COVID-era cleaning still generating big business for CT companies

Photo of Paul Schott
Fernando Luque works in the plant at Goodway Technologies’ headquarters at 420 West Ave., in Stamford, Conn., on Tuesday, March 23, 2021.

Fernando Luque works in the plant at Goodway Technologies’ headquarters at 420 West Ave., in Stamford, Conn., on Tuesday, March 23, 2021.

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

As the coronavirus pandemic abates in the northeast U.S., Connecticut is marching toward a full economic re-opening.

But the new era of hygiene precipitated by the crisis is not ending.

More than a year after the pandemic spread to New England, a number of Connecticut-based companies that provide cleaning products and services said that they are still seeing robust demand, a trend that is spurring new products and more hires.

“Where we sit today is with an entirely different strategy than on this day last year,” Tim Kane, CEO of Goodway Technologies, a Stamford-based manufacturer of industrial maintenance products, said in an interview. “When I look at where we are today, it’s with much more strategic initiative.”

Facing disruption

The pandemic prompted abrupt changes in how Goodway interacted with suppliers and customers, as it dealt with a rush of business resulting from the COVID-19-triggered focus on hygiene. Its products include tube-cleaning systems, industrial vacuums, cooling-tower maintenance systems, dry-steam sanitation solutions, coil-cleaning products and hose-and-pipe cleaning systems.

Goodway never stopped operating during the pandemic because, as a manufacturer, it was deemed an essential business by the state government.

“There were supply-chain challenges that were changing daily,” Kane said. “Literally, we would swing off one supplier onto a backup supplier — in order to avoid whether it was raw-materials shortages or worker shortages or what have you — only to then get lined up with a backup supplier and have that fall through because they had a sudden case of COVID.”

Milford-based EBP Supply Solutions, a wholesale distributor of supplies to the cleaning and food-service industries, also navigated major changes at the beginning of the pandemic.

“When this happened, the industry went into a supply-chain seizure. There were cleaners, wipes, and disinfectants that were unavailable,” said EBP Supply CEO Meredith Reuben. “We think of ourselves as a selling organization and a training organization. We became a supply-chain ‘super-sourcer.’”

Since early 2020, growing awareness about the importance of personal hygiene has prompted Henkel to ramp up production of its Dial-branded soap. Dial’s sales and marketing are overseen at the company’s North American consumer goods headquarters in Stamford.

Henkel does not disclose sales figures for Dial, but the brand’s products consistently rank among the top 50 sellers in their category on Dial offerings include the new “Clean + Gentle” line of body washes and antibacterial foaming hand washes.

“Our primary objective — both short and long term — is to serve the needs of customers, which have shifted in the past year,” said Randi Melton, a Henkel marketing vice president. “As the leader in anti-bacterial hand soap, we have seen significant demand for our products over the course of the pandemic.”

Goodway has also adapted its research and development to incorporate the lessons learned during the past year.

“We tried to look at the potential behavior changes as we all come out of this and say to ourselves, ‘Are we going to feel the same walking into a hotel room as we did over a year ago, or are we going to look to something new and different?” Kane said. “Is there anything that we can provide to that hotel customer of ours that will help them to ensure that a room has been fully sanitized and is ready for occupancy?’”

Combating COVID in the workplace

As they have revamped their supply chains, executives at companies such as Goodway and EBPSupply said that workers’ health and safety has remained a paramount concern.

At Goodway’s headquarters at 420 West Ave., on the west side of Stamford, visitors and employees have to get their temperature checked upon arrival. The company also requires employees to undergo COVID-19 tests every week, with the testing done in its main offices.

Goodway has recorded a “very small number” of COVID-19 cases among its approximately 100 employees, according to company officials.

“I’m extremely grateful for our employees and what they’ve been able to do,” Kane said. “There are so many examples that I can show of our employees having to be very flexible and adapt to this situation.”

EBP Supply officials said that they have also instituted a number of workplace changes in the past year — including staggered schedules, temperature checks, contact tracing and physical-distancing measures such as glass partitions between cubicles.

COVID-19 cases among EBP Supply have remained at a “low level,” according to the company.

“We’ve done a great job, knock on wood,” said EBP Supply President Matthew Sugarman. “A lot of the employees have recognized that and feel comfortable coming back in the environment we’ve created for them.”

Looking to grow

To meet the growing demand for Dial products, Henkel announced last September an approximately $17 million investment in new equipment and technology at its facility in Geneva, N.Y., an expansion expected to generate 180 new jobs. For the same purpose, the company is allocating another $2.5 million for its plant in West Hazleton, Pa., and allotting $3 million for additional equipment at both sites.

EBP is also hiring in a number of areas, including customer service and sales positions. It employs more than 260, including about 160 based at its Milford headquarters.

“We’re strategically hiring in the departments that we believe will best service the customers,” Sugarman said. “We’re always opportunistic on looking for quality salespeople.”

Goodway is hiring for positions in sales, engineering, shipping and customer support — and preparing for the next crisis.

“It’s really not how well did you do during the pandemic. To me, it’s how well you transitioned out of the pandemic into this new world,” Kane said. “Everyone who was alive during this time can say they lived through this pandemic, and everyone is going to have thoughts and concerns about when the next one is coming and how well prepared we’re going to be. We hope that Goodway will be in that equation.”; twitter: @paulschott