The surprising secret to WD-40’s success

With 176 countries selling it, over 2,000 documented uses for it, and over a billion dollars in revenue from it, it seems like there’s no stopping WD-40. The popularity of the primary-colored can continues to grow all over the world, and consumers keep discovering more ingenious uses for it. In fact, here are 46 great ways to use it (and that’s only scratching the surface).

But it wasn’t always that way. Back in the 1950s, a trio of chemists working in the aerospace industry was trying to develop a formula that would prevent aircraft and missiles from rusting. The first attempt was a failure, as were the second and third attempts—but the scientists kept right on trying. After 39 unsuccessful attempts, their determination finally paid off. The 40th time proved to be the charm, and WD-40 was born. In fact, that’s where the product gets its name—it’s the 40th iteration of a Water Displacement formula.

Surely those scientists would be amazed to see the billion-dollar corporation that WD-40 has become. Today, the multiuse concoction is available in 176 countries, and its sales, particularly overseas, keep on growing. The formula, which is top-secret, remains the same as it was all those years ago.

While it’s no longer a three-person operation, the WD-40 Company still has a smaller number of employees than its massive success might suggest. The company employs a total of 427 people worldwide, and only about 100 of those employees are based in the United States. So how has this company, with its relatively small workforce and humble origins, become such a global powerhouse?

Of course, the employees themselves are a major part of it. The CEO of the WD-40 Company, Garry Ridge, praises the laser-focus that its team of employees displays every day. “Profit is the applause of doing good work and having engaged employees,” he told the LA Times. But the primary key to the company’s success, Ridge says, is its simple, yet unique, marketing strategy. That strategy? Marketing WD-40 as what it is: A “multiuse product.”

At first, such a vague description of the product might sound like an uninventive marketing campaign, but Ridge swears that it’s actually been critical to WD-40’s success. “We don’t position ourselves as a lubricant or a de-penetrant or as a water displacer or as a rust-preventive product,” he said. Rather than pigeonholing the product into a single type of use, this method emphasizes its versatility. “In any particular sales channel, it’s not that big,” Ridge admitted. “[Positioning] ourselves as a multiuse product… means we can go anywhere we want. You can buy WD-40 in an automotive store, a hardware store, a grocery store, a drugstore.”

Ridge is definitely onto something. A product that boasts a certain type of use, however useful, will get a devoted, but limited, niche of people buying it. But a “multiuse product” can be sold anywhere, and it can reach everyone. And that’s just what WD-40 has done.

As amazingly useful as it is, there are a few situations where it’s not the answer. Learn the 5 times you shouldn’t use WD-40.

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