JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Crown Laboratories’ leadership knew the company was a good bet to create another couple hundred jobs over the next several years when Crown inked a tax incentive deal with the city of Johnson City last summer.
What the maker of Blue Lizard sunscreen’s team couldn’t have known was that within months they’d be adding more than 50 jobs and a completely unexpected product line.
But last week, workers at Crown’s south Johnson City manufacturing facility produced their one millionth eight-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer. That’s because opportunity knocked in March, when a name brand company that produces a well-known hand sanitizer went looking for new manufacturing capability.
It was a heavy lift for Crown, but one that seems to be paying off after a quick but relatively smooth ramp up from zero to 150,000-plus bottles per week. The transformation took just a couple months, Chief Operating Officer Jack Songster said Tuesday as new machines under the watchful eye of recently hired employees pumped out bottle after bottle of the now-essential product.
“We were trying to fill three shifts around the clock, even weekend shifts,” Songster said. “We’ve got some great new employees that are supporting the business seven days a week right now.”
Bulk manufacturing and filling individual containers with topical pharmaceuticals was old hat for the company. Working with massive amounts of denatured alcohol — not so much.
“(That) requires special permitting and work with the city, who certainly was great working with us, helping us along, not only designing but making sure we met all the regulatory requirements,” Songster said.
The regulatory processes for both the use and storage of the alcohol and the certification of equipment went quickly and smoothly, Songster said. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expedited the approval process, but he said Crown also wanted to meet its own standards.
“The rigors really are internal to our own company and so we have our own validation and quality requirements and … meeting those requirements really even exceeds FDA’s guidance.”
The demand, which has pushed Crown’s company-wide head count over 400, should stay strong for a good while. Songster said the partner that signed the initial contract “see(s) us manufacturing well into 2021.”
He doesn’t have a great deal of concern even after that, saying the company has positioned itself for the long-term by developing and creating manufacturing capabilities in Johnson City.
“The manufacturing and filling equipment that we purchased could certainly be used for other products, so the investment would make sense regardless of if the longer-term relationship did have an end,” Songster said.
Crown is receiving a couple of local tax incentives that could be worth more than $1 million over 10 years, but must create at least 216 new jobs to qualify for the full amount. The deal also resulted in Crown moving its corporate headquarters from south Johnson City to a four-story building near the mall, which allowed for expansion at its manufacturing plant.
Songster said Crown’s increased manufacturing platform extends far beyond the new line. The company’s strategy since about 2017 has been to continue growing its manufacturing capability and tie it with products such as topicals like Blue Lizard and Keri lotion, over the counter products and cosmetics.
Keri was one of several OTCs Crown has acquired from Glaxo since early 2019.
“We are in the process of transferring those volumes and those units into the Johnson City facility, so we have a number of significant projects on the horizon to bring those additional units into the plant.”
Songster said about a year ago Crown was running around 12 million units annually through its Lafe Cox Drive plant. Now that number is about 25 million and should top 30 million in 2021.
“That additional volume we have in the facility helps our costs across all of our products and makes us more competitive,” Songster said.
He said Crown’s solid volumes and solid business plans have driven growth in both brick and mortar stores and “incredible growth in our Amazon business.”
“We’re excited about the growth and how that directly relates to an increase in units that need to be produced, and therefore the number of employees that continue to need to be hired here locally.”