Bob Larson serves as president of FRAM Filtration, America’s leading oil and air filter manufacturer, headquartered in Lake Forest, Ill. Before joining FRAM Filtration in January 2012, Bob served as president of consumer packaged goods giant Reynolds Food Packaging from 2008 until its parent company, New Zealand-based Rank Group, merged the business with Pactiv Corp. in November 2010. Post-merger, Bob became senior vice president and general manager of food packaging for Pactiv. Before his Reynolds and Pactiv experience, he spent 30 years with Alcoa, the world’s largest aluminum producer and packager, in various leadership capacities, running businesses both domestically and internationally.
In this Executive Interview, Larson brings us up to speed on the changes at FRAM since the company was acquired as part of the sale of Honeywell’s Consumer Products Group last year.
You were appointed to your new role at FRAM in January, shortly after FRAM was acquired. Can you bring us up to speed on what has changed within the company since Honeywell sold the Consumer Products Group (of which FRAM was a division) to Rank Group?
FRAM Filtration, our new company name, is the largest global supplier of filtration products for the automotive and commercial transportation industries. We formed the company in January of this year by merging two companies that had been acquired by Rank Champion Laboratories, which was part of UCI International and FRAM, formerly part of Honeywell. As you can imagine, the past seven months have been an exciting time. We have melded the best from two very different corporate cultures to create an environment where personal accountability is rewarded and everyone enjoys beating the competition in a fair fight. We have put renewed focus on our FRAM product line and it remains the number one retail brand in the world. We also have developed and we are now executing a market growth strategy that leverages the combined product offering and brand strength of both companies. In the midst of all of this, we have competed a major consolidation of our North American manufacturing footprint. So, a lot has changed but the best parts of both companies remain.
Now that you’ve had some time to settle in, what are you goals for the future of this highly respected brand?
As I mentioned, FRAM is the No. 1 retail brand in the world and our No. 1 focus is on strengthening and growing that position. FRAM has been around for more than 75 years because of an ongoing commitment to delivering our customers cost competitive options to extend the life of their engine, and enhance the quality of their driving experience. That is the principle focus of our product development activity for our oil, air and cabin air product lines. On the heavy-duty side of the business, we have the iconic Luber-finer brand, as well as a broad line of FRAM heavy-duty products. This has enabled us to grow significantly across this segment over the past six to nine months.
As you mentioned, Rank Group also owns UCI International (acquired in 2010), which has its own filtration brand Champion Laboratories. Have these two filtration brands now been merged (FRAM and Champ Labs), or is there room in the market for both?
The name of our new company is FRAM Filtration, but the best of the FRAM and Champ product lines will remain. But we have been going to market as one company for the past seven months.
What is the key to remaining a top player in the competitive filtration market these days, in your opinion?
It starts with the customer. We need to bring our major customers products that enable them to sell more stuff, to more people and in the process, earn more money. We service a wide range of segments retail, traditional installers, OEM/OES and heavy-duty. The value proposition we offer across and within each of these segments varies somewhat but the consistent requirement is a quality product, delivered on time and [at] a competitive price. To support this, we are keenly focused on being the low-cost producer with a quality system that ensures consistent product attributes. That has to be a given. However, companies must innovate or they die.
That is why we have placed additional emphasis on new product development at the FRAM Proving Grounds located in Perrysburg,Ohio. A good example of this is our FRAM Wearguard TRT Oil Filter, which incorporates a controlled additization process to slow the degradation of oil and, thus, increase oil change intervals. We have been enjoying quite a bit of success of late with this product line and recently secured some new business with a major logistics and package delivery company. On the FRAM passenger car side, we introduced FRAM Ultra, our top-of-the line filter, which features dual layer synthetic media reinforced with a durable metal screen to deliver up to 15,000 miles of engine protection when used with fully synthetic oil.
Are there any interesting advancements in filtration technology that we should be looking out for?
In addition to what I outlined above, we have some exciting products in the pipeline for air filtration. All filter media are not created equal. For example, our FRAM Extra Guard Air Filters contain scientifically engineered filter media that have been proven to provide two times the engine protection than the average of leading standard retail brands. We think there is more that can be offered in this area. Likewise, we are seeing a huge increase in sales for FRAM Fresh Breeze Cabin Air Filters. I recently read a report from the Car Care Council that said the air inside your vehicle can be up to six times dirtier than the air outside. That’s where the cabin air filter becomes critical. Our FRAM Fresh Breeze Cabin Air Filters are the only ones offered that combine odor-absorbing carbon and the natural deodorizing qualities of Arm & Hammer baking soda for fresher, filtered air. This segment offers tremendous potential for growth and we are all over it.