Chapter 8: Young Blood

Bill Young was thinking. It was 6:30, and he was sitting in his office and playing with a bottle of Absorbine Jr.® by the light of his desk lamp. He’d been running the company for more than a decade and one of the first things he’d done was this: He unscrewed the cap and looked at the Dab-O-Matic applicator. The formula had always been great — it had been around, virtually unchanged, since 1903 and had always sold steadily. During World War II, Absorbine Jr. was even issued to infantrymen to battle “trench foot”, a condition many suffered through because of long days spent in wet boots. But when Bill took the helm, he looked for new ways to breathe life into the company’s foundational products. Their R&D folks in the lab, always looking for new uses for established remedies, had found that Absorbine Jr® cured foot fungus, which was a part of trench foot syndrome. The company not only coined the term “Athlete’s Foot” but found a new way to market Absorbine Jr® as a targeted cure for Athlete’s Foot. Before long, magazines and tvs were touting that Absorbine Jr® “stops itch in seconds and kills Athlete’s Foot on contact,” and a new market was cornered.

In fact, the breakthrough that led to all this was on a night a lot like this… Bill had been alone in the office, near the end of a long week, and his neck had felt tight as a drum. Lost in thought on a warehouse issue, he had unscrewed the cap on a bottle of Absorbine Jr®, poured a little onto his palm and rubbed the liniment into his neck on autopilot. The knot started to dissolve almost immediately. Bill leaned back and looked at the ceiling, feeling he might have to set the problem aside and get home for dinner. The phone rang, and as his damp hand shot out for the receiver, Bill had an idea. He ignored the ringing phone and walked down the hall to the restroom.

His mind raced as he opened the tap and washed his hands. Absorbine Jr® was terrific, but like all the liniments, it was messy. What if they could create an applicator that allowed for direct application, no messy hands, easier to use on the go…? How hard could that be? There must be a way… something permeable but controllable. Like a sponge? But how would that work? Would you squeeze the tube and have the sponge work as a barrier? Maybe that would be even messier.

Well, the rest is history. Bill made some phone calls, located a container manufacturer who was willing to experiment and signed a long-term exclusivity agreement. He even loaned the manufacturer money, and the Dab-O-Matic applicator soon became synonymous with Absorbine Jr® and the innovative applicator was featured prominently on the label and in advertising. Bill’s hunch had been right: People preferred NOT to have to get liniment on their hands all the time, and it made using the product easier and more convenient. The company found other uses for the unique hands-free flow-control of the Dab-O-Matic applicator, with products like Arthritis Pain Lotion.

Bill’s first decade as the leader of W.F. Young Company had been marked by this kind of willingness to try new things. Many of the ideas worked, a few of them didn’t. They’d rebuilt the filling and bottling line for Absorbine Jr® and offered it now as a liquid, an ointment, a gel. They were running national advertising for Absorbine Jr®, too, and sales were booming.

The growth in the human side of W.F. Young would have an impact on the equine side of the business for years to come — in fact, the company was on the verge of acquiring a new product line to add to their equine offerings: Hooflex, which as the name suggested, was a hoof conditioner that Bill thought had enormous untapped potential. Absorbine Jr®’s success was laying the foundation for important acquisitions in the equine product line that would help carry the company and its unchanged values into its seventh decade of caring for animals — and people.

Find the complete series on the history of Absorbine® here!

W.F. Young, Inc. is a marketer of many top equine brands, including ShowSheen® Hair Polish and Detangler, UltraShield® Insecticide and Repellant, Hooflex® and Horseman’s One Step® Leather Cleaner and Conditioner.