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There appears to be a national shortage of Purell, due to coronavirus-related fears. The high demand, even in the current circumstances, is a testament to the brand's clever business strategy in its early days.
On Tuesday, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the hand sanitizer brand--developed and owned by Ohio-based Gojo Industries, a privately held skin care product manufacturer--has flown off the shelves at grocers, department stores, and pharmacies. Gojo did not provide the Inquirer with a timeline for when Purell supply might return to normal levels, but a spokeswoman noted that the company's "surge preparedness team" has been "coordinating our response to the increase in demand."
In 2013, The New Yorker published a story about the success of Purell that took me by surprise--because despite the product's current ubiquity, Gojo really struggled to get it off the ground. In many ways, it's a classic tale of moxie, hard work, and just the right amount of luck.
In particular, the Purell story carries three useful lessons for any business owner:
First, be persistent. When Gojo first launched Purell in 1988, it was impossible to sell: There were no comparable products on the market, so nobody really knew what it was for. But CEO Joe Kanfer believed in the product so much that he made it 25 percent of his salespeople's annual sales targets--and years later, the product finally began gaining traction.
Second, meet your customers or clients where they are. Gojo tailors the positioning and appearance of Purell dispensers to the venue. In grocery stores, you'll usually find hand sanitizer stations near the entrances and exits. Hospitals? Strategically placed bottles so doctors and nurses can clean their hands while walking to their next patient. On military bases, bottles look like small green hand grenades to better blend in with soldiers' uniforms and fit in uniform pockets.
And third, be patient. Purell's slow launch felt agonizing to Kanfer at the time. Yet, as The New Yorker noted, it was able to fundamentally change U.S. public-health habits within just 15 years. It's a great encapsulation of a mantra worth remembering: There's no such thing as overnight success.