Sea-Land’s Origin Story
1964 – John Hetchler Starts the Company
In 1964 at the age of 55, John Hetchler saw an opportunity. During his career as a fats & oils salesman, he learned about by-products created in the oleochemical manufacturing process that could provide valuable benefits in various industrial applications. This knowledge and some initial success lead to the founding of his own company, Sea-Land Chemical Company, aptly named after the marine and animal oils from the “sea” and the “land” that he was offering to the market. This began the journey of Sea-Land Chemical Company that would continue for the next several decades, evolving and growing as market demands shifted, and industrial processes changed.
The 1960s – The Early Years
Throughout the 1960s, Sea-Land Chemical Company operated as a small business, reselling animal fats and marine oils in the midwest. Sea-Land, now comprised of a small sales and operations team, worked out of offices in Lakewood, OH, a suburb of Cleveland. A pivotal moment in the company’s infancy came when they landed business with Valley Soap Works. They required a consistent supplier of additives for a finished soap they were providing to the US military. This sale provided the needed capital for Sea-Land to fund the business and stock inventory for this customer.
The 1970s – From Reseller to Stocking Distributor
The 1970s saw significant changes in manufacturing and the chemical industry. Stricter environmental regulations and technological advancements in chemical manufacturing drove changes in business philosophy. Companies began to use by-products or waste streams for creating value-added derivatives to generate revenue. With these changes came an opportunity for Sea-Land to shift its focus to specialty products that could be warehoused in closer proximity to industrial customers. This business model change would be a key decision for the company’s future, as more raw material manufacturers looked for regional distributors with expertise and strong customer relationships to move excess material.
The 1980s – The Company is Sold…To the Employees
Another pivotal moment in the company’s history occurred when John Hetchler decided to retire. With no family members interested in owning the company, John’s only option was to sell. Enter the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974, a law allowing John to sell the business to its employees. Starting in 1980 and for 10 years, John was paid for his ownership stake in the company. This decision would serve as a significant moment in the company’s story, creating a foundation for an employee ownership culture that remains to this day.
The 1990s – ESOP and Responsible Distribution
In 1990, the transition to a 100 percent employee-owned company was complete, establishing a business culture and philosophy for growth that would resonate with employees for years to come. In 1992, another company landmark moment happened – Sea-Land became a member of the National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD), and the standards were established as part of the Responsible Distribution program. The company continued expanding its product offerings and distribution footprint through new supplier relationships, focusing on specialty raw ingredients for customers in many key market segments throughout North America.
The 2000s – North America Expansion
The start of the new century marked the beginning of substantial growth for the company in North America. The company’s sales and operations staff doubled in size, several new key supplier partnerships were formed, and the distribution footprint expanded beyond a regional level to a national level. Partnerships were formed with some of the largest chemical manufacturers in the world, such as BASF, Advancion (formerly known as ANGUS Chemical Company), Chevron Phillips Chemical, and LANXESS. Sea-Land experienced significant growth in certain markets such as industrial lubricants, metalworking fluids, greases, and household industrial and institutional cleaners.
The 2010s – Global Expansion and ISO Certification
At the start of the decade, Sea-Land established Sea-Land Chemical Canada, Ltd. and acquired a testing services company. These entities ushered in a new era for the company by expanding its distribution reach and strengthening its global supply chain. In 2014, Sea-Land purchased TribSys LLC, broadening the company’s service offerings by providing tribological testing services for industrial lubricant companies and serving as a facility for supplier additives testing and company training. The company received ISO 9001:2015 certification status in 2015 and ended the decade as the 29th largest chemical distributor in North America, according to the Independent Commodity Intelligence Services (ICIS).
The 2020s – Strategy for Growth in Place
The 2020s brings a focus on strategy and technology to drive growth.