Frontline International Inc. in Akron has been helping kitchens store used cooking oil for almost 20 years.
Believe it or not, that’s big business. And it’s taken Frontline into commercial kitchens across the globe.
President John Palazzo started Frontline after working at a recycler of animal byproducts and cooking oil. He saw the bins and barrels companies used to collect the oil, and he saw how dangerous and expensive the process could be. He thought there had to be a better way.
He started Frontline at the end of December 2000, using relationships he had built before to get the company off the ground. It soon began to grow.
Frontline’s mantra has long been what Palazzo calls “controlled growth.” There have been opportunities for the company to bring in venture capital, but Palazzo, the sole owner, has declined. He knows taking that route could have helped the company grow faster, but that’s not Frontline’s approach.
“We’re nimble, and we control our own destiny right now,” Palazzo said. “And we like that. We like that a lot.”
Today, Frontline makes waste-oil containment tanks — the product on which the company was founded — as well as fresh-oil tanks and filtration systems. It can also work with customers to install systems to dispense oil or transfer used oil to tanks. The products are available in different sizes and for different environments; Frontline has to consider the different types of equipment and the different types of oils being used by its customers across the world.
As its product offerings have grown, those products also have become more technologically advanced. Today, customers are able to monitor everything from the quality of their oil to the fill level on a waste-oil tank in person or remotely.
Palazzo said Frontline’s waste-oil products increase the amount of usable oil that can be collected, processed and sold. The company’s products on the fresh-oil side can improve safety in a restaurant, reducing the chance of spills or burns.
Company vice president Giovanni Brienza said the technological components of the containers allow restaurants to monitor their oil for consistency across restaurants and stores.
Frontline has remained focused on manufacturing as it’s grown. Employees form the equipment, as well as install the insulation and electronic components, on-site in Akron.
But many of Frontline’s competitors also are service providers, supplying fresh oil to customers and removing spent oil. To adapt, Frontline has created strategic alliances with oil suppliers and collectors, so it can offer its customers full packages of products and service. Frontline also works with outside sales representatives, which allows it to keep its direct employment lean while still getting its products in front of potential customers.
When Frontline moved to 187 Ascot Parkway in Akron eight or nine years ago, it had about 10 employees. Today, it employs about 25. Frontline does not share annual revenue.
Palazzo said he still sees a “huge opportunity” for Frontline to continue to grow domestically. The company’s growth has always started with quick-service restaurants, but Brienza said a particular growth market in the U.S. now is in grocery and convenience store chains, as both have begun offering more prepared foods.
But much of Frontline’s current growth is coming from its expansion internationally. The company has made significant progress across the globe, from Europe to Asia to South America.
Among the reasons for the growth overseas are regulations related to stricter monitoring of oil quality and the rising popularity of biofuel, Brienza said.
All that growth led to a need for more space at its building at Ascot Parkway. The company broke ground on an expansion in March 2018, and construction was complete that December. In all, Frontline invested about $860,000 in the expansion, not including capital equipment, Palazzo said. After the expansion, the building on Ascot Parkway is about 28,000 square feet, an addition of about 13,000 square feet to the total, he noted.
Now that the physical expansion is done, Frontline plans to reorganize its manufacturing operations, setting up cellular manufacturing hubs that will be more efficient for employees, Palazzo said. That means assembly areas will be more dedicated to each type of product the company makes. He also wants to do more to automate the manufacturing process for quality and consistency. With more space, Palazzo said he hopes the company will be able to keep some of its more popular products in stock, rather than making everything to order.
Frontline is the kind of company Akron can see growing beyond the local market and into international ones, said Sam DeShazior, director of business retention and expansion for the city of Akron.
Akron, Summit County and the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce are putting a strong emphasis on helping existing companies in the region grow, rather than focusing the bulk of their resources on attracting new companies. The city wants to see “globally competitive companies” with clear strategies like Frontline in the region, DeShazior said.
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