Precision Laboratories: An Obsessive Compulsion
Back in 1962, Precision Laboratories was founded as a private label distributor of maintenance chemicals. From this humble beginning, the company has grown into a key player in the agriculture and turf & ornamentals markets, offering such items as adjuvants, seed enhancements and foliar nutrition.
How has the company managed to accomplish this in its 50-year history? According to Richard Wohlner, president, there’s no secret to Precision Laboratories’ success. “The key is we’re obsessed,” says Wohlner. “For 50 years, we’ve been obsessed with all aspects of our business. We’re obsessed with making sure the customer gets their needs met. We’re obsessed with positioning products that solve problems. We’re obsessed with service levels that ‘wow’ our customers. We’re obsessed with creating an excellent employment experience for our people. That’s what has kept us in business these past 50 years.”
In many ways, he adds, this obsessive nature was inherited from his father, Jim, the company founder. For more than 30 years, Wohlner learned how to pay attention to all the little details of Precision Laboratories’ business. “Eventually, with this training, I thought I would be ready to step up and take the company to the next level,” says Wohlner. “So in January 1995, I bought the business from my dad.”
An Early Crisis
At that time, he says, a majority of Precision Laboratories’ business was producing additives for the then-up-and-coming herbicide glyphosate, which the manufacturer Monsanto Co. marketed under the tradename Roundup. “But in October 1995, Monsanto announced its intention to make Roundup Ultra and Pro with its own additives,” says Wohlner. “So we lost approximately 60% of our business within the next 12 months.”
Faced with this loss, Wohlner quickly began looking for new products and business areas for Precision Laboratories to shift its resources. Within a few years, the company had a half-dozens new products to its brand family. This included Transport, a water conditioner, Border, a liquid activator adjuvant containing drift control, surfactant and ammonium sulfate, and Cascade, a soil surfactant for intensely managed turf.
With these and many other products in its portfolio, Precision Laboratories was not only able to survive through the 1990s, but thrive, says Wohlner. “So once the 2000s arrived, we became obsessed with finding new opportunities and problems to solve for our customers,” he says.
For example, in 2007, Precision Laboratories went back to help the product that provided the majority of its business in the early 1990s, Roundup, with Simplyx. “We formulated an adjuvant that allows unhappy mixtures to work well together, such as glyphosate and clethodim,” says Wohlner. “One of these is a very water-loving chemistry while the other is a very oil-loving chemistry. But by using Simplyx, customers can gets these products to work together and it allows them to maximize control of volunteer corn in Roundup-resistant soybean fields.”
More recently, Precision Laboratories has focused its product attention on the problem of spray drift. In 2012, the company introduced Border AQ, a surfactant and drift retardant concentrate. “We are advancing our polymer technology to control drift and maintain the spray droplet on the plant,” says Wohlner. Another new drift control agent is Avianis DC, which is targeted at the aerial application marketplace.
In addition to these brands, Precision Laboratories has also dived into the high-tech market. In 2011, the company debuted Mix Tank for iPhone and Android. This app allows users to track tank mixes and prevent mixing problems from occurring.
Besides obsessing over new product launches, Precision Laboratories has also spent the past few years upgrading its overall business as well. For example, in 2010, the company opened a new facility in Chicago, IL, to manufacture its Wuxal foliar fertilizer. And in honor of its 50-year anniversary, Precision Laboratories unveiled a new corporate logo at a gala celebration this past summer.
“Our old logo had a very retro look to it, but it didn’t really reflect where we are today as a company,” says Wohlner. “The new logo shows a p-shaped leaf pointing upwards. This helps symbolize our company’s commitment to our products and people, but pointing towards the sky reflects our commitment to growth.”
Further down the line, Wohlner says Precision Laboratories remains obsessed with solving current industry problems with new products. Already in the pipeline is a seed-applied nutrition for corn, soybeans, cotton and cereals and products to help with water management.
But despite these changes, Wohlner says one thing will remain constant at Precision Laboratories — an obsession to stay true to its founder’s vision. “In terms of a legacy for the company, I thank my father, Jim, for creating a business that’s lasted for 50 years,” he says. “At the 50th anniversary celebration, I told him ‘your imprint is strong, to take care of customers and anybody connected with our company. As long as I’m here, that will never change.’”