BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- SC Johnson's doubts that a newfangled clip-on mosquito-repellent fan priced around $9 could be a big seller in a recession have proved unfounded, as the Off Clip-On Fan is far outstripping the company's initial projections and leading to shortages in much of the country.
The Off fan is one of several new products that has the family-owned multinational hitting its stride like it hasn't in years, recession or no. SC Johnson led all players in U.S. household and personal-care scanner data with sales growth of close to 10% in the four weeks ended June 14. It has made substantial share gains in recent months in cleaning tools and mops, plastic wraps, toilet-bowl cleaners, and storage bags.
But nothing has taken off quite like the Off fan, which exceeded SC Johnson's initial sales expectations by more than 400%, according to a person familiar with the matter, despite the relatively heady price. He credited a combination of the novelty, aggressive advertising for the brand from SC Johnson agency DraftFCB and an unusually wet spring and summer across much of the eastern U.S. that has helped spawn more mosquitoes.
"People seem to be loving it everywhere," said a spokeswoman for Edelman, the public-relations firm for Off, which has positioned the product particularly for women as an easier alternative that doesn't require application of chemicals to the skin.
The Off clip sold about $4.2 million its first month, ended June 14, according to Information Resources Inc. data that exclude Walmart, club stores, home-improvement stores and other big channels for the product.
Becoming hard to find
The fan has been popular enough that it's impossible to find in many stores around the country during the prime barbecuing and summer-camp season, though it remains in stock on Amazon. Amazon is charging $12.89 for a starter kit and $8.49 for refills, well above the suggested retail prices of $9 and $3.99, respectively.
Reviews on the site are mixed, with a combination of raves and users who say the fan didn't protect them at all. The biggest complaints online, though, are price and the inability to find the product.
Improvements are likely on both fronts now that SC Johnson knows it has a hit, said Rodney Northern, an SC Johnson alum who now runs Fayetteville, Ark.-based product and trade-marketing consulting firm Nucleus Group. He sees the fan as one sign of a broader SC Johnson turnaround as the company's management team gels under Johnson family heir and CEO Fisk Johnson, who took over in late 2004 upon the surprise departure of William Perez for Nike.
"As Fisk is starting to mature, they're putting the right pieces in the right places," he said. Among other things, SC Johnson has started getting marketing managers more involved in upstream product development, he said.
Refocusing on strong categories
Household products generally have fared relatively well in the recession, but SC Johnson in particular has benefited with a slew of new products that haven't been duplicated by private labels yet. Among them are a Scrubbing Bubbles gel toilet-bowl cleaner that sticks to the bowl to provide continuous cleaning and a Windex outdoor window-cleaning kit.
SC Johnson went on the defensive earlier in the decade as a resurgent Procter & Gamble Co. made household cleaning a renewed priority and led a charge on Glade's once-dominant position in air fresheners, Mr. Northern said. P&G and Reckitt Benckiser combined to carve more than 20 points out of Glade's market share over several years.
That diverted resources toward defending air fresheners rather than SC Johnson's biggest strengths, which were innovating in other household categories such as insect repellents, he said. Now, SC Johnson is refocusing attention on those categories, where it also faces less competition from big-spending behemoth P&G, he said.