WD-40 Finds Growth for 50 Year-old Product
How to Find New Customers for Existing Products
By Denise Harrison, Vice President

WD-40 Faces a Growth Challenge

WD-40, a well-recognized brand faced the growth dilemma -- the chairman put out a goal to grow the business by $100 million from new products (or product innovations) introduced during the next three years (Gary Ridge, Wall Street Journal, May 23, 2006). This would be difficult for a product like WD-40, which has been in existence for over 50 years. What could be new? In order to meet the challenge the WD-40 Team Tomorrow looked for new and/or underserved customers. They knew that WD-40 was present in many households, but primarily a mainstay of the garage -- where it is used to solve a variety of problems. According to the web site WD-40 fulfills five basic functions:
  1. CLEANS: WD-40 gets under dirt, grime and grease to clean. It also dissolves adhesives, allowing easy removal of labels, tape and excess bonding material.
  2. DISPLACES MOISTURE: WD-40 displaces moisture, it quickly dries out electrical systems to eliminate moisture-induced short circuits.
  3. PENETRATES: WD-40 loosens rust-to-metal bonds and frees stuck, frozen or rusted metal parts.
  4. LUBRICATES: WD-40's lubricating ingredients are widely dispersed and tenaciously held to all moving parts.
  5. PROTECTS: WD-40 protects metal surfaces with corrosion-resistant ingredients to shield against moisture and other corrosive elements.
But what about inside the house -- were there no applications inside the house? Are there no cleaning issues in the house? Is nothing stuck inside the house? Are there no squeaks in the house?

The Team Tomorrow set out to find the answer. Yes, they found that inside the house there were many potential uses -- oven doors that were stuck, ceiling fans squeaking and crayon marks on the walls. But why was the product not used inside? Research showed there were several issues:
  1. The WD-40 was in the garage -- the can was not convenient to store in the house.
  2. WD-40 didn't smell very good.
  3. The WD-40 can sprayed too much for the indoor application -- it got all over everything when a spot application was required.
The team was happy to hear that the product was needed inside the house and set about making the product indoor-friendly. They developed the pen application idea -- actually before Tide perfected it with its Tide to Go? product. But the idea was the same -- a pen-like product that could deliver WD-40 in a small dose at a specific point. According to the web-site: "The WD-40 No-Mess Pen delivers the same trusted, multi-purpose product users know and love, with the precision of a pen-shaped applicator. It is pocket-sized, fitting everywhere from glove boxes and desk drawers to backpacks and purses. The WD-40 No-Mess Pen can lubricate hinges, doors, and drawers, remove sticky labels, remove gum and crayon...it can do everything a regular can does without messy overspray and with minimal odor!"  Since it was not an aerosol it did not have the smell associated with WD-40. It did not drip if you were using it to take crayon off the wall. It worked upside down if you were trying to take the squeak out of a ceiling fan.

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The No-Mess Pen® is now a global product for WD-40 with many years of growth expected. The new pen delivery mechanism enabled increased product acceptance -- what can you do to re-invigorate one of your 50 year-old products or services? Look for potential applications in a different environment and see what needs to change to make your product work for that specific environment.

© Copyright 2011 by Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc., Ann Arbor, MI -- Reprint permission granted with full attribution.

Denise Harrison is Vice President of Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc. She can be reached by email at

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© Copyright 2017 by Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc. Ann Arbor, MI -- Reprint permission granted with full attribution.