pharmaceutical products.

Looking back to its small beginning with only 25 employees, the company now employs over 25,000 people worldwide. Its brands have become internationally renowned and are sold in over 40 countries, many of them leaders in their categories.

Discover Reckitt & Colman’s business success strategies here.



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