Michael Kalli was born in London in 1942, the youngest of 4 children. His father, originally from Cyprus, ran a small Greek restaurant in Notting Hill Gate and his mother was a seamstress. Mike graduated from London University where he went on to complete his PhD in organic chemistry. Entering industry he became deputy chief chemist with the British Hydrological Corporation, but soon realised his lively and active mind couldn’t be confined to the lab. His vision to go out and witness problems first hand in order to solve them continues to be the Ideal philosophy today.
In 1975 Dr Kalli was invited to develop a new detergent for the James Hayes Laundry. At its height James Hayes was the largest laundry in Europe. So, he put something together and went off to visit the site…
He was shown to a machine washing heavily soiled abattoir clothing. He had no idea how to use a commercial washer, and so a young man was instructed to help. They loaded the machine, added the powder, began the cycle and waited… When it finished, the young man sauntered over to the washer and opened the door. His jaw dropped.
“It’s clean! How did you do that?”
He ran off and came back with Tony Bozier, the general manager, who wanted to see for himself… so they tried again and it worked.
Tony marched Mike into his office, sat him down and asked him what he called this stuff… Mike shrugged, it didn’t have a name. Tony ignored him and wrote out an order for ‘4 Tonnes of Kalli’s Magic Mix’.
Dr Kalli was convinced that fully built detergents would boost plant efficiency but the British Laundry Research Association (BLRA) and the Fabric Care Research Association (FCRA) advised him to stay away from industrial laundry claiming that it was well served by the big soapers. He ignored them, and within a year he was supplying Initial, Sketchley, Spring Grove and the hospital service (and many more).
In March 1976, he appointed David Goodger, his former quality control chemist from BHC to help with production. Working initially from his father-in-law’s home at Langer, Nottinghamshire, his wife Penny and her father manning the office, Mike’s first priorities were to organise availability of raw materials, a manufacturing facility and access to finance.
The first factory opened on Stansted Industrial Estate in 1976 and MK Chemicals (as the company was known) began making products using a 250kg powder blender – working through the night to keep up with demand. During this period Dr Kalli introduced NOVA LP (which became MK101) the first fully built powder for industrial laundry. In1978 he pioneered the use of automatically dosed liquid alternatives for washer extractors – with the groundbreaking AL6 and NL3 two phase system.
Industrial Detergents (UK) Ltd, IDL or Ideal as it is now, was registered in July 1980. The company’s rapid growth was documented in ‘Mind Your Own Business Magazine in November 1984, drawing attention to Dr Kalli’s impressive efforts:
“My telephone bills and petrol bills were horrific but they paid off very well against the initial order intake.”
Ideal opened a factory in Rushden, Northamptonshire in July1983 and by September of that year they were making a growing range of detergents, including Ideal P1 and X3. By 1985 Ideal was at the forefront of wash technology trends in the UK, becoming a regular voice in Laundry & Cleaning News International and with a growing reputation as innovative detergent formulation experts. In the same period Ideal began contract manufacturing own label products for other major suppliers to the laundry industry.
Continued expansion meant moving to new production facilities at Atlas House, Finedon, Northamptonshire in 1990.
In 1993 Ideal introduced the fully built single-shot, heavy duty liquid detergent known as Prime. Writing at the time in Laundry & Cleaning Today Dr Kalli explained:
“The concept of a single built product to replace a sequence of different chemicals is, quite frankly, much easier said than done. As far as we can tell, Prime is the only one that has actually achieved this goal with consistent success and in our view that makes it pretty special”
Prime becomes a flagship product and is regarded as one of the most effective industrial laundry detergents ever formulated. It continues to be manufactured today.
Despite continuous innovation, the 1990s represented a challenging period. Worldwide recession and a series of aggressive acquisitions from overseas companies led to the loss of key accounts, causing the company to contract. The staff really showed their mettle, pulling together and riding the storm. The factory stayed and Ideal focused on delivering high performance laundry detergents to customers in the UK. In 1994 Ideal achieved BS 5750 (ISO 9001) accreditation.
In 2001 John Hickman joins the laundry division as Ideal becomes the most significant independent British manufacturer of professional laundry products in the UK. Meanwhile, other manufacturers are throwing in the towel, selling up to overseas companies.
Ideal continues developing new products outside of the laundry industry, including specialist cleaning products for the food industry, such as Savvon SA – developed in consultation with Katsouris Fresh Foods.
As the end of the decade approaches Ideal has evolved an impressive portfolio of hygiene, janitorial and automotive products and has developed some exciting white label projects for start-ups, brands and contract customers.
In 2008, Dr Kalli is joined by his son Phillip – who has a very different set of skills; an interest in painting, a degree in English Literature and a background in the music industry. Together, they have chemistry. Phillip and Mike plan to make professional laundry chemistry more accessible, more sustainable, more transparent and… well, cooler. They start work immediately on the Periodic Table of Laundry.
Ideal goes online in 2011 and the Periodic Table of Laundry is launched in 2012 at CleanEx. In this period Ideal formulates a new professional laundry powder, in consultation with a major independent laundry, that will replace the need for multiple liquid additives with a more sustainable, transparent and simpler alternative. In 2013 the company introduces a brand new professional textile care range and begins field testing of Ahoy wet cleaning products. In the same year a team of Ideal staff members, ‘The Elementalists’ complete the Three Peaks Challenge, holding a washing line aloft at the top of Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon. They raise over £3200 for Action Medical Research. In 2014 Ideal exhibits outside of the UK for the first time, taking ‘The Linen Preservation Society’ on the road to ExpoDetergo, Milan. In 2015 Dr Mike Kalli receives a Lifetime Contribution Award at the Laundry & Dry Cleaning Awards where he’s recognised for his outstanding dedication and considerable influence in British commercial laundry.
With significant investment made to transform the factory into a showroom, Ideal continues on the drive for improvement, innovation, sustainability and transparency. Part of the commitment includes the Washeteria, a new on-site test facility and demonstration area. Customers are invited to visit the Washeteria, do a few loads, finish the garments themselves, take a look around and see where Ideal products are developed and manufactured – even meet the people that make them.
Ideal is now able to offer direct supply of professional laundry and cleaning products through an e-commerce platform for the first time, straight from the factory.
Welcome to washing on-line…