Stoner, Inc.

By keeping good on its product performance promise to make glass invisible, this diverse chemical manufacturer has broken into the world of retail distribution. Living up to a brand promise is no easy feat, but for the past 67 years, Stoner, Inc. has made good on its promise to bring consumers time saving solutions. Its biggest hit, Invisible Glass premium glass cleaner, has taken the company’s promise even farther by delivering on a pledge to “Make Glass Invisible.”

From specialty cleaners to lubricants and coatings, which are sold to commercial and consumer retail accounts, all of Stoner’s products promise to save the user time with world class performance. But for Invisible Glass, the best-selling and most popular product, Stoner has a specific three-pronged strategy to ensure customers are aware the product is out there and are always satisfied.

The first is proven performance. Invisible Glass provides the user with a powerful cleaner to remove stubborn dirt and grime from glass while eliminating the streaks or haze left behind by many typical blue water glass cleaners. It capably handles the full spectrum of glass products, from the windshield of a 1957 Chevy to the window in a household kitchen and everything in between.

These two core fundamentals, superior cleaning and invisible clarity, allowed Invisible Glass to experience rapid growth over the past 10 years in the retail sector. Often competing against much larger billion-dollar companies, Stoner relied on this product performance to differentiate Invisible Glass from the competition and drive sales for this family owned business.

“Initially, we hit some hurdles with buyers because they didn’t always see the need for another glass cleaner,” said John Goldbach, national sales manager. “However, it was important for us to explain how Invisible Glass wasn’t just another glass cleaner and that consumers would see the difference.”

Fortunately, Stoner turned out to be right. Retailers were initially reluctant to promote Invisible Glass, but Stoner used the second prong of its strategy, aggressive national promotion and advertising, to move from one or two facings on a retailer’s shelf to become the number one selling glass cleaner in the automotive specialty market and expand into the household cleaning category in hardware and grocery channels.

The third prong of the product strategy, proven results, allowed Stoner to build on its success by delivering on its promise to exceed the sales and profit objectives of its retail partners. “We understand it always comes back to meeting the sales and profit goals of our retail partners. Since we are not a billion-dollar consumer packaged goods company, we can’t assume we will get any second chances,” said Rob Marchalonis, CEO.

“We have to perform for the retailers stocking our products and deliver results,” he continued. “Invisible Glass is a better performer for the end user and the retailer.”

A-plus standards

In 2003, Stoner became the smallest business to win the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award, which was established by Congress in 1987 to promote quality awareness and recognize the business achievements of US organizations.

Under the direction of Robert Ecklin, Jr., president of Stoner and grandson of founder Paul Stoner, the company has developed a promise to be geographically invisible to customers, no matter where they reside. This promise is part of what led Stoner to such prestigious recognition.

Stoner has expanded beyond its regional footprint in Pennsylvania to its current footprint, which spans North America, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Europe. By stating it wants to be invisible to customers, Goldbach said the company is simply saying it wants to provide outstanding service.

“We don’t want them to think they can’t get the product because they’re across the ocean and not in the US,” Goldbach said. “We have a stand-up team in our shipping department that consistently figures out how to get our products to anyone wanting to distribute.”

Stoner consistently gets A+ ratings on its vendor scorecards and remains in the 90th percentile in regard to in-stock shipping times and delivery. By being geographically invisible, the company saves customers time and builds on its reputation as being a low-maintenance but high-service partner to retailers.

The company does its own manufacturing, which means as it evolves its product lines, it can keep up with the demands of its national and worldwide retailers while not losing its grip on quality. And by focusing on lean manufacturing principles, Stoner empowers its highly skilled team to solve problems and improve production efficiency.

“We’ve been active with the Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence, which is a world-renown recognition for lean manufacturing,” said Marchalonis. This involvement translates into comfort for retailers who might have reservations about dealing with a new vendor.

“Sometimes retailers have to take a leap of faith, but almost every retailer we work with, if asked about our performance, would say we’re one of the best performing vendors out there,” said Goldbach. “The Baldridge and Shingo awards let potential retailer partners know that we’re world class and reliable, even though we’re not the biggest manufacturer out there.”

Breaking through

Stoner takes great pride in developing long-term relationships with suppliers to help weather the challenges of a shaky economy and minimize its impact on packaging and chemicals raw material costs. Even the best of relationships, however, can’t always combat the rising costs of commodities such as plastic (spray bottles), steel (aerosol cans), and petroleum-based raw materials.

“Predicting what will happen in some of these markets with raw materials is not always easy,” said Goldbach. “It’s also not easy to increase your pricing as quickly as raw material prices rise.”

The company’s lean manufacturing practices and creative innovations with supplier partners enable Stoner to pass along value to retail partners and to end customers. But according to Marchalonis, the real story behind Stoner is one of a small innovative company penetrating a big market with a superior product.

Stoner has more than 30% marketshare in the automotive sector of the industry with Invisible Glass, which makes it clear that customers are responding positively to the product. Invisible Glass also consistently out-sells the competition on an inch-for-inch and facing-by-facing basis on the shelf.

“The struggle we have is getting exposure because incumbents have so much momentum with products,” said Marchalonis. “How does an innovator break through?”

It all comes back to what Stoner can do for retailers, which is deliver a great-performing product and use its own three-pronged strategy to spread the word about Invisible Glass. “We support it with a lot of promotion, such as national advertising, print, TV, radio, and grass roots marketing, and we’re providing the results,” said Goldbach. “At the end of the day, after retailers put a product on the shelf, they know we will provide the results they’re looking for.”