Post-Perez: SC Johnson faces a clean-up job

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As 34-year SC Johnson veteran and CEO William Perez exits for a bigger, high-profile stage running Nike, the low-key, highly regarded family company he leaves behind faces some of its biggest challenges ever.

No one close to company believes Mr. Perez left for any reason other than the opportunity to run a bigger, much-higher-profile marketer. But he nonetheless leaves in the wake of some prominent product failures and amid heightened competition from Procter & Gamble Co., Clorox Co. and Reckitt Benckiser.

In the late 1990s, SC Johnson was leading innovation in most of its business, with first-of-their-kind products such as Windex Outdoor and No-Drip window cleaners and Shout Wipes laundry pre-treaters. SCJ easily elbowed aside challenges from P&G's Tide and Unilever's Wisk when they entered laundry additives. But its track record has changed in recent years.

"They seem to have eased up on the accelerator," said Tom Vierhile, general manager of new-product tracker Marketing Intelligence. "They've had some innovation, but it's not as dramatic [as in years past]."

First, SCJ lost share to upstart Orange Glo International and its Oxi Clean and Orange Clean products in 2002 and 2003. While SCJ has since reversed some of those losses, it's now losing ground to bigger foes in other key categories.

failed products

Earlier this year, SCJ pulled the plug on its Pledge Grab-It Go-Mop, which had been the third entry in the burgeoning bucket-less wet-mop business behind P&G's Swiffer WetJet and Clorox Ready Mop. Grab-It got yanked a year after failure of Ziploc TableTops, a $65 million launch that ranked among SCJ's biggest ever.

The competition is also ganging up on SCJ. P&G licensed technology to a joint venture with Clorox for Glad Press & Seal plastic wrap, which propelled Glad, long a third-place laggard, to leadership in plastic wraps this year.

Air care has been a bright spot for SCJ, which has seen its share rise in one of the fastest-growing categories of home care behind such products as Glade Auto and Oust. But here, SCJ faces a well-financed challenge from P&G, which this summer launched Febreze Air-Effects spray air fresheners and ScentStories CD-played scents in P&G's first direct assault on Glade.

SCJ also has been a player in the fast-growing segment of revved-up toilet-scrubbing tools-but its Scrubbing Bubbles Fresh Brush entry followed Reckitt's Lysol Ready Brush and Clorox Toilet Wand and trails the latter.

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