How Purell cleaned up

It seems like Purell is everywhere these days, except at stores where they’re struggling to keep up with demand.  And that’s even with the company working round-the-clock to keep up the stock.

Hard to believe that, not so long ago, no one had ever heard of Purell!

“I guess you could describe it as a ten-year overnight success story,” said Mike Richardson, an industry analyst at the Freedonia Group. “They held onto the idea and kept pushing it. And eventually, it became probably a far greater success than they would’ve imagined at the outset.”

That idea was Purell, what’s become a prized possession in our desperate attempt to keep our hands virus-free.

It’s made by Gojo Industries, a family-owned business.  Back in 2013 “Sunday Morning” correspondent Rebecca Jarvis talked to then-CEO Joe Kanfer about the origin of the company: “My Aunt Goldie and Uncle Jerry, at the beginning in 1946, developed a hand cleaner to get grease and carbon-black off of working people’s hands. And it was called Gojo, the namesake of our company today.”

Uncle Jerry gave Kanfer half the company when Kanfer was in his 20s.

And then, in the late 1980s, the Eureka! moment: Gojo perfected an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that was pretty easy on the skin.  But just what do you call it?

“Frankly, I wanted to name the product ‘Flash,'” said Kanfer, “because I was so excited – It worked in a flash!  I thought I was being quite clever!”

In the end, Purell – as in “pure” – won out.

But it took a while to clean up on the invention. Gojo actually lost money on Purell for years, until 2002, when the CDC determined that alcohol-based products were indeed effective in cleansing hands.

Today, Purell really isn’t a luxury. Most families wonder what they would do without it, vindicating in a sense what Joe Kanfer told us seven years ago about the virtues of having your own company: “I probably would have been fired if I were working for anybody else!” he smiled. “But eventually it paid off.”

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