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The Lazy Hand-wash

With the essentials flying off the shelves of supermarkets, among the first sold and hardest products to find amidst the pandemic frenzy was Purell’s hand sanitizer.

Dealing with soaps, sanitizers, and disinfectants, GOJO Industry’s Purell has been a major player in the industry and accounts for a hefty share in the hand sanitizer market of America year after year.

The company has kept its finances private, however, according to the corporate intelligence website Owler, the company’s annual revenue stands at approximately $560 million.

But how did it all start?

GOJO Industries, a family-owned business situated in Ohio, started in 1946, founded by Jerry and Goldie Lippman.

During the days of World War II, Goldie worked in a rubber factory in Akron and noticed the demanding challenge faced by the workers to clean their hands' post-work.

With no convenient method at disposal, workers would dip their hands in chemicals like kerosene and benzene to get rid of the graphite and carbon off their hands.

Fixing this problem seemed like a welcoming opportunity for the duo.

Jerry Lippman managed to form ties with a chemistry professor that helped them create an easy to use, single-step hand cleaner that would remove difficult stains while also being mild for the skin. Invented in 1950, it came to be called as Gojo Hand Cleaner.

In 1998, they went on to make a hand-sanitizer that would require no access to water. This sanitizer is what we know today as Purell and was introduced to the consumer market in 1997.

However, success didn’t come easy to them and for approximately 10 years after its introduction, Purell was bleeding money and was not welcomed by the market.

Here’s why:

  • Purell was venturing into a space that practically didn’t exist. It was hard to convince people about the idea of a hand sanitizer and the fact that it would remain on their hands and wouldn’t need to be washed off.

  • Purell was not trying to replace washing hands with soap and water. So it wasn’t competing with soap or relating products. But to send it across to people not as a replacement but as a more convenient alternative for the inaccessibility of water and soap was difficult. Adding to which, people were of the strong opinion that the only way to kill germs was to wash hands with soap and water.

  • The gel’s texture and consistency repelled people from using it as it wasn’t appealing. People didn’t like the way it felt and smelled and so it was looked at with suspicion.

So how did this loss facing product turn the company into a multi-million-dollar revenue company?

Here’s how:

  1. Come 2002 and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) promulgated the effectiveness of alcohol-based sanitizers stating that alcohol-based products killed germs more effectively than hand washing. This was a turning point for the company. Sales went up after this and people started to recognize Purell.

  2. Before targeting the customers GOJO supplied Purell to hospitals, healthcare institutes, the Army, and other public institutions. This made Purell more acceptable for use that led people to develop trust in the product.

  3. Among the most effective and strong reasons why the products performed exceedingly well is because of the product placement. Purell products are placed at the most eye-catching places in hospitals, stores, and many public places. It doesn’t stop there, Purell has been seen in various movies and TV shows watched by millions of people all over the world like The Big Bang Theory, Housewife, The Dark Knight and Five Feet Apart to name a few.

  4. Purell has advanced with the times and it shows. With relentless innovation of new products adding to their repertoire, they became a formidable presence in the industry, regularly adding new products to their product mix length.

  5. Another subliminal technique that worked for Purell was their packaging and look of the sanitizer. They decided to make the bottles transparent. Additionally, they also worked on the repelling texture and feel of the gel to get it to perfection. The gel is now transparent which makes it seem pure and effective in the eyes of the customers which leads them to trust Purell moreover coloured, flashy hand sanitizers that come across as containing unwanted chemicals.

Gojo now estimates that more than 100 million people worldwide use Purell each day, with products including sanitizers, soaps and surface cleaners.

Cut to 2020 and the pandemic pandemonium strikes in stores with Purell being unseen on shelves for days. Sales of Purell are soaring through the roof and the factories are working in full capacity to meet the current demand.

The same bottle of sanitizer that cost $4.5 is selling on Amazon at a price as high as $50.

Panic buying is when people become anxious to a point of becoming delusional, resulting in buying and hoarding products in large quantities. People rushed to stores to get hold of as many essential products as they possibly could, fighting all logic. Purell has been categorically asked to not get involved in any form of discussions relating to the virus because Purell is not tested to fight the virus in any form. Despite which, Purell remains among the first sanitary product to go off the shelves.

Here’s where the brand name that Purell earned through the years comes into play. Due to the brand being etched in the minds of people, coupled with fear due to the virus, Purell was sold out in no time.

It’s without a doubt that the sales of Purell are the most right now and the product seems to stand out in this pandemic situation.

Does this mean Purell’s fame is limited to the pandemic?

Estimates would suggest not. Purell has created a demand in a product space it rules and just like its unyielding demand before the pandemic, it will continue to thrive as far as the foreseeable future. It’s going to be long before things go back to normal and the fear will most likely linger till much after things fall in place. If Purell ramps up its production and manages to meet the demand, it won’t have to worry about its sales for a long time to come.




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