The mother of invention

Pivoting your business in the time of COVID-19

Sometimes, you discover the truth of an adage when you least expect it. This was our experience recently at Lubrication Specialties where we, as many companies throughout the country, began to understand all too well that necessity is the mother of invention.

As the manufacturer of Hot Shot’s Secret fuel and oil additives and specialty oils, our market prior to the COVID-19 pandemic has been mostly the performance automotive aftermarket and heavy-duty transportation. With the onset of the pandemic, everything changed seemingly overnight. People’s lives were at risk, and there was an incredible demand for hand sanitizer for home and business use, and most especially for essential workers who were on the frontlines working through this crisis.

As a chemical company, we were in a unique position to source the raw products needed to manufacture hand sanitizer. We began by creating small units to provide free of charge to local first responders and medical personnel, as well as truckers, utilizing a World Health Organization formula that met strict guidelines for safety.

No product numbers or UPC numbers were developed, and we did not have a monetary reason to develop sanitizer; we just wanted to help. However, once the word was out that LSI was manufacturing hand sanitizer, individuals and businesses in Ohio and throughout the country began inquiring about possibly purchasing it.

For our first batch, we secured enough raw materials for 4,000 gallons of finish product. The hardest component to source was isopropyl alcohol. We started to wonder what else could be used in place of isopropyl, and this is where our innovation began. The FDA issued a temporary order allowing the use of ethanol, and with that news, our team started sourcing all the material required to blend large batches.

Sometimes a company is faced with decisions that have to be made quickly and, frankly, in a crisis, we need to do whatever we can to help. This was especially true because we understood that some companies did not have the facilities or the understanding of how to develop a truly safe and effective formula. In a short time, we redeployed two manufacturing lines for hand sanitizer and began producing it in multiple sizes, using our own Hot Shot’s Secret bottles.

If anyone had told us as we planned for 2020 product development that we would be in the hand sanitizer business and would launch a new brand — LSI Chemical — our marketing, product development and sales teams would have laughed. But when demand and capabilities come together, quick thinking and innovation follow.

Will we stay in the hand sanitizer business long term? Supply and demand will answer that question in the coming months. The biggest takeaway through all of this is that being agile as a company, making tough decisions quickly and being prepared for whatever the market will bring are key.

Chris Gabrelcik, founder of Lubrication Specialties Inc., is not only a self-described chief innovation junkie, he’s a 2019 Columbus Smart 50 honoree and the Innovation award winner.