Since 1919 we have continuously supplied…
that are tough on stains, yet gentle on your clothes.
Harry Pilling, born in Bolton 1903, and founded his company in 1919.
Harry took his first steps into the world of commerce at the tender age of just 16, however it was an unmitigated disaster! He saw the opportunity to import/export Dyes & Chemicals from his home in Astley Bridge Bolton, but a bad choice of chemical and a French dock strike got in his way, and a future in “Dye’s and “Chemicals” was shelved.
ACDO was to revolutionise washdays. The ACDO tablet which contained the Sodium Perborate was shredded into water with a grater, and added to it was an equal amount of shredded soap. The result was a wash that required no rubbing or scrubbing to remove stubborn stains. The Sodium Perborate helped to lift out the dirt, and, as the bubbles contained oxygen, a mild bleaching effect was obtained and the end result – a wash that could be completed in 20 minutes without the hard work. Little wonder that Harry’s first advertising slogan was “ACDO makes washday a holiday!”
In 1928 and at the age of 25 Harry moved in to custom-built premises in Mallison Street, Bolton and these remain as the company’s head office to this day, albeit in a very changed and greatly extended form.
The war did nothing to further the company’s fortunes, soap was rationed and raw materials were in short supply. As a result ACDO was only sold in limited amounts, but ACDO kept ticking over in the hope that peace and prosperity would return. A second product was also launched, a synthetic detergent called CLEBO which was readily received by a public frustrated by a dearth of conventional soap products.
But with the war over, in 1945 ACDO assumed an upturn in business, but even with the introduction in 1948 of a fully powdered ACDO, the product never returned to be the goldmine that it might have been. Also, with the end of soap rationing, the demand for CLEBO dropped and the brand was lost.
However in 1949, Harry’s son Marshall, (aged 19) joined the company, and having worked his way up through the ranks (starting as a machine operator) by the early 50’s had moved into the sales office and was responsible for promotional and packaging activities., Promoted to Sales Director and then Managing Director, Marshall realised that business would not just come to ACDO and so in 1958, he mustered all the money the company had and ploughed everything into making a TV commercial. And by 1959 the business was back on its feet, and trade was so good that a night shift had to be added.
This also led to the advent of “the Gift Department”, an innovative business idea and loyalty building scheme where customers collected box tops and sent them in to receive gifts in return. The Gift Department became exceptionally busy and in its heyday in the 1970′s, its nine staff were dispatching over 5000 gifts per week.
ACDO continued to advertise on TV and the product was being sold from Yorkshire to Lancashire, and the Midlands up to Scotland and the company had no fewer than 16 agents permanently on the road. However, the heyday was to end as in 1969 came the advent of a new product – that product was called Ariel and it launched using a technique of which even Harry and Marshall had never seen before (but had a grudging admiration for) and over 20 million samples were door dropped over a matter of weeks. The brand became an instant success and this new washing powder gained a phenomenal 33% market share before its competitors, including ACDO, had recovered from the shock.
And so the 1970’s proved to be another difficult decade for Marshall and ACDO. Biological Detergents eroded the trade for conventional Soap Powders, as did consumer attitude shift towards lower temperature washing. Front loading machines came to the market designed to operate at these new, lower temperatures with these new detergents and though original ACDO was still unchallenged as the best powder for the high temperature washes in the old twin tub, it simply was not suitable for front loaders. Also, for many years, ACDO had become the detergent of choice for washing nappies, but the 1970′s also saw the arrival of disposable nappies and as the popularity of these grew, the demand for ACDO...
With the 80’s came a third generation of Pilling’s. In 1989 Brandon, Harry’s Grandson, was appointed as Marketing Director and his first major decision was to move product innovation away from launching new ‘ACDO’ products and to concentrate on creating more “GLO” lines. And with the launch of a new stain remover the company became the clear market leader in additives and afforded the company its first tentative steps into international markets. The future for the company looked good – but what of the future for ACDO?
Appointed a Managing Director in 29th March 1992 and buoyed on by the popularity of a growing Glo brand, the company pushed on to launch several new additive lines and open many new markets.
But what of ACDO? It could easily have become the “lost item”, but the market was to swing back in its favour. Environmentalism would start to ask questions of the so-called “Big Box” detergents and the arrival of super concentrates and powder dispenser balls meant that ACDO had a place in the modern washing world. A demand for “more natural” saw ACDO’s Soap Powder become more in demand and new opportunity was awakened for this oldest of brands.
By 1999 Astley Dye and Chemical Co Ltd had simply become known as “Acdo Ltd”, and whilst the company behind the name brand continued to manufacture, focus had turned towards the more specialist laundry & household cleaning products, and these were now being sold all over the world (today in over 70 countries). This along with a growing portfolio in specialist Health & Beauty brands, a new subsidiary opened in South Africa and a real focus on the “new & innovative”, “niche & special” meant that “Acdo Ltd'' was no longer a relevant company name. A new name was sought and in 2000 the company re-named itself simply as ACDOCO.
Under this new name the company fought on, battling through the very difficult early trading days of this new century; weathering a huge financial crisis, then formally linking up with its German Supplier/Customer, before pushing on, growing strongly across all categories, business operations and territories as the Company seemingly raced towards its 100th year.
And so it was, in 2019, with the Company celebrating 100 years of independent family ownership, that Harry’s grandson Brandon embarked on the next phase of this Company's history. Making the decision with the Family to divest of the UK operations that had been built up under his watch, Brandon decided to renamed the Company back to Astley Dye & Chemical Co Ltd!
Renamed, and retaining the Property that has housed this company since the late 1920’s, Astley Dye & Chemical Co Ltd continues to own and sell ACDO, its most historically important brand, and the one that signifies where it all started back in a simple terraced house in Bolton.
However, the business continues to thrive in different ways now in South Africa, though its pioneering subsidiary ACDOCO SA, where the company continues to build a strong business in Health & Beauty and Laundry & Household Care in South Africa and beyond into Sub-Saharan regions… still striving to make “washday a holiday”.
The Astley Dye & Chemical Company to this day remains fiercely proud of its history and its heritage; still proudly 100% Family Owned and Controlled and operating in a Multinational World, whilst it remains very much a part of the community it has always chosen to serve and help in Bolton, and now also in Johannesburg.
As for ACDO itself, it has managed to quietly achieve its 100th year as a brand and written itself into a history where few other brands will ever step foot.
The Astley Dye & Chemical Company today appears to be a very different place to that started by Harry in 1919… but is it really? The desire to develop in new and innovative categories, whilst looking forward without fear remains at the heart of this Company, and whilst on the surface so many things have changed, indeed become unrecognisable, the heart of this 100+ year old Company continues to beat as strongly as it always did. The journey begins again!