Nu-Calgon: A Sales Force Without Equal

Feb. 1, 2009
Nu-Calgon's products chemical products including coil cleaners, descalers, refrigeration oils and specialty applications go largely unseen and unnoticed

Nu-Calgon's products — chemical products including coil cleaners, descalers, refrigeration oils and specialty applications — go largely unseen and unnoticed by most end-users of HVACR products. But to the wholesaler distributors who carry these products and the contractors who use them every day, Nu-Calgon is an indispensable part of their business.

It's not just the products that are so important to the contractors and wholesaler distributors. It's also the Nu-Calgon salespeople who partner with the distributors to help them better understand the products, which allows them to sell more to customers. Partnering with its customers is exactly the mission that founder and president Al Butler set for Nu-Calgon 18 years ago when he purchased the business from Merck, the worldwide pharmaceutical company.

The formula has worked. Today, Nu-Calgon is the premier company of HVACR chemicals. “Our entire organization is dedicated toward taking care of our customers, and the wholesalers have rewarded us with their business,” Butler says. “We're a very sales- and marketing-oriented company. I think our wholesalers appreciate that, and that's why we've been successfully growing the business year after year.” Since its inception, Nu-Calgon has increased its sales by nearly sevenfold.

Nu-Calgon's roots are in Calgon, the brand that became a household name by virtue of its bath (Calgon) and dishwashing (Calgonite) products. Calgon, which began as a supplier of phosphate in the 1930s, entered the air-conditioning business with coil cleaners and related products, and was later sold to Merck & Co. in 1967. When Merck divested its chemical specialty business in 1991, Butler purchased it from them. “I like to think I was in the right place at the right time,” he says.

Butler was vice president of Calgon and had been with the business since 1963, so he knew a thing or two about what it took to run a successful operation. It all begins with people — specifically, salespeople who know what they're selling and can work with customers to help them increase their profits. Butler recalls that there were 55 salespeople at Calgon when he formed Nu-Calgon on Oct. 1, 1991, and he brought the best with him when he began the new venture. He started with 18 salespeople, and that number has since grown to 25.

Starting fresh also allowed Butler to develop a more streamlined way of doing business — from ensuring that the salespeople became specialists in what they sold to the way that the products were shipped to customers. While Calgon's salespeople were responsible for many different lines, Nu-Calgon would concentrate only on HVACR wholesalers, providing a new level of expertise for customers that would encourage them to place more of their orders through them.

But a smart, experienced sales force is only effective if the products can get into the hands of customers on time and are the products that were ordered. Butler quickly streamlined the distribution system, consolidating Calgon's multitude of public warehouses around the country into one central distribution center at its headquarters in St. Louis. Nu-Calgon now ships at least 98 percent of its orders complete and on time within 24 hours, Butler notes. “It's worked very well for us, and our customers like that type of service,” he says. “Over the years, we have become known for our outstanding product delivery program.”

A sales force that knows its products is a key differentiator from competitors. Butler believes strongly that a salesperson who sells the products of his or her company will do a better job for the wholesale distributor than the salesperson who represents several lines of different companies. There's a deeper commitment to the company and a base of knowledge that continues to grow.

Not only do they know the products, but they develop strong relationships with a distributor's employees at all levels of the organization. Nu-Calgon's salespeople visit branch locations and go on joint sales calls with a wholesale distributor's salespeople. Today, the best wholesalers in the country carry Nu-Calgon products.

He notes with pride that turnover within Nu-Calgon is almost nonexistent, and he receives nothing but compliments when he travels to industry shows and meetings about the quality of the staff — both the outside and inside salespeople. “It's their knowledge and their willingness to help the customer sell products,” he says.

Customer education remains an important component of the job for the Nu-Calgon salespeople. “We do everything that we can to train the people on our products,” Butler says. Counter days with the wholesalers and two days of training at the Nu-Calgon facility in St. Louis are all part of working closely with the customer. Nu-Calgon's technical assistance department handles questions from distributors and contractors, and its website ( offers a comprehensive guide to its product line.

Of course, Al Butler and the Nu-Calgon team are not resting on their laurels. “We work on getting 100 percent of their business,” he says. Some wholesalers rely on Nu-Calgon for all of its HVACR chemicals, while the salespeople are working with other distributors to get them there. Butler says wholesalers who consolidate with Nu-Calgon generally sell more chemicals and related products, and make more profits than those who fragment their business.

Nu-Calgon continues to expand its product line, which has helped to drive the business forward. Butler notes that the new products introduced since 1991 account for more than 80 percent of current sales and more than 95 percent of its growth.

Many of Nu-Calgon's products come about through its salespeople, who get new ideas and concepts from business associates and customers. After all, the Nu-Calgon salespeople make approximately 3,000 sales calls a month. “They are our eyes and ears,” Butler says. Having such a large marketing staff also allows Nu-Calgon to stay ahead of its competitors and keep abreast of what's happening throughout the HVACR industry.

Over the years, Nu-Calgon has developed a well-deserved reputation for successfully bringing products to market. “R&D is one of our keys to success,” Butler says. “We work with our raw material suppliers in an effort to bring the latest technology to the marketplace.”

Nu-Calgon is also advancing the HVACR industry with some of its innovative products. Butler mentioned Zerol Ice, a product that reduces the noise created by air conditioners, reduces energy costs and makes the compressor last longer. It's a product that no doubt can significantly increase profits for contractors. Because it is unique and still not a well-known product, Nu-Calgon works with contractors and wholesale distributors to help the contractor sell the benefits to the end-users. Butler also cited RX11 Flush, a product that contractors use to clean out air compressor lines after conversion to R-410A rather than replacing the lines.

With its recent introduction of its Green Select products, Nu-Calgon is opening new sales opportunities for distributors and contractors who want to meet consumer demands for environmentally safe products. “We perceived that there was a need and a place for all-natural, environmentally safe or ‘green’ coil cleaners,” Butler says. “The contractor is looking for an edge with the end-user, and Green Select provides them with that edge.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Designed for the Environment program lists Green Select products, which adds credibility. The Green Select product line uses organic ingredients from renewable resources. Butler says Nu-Calgon is committed to growing its Green Select line. “The interest among the contractors and our wholesalers has been tremendous,” he says.

Nu-Calgon sells only through its wholesaler distributor partners, Butler says. But you will often see a Nu-Calgon customer working with contractors or end-users like hospitals as a way to pull business to those distributors. “The wholesaler is everything to us,” he says. “We consider ourselves as a team working together to bring our products to the tens of thousands of users of Nu-Calgon products.”

Al Butler and Nu-Calgon have demonstrated their commitment to wholesaler distribution through their association with HARDI. Nu-Calgon recently received HARDI's first Market Center Distribution Award, which honors companies that provide superior service in a marketing organization. “It goes back to our company philosophy of taking care of the customer,” Butler says. Nu-Calgon has also received awards from some of the larger wholesaler distributors who recognize their supplier for excellence.

“I have all the respect in the world for HARDI. It's a good organization, and it's helped us tremendously,” says Butler, who has served on the HARDI board of directors. “One of the most important things that we do is to work with HARDI. When I got involved in this business, it gave me an opportunity to meet with customers and really get to know them.”

Michael Maynard is a business writer in Providence, RI, who writes on issues related to HVACR, construction and architecture. Contact him at [email protected].

Nu-Calgon at a Glance

President & CEO: Al Butler Vice Presidents: Robert Pierce, John Lawler and Jim Eager Headquarters: St. Louis, MO Operations: St. Louis, MO Employees: 52 Major Product Lines: Refrigeration Oils, Coil Cleaners, System Flush, Leak Detectors, Water Filtration & Everpure, Water Treatment, hydronic system treatment, other HVACR chemicals Website: Year Founded: 1991 (1918 as Calgon Corp.)

Best Practice

Helping wholesalers to both expand and grow their chemical business in their local market.

Definition and Example: By working with and training the wholesaler's customer, the contractor, we can increase the contractor's use of chemicals and, therefore, the wholesaler's sales.

Significance: Is job No. 1. By doing so within an environment of solid customer service, both companies benefit and grow.

Benefits: Increased sales and profitability. By helping wholesalers increase their chemical business, which is a more profitable product line, their profits increase incrementally.

Procedure: Ongoing training and educating of contractor as well as the wholesaler's branch personnel.

People involved: Nu-Calgon factory salespeople and product management and marketing personnel.

Timing: Ongoing

Other considerations: Key role played by internal Order Services people in support of order processing and the outside salespeople.