After more than a century of success, Frigid Fluid Company of Northlake, Illinois, exemplifies the talent and innovation of U.S. manufacturers, exporters and family-owned businesses.
Founded in 1892, Frigid Fluid is a well-known brand in the funeral and cemetery industry. From its earliest days, Frigid Fluid manufactured and marketed quality embalming fluids and cemetery supplies. In 1916, Frigid Fluid was credited with popularizing the first automatic casket lowering device, and has continued its tradition of innovation since then. Today, Brian Yeazel, the fifth-generation owner and executive of the firm, has charted a new course for the company’s growth, especially abroad, and has utilized SBA’s programs and partners to help him reach his goals.
As early as 1968, Frigid Fluid’s leaders knew that exporting could mean nearly unlimited sales growth, and the company made its first international sale to South Africa that year. Since then, the company has shipped its funeral and cemetery supplies around the world with particular success in Australia and New Zealand, starting in 1987, and the E.U. and Latin America in the 2000’s. Today, Frigid Fluid’s exports account for 25 percent of the firm’s total annual revenues with that share set to grow in the future.
As a child and young adult, CEO Brian Yeazel, worked in the Frigid Fluid manufacturing plant and learned the business from his uncle, who recently retired from the firm. After earning his bachelor’s degree in accounting, Brian returned to the firm in 2007 where he worked to understand the business at all levels. Together with his uncle, Brian had to work hard to maintain and grow the business during the 2008 recession and beyond. After losing nearly a quarter of its business in 2009 and 2010, Brian and the rest of the Frigid Fluid team started to look for new sources for sales growth.
Together with Robert Pine, a new sales associate, Brian began investigating programs and services offered by the SBA-funded Illinois International Trade Center at the North River Business and Industrial Council (NORBIC) in Chicago. There, the Frigid Fluid team attended workshops on exporting and received counseling from the Center. As part of the engagement with the ITC, Brian and Robert learned about the SBA-funded State Trade and Export Promotion program offered through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s Office of International Trade.
After weathering the recession’s lean years, in 2012 Frigid Fluid was ready to expand again, and SBA was there to help. In August of that year, the company secured an SBA International Trade loan to add new capacity to its plan, and at the same time utilized SBA’s Express loan program for working capital to better manage the business’s cash flow position.
Twenty twelve also marked the first time Frigid Fluid was able to utilize the SBA STEP grant program. With trips to trade shows and to meet new distributors abroad, Frigid Fluid was able to secure additional new orders from its visits to Italy, the UK, Poland and Australia and New Zealand. Brian commented on the value the STEP grants brought to his business. He noted that together with the U.S. Commercial Service’s Gold Key Service, potential exporters.
Since 2009, Frigid Fluid’s efforts to market and brand itself, both domestically and abroad, have produced steady growth. With nearly $4 million in 2014 revenues, the company has grown more than 25 percent since 2009. During that same period, Frigid Fluid grew in other ways as well, adding four new employees for a total of 19 full-time positions in 2014. Brian noted that among those new employees is Robert Curry, an Afghanistan and Iraq war veteran, who now serves the company as a welder after serving his country in the military. In 2015, Frigid Fluid will continue to focus on growth, and is considering upgrades to its 44,000 square foot manufacturing facility. With any eye on long-term value and employee productivity, Brian mentioned that as part of the improvements, he will consider energy efficient lighting as a means to cut costs and improve worker efficiency on the new CNC machine Frigid Fluid recently acquired.
Frigid Fluid is an example of the best of American manufacturing. The multi-generation business and its long history of developing new products and marketing them around the world, show that with a little help from service providers like SBA, manufacturers truly can make it here and sell it everywhere.