KaTom pivots, makes hand sanitizer

After most hand sanitizer products were placed on back order, East Tennessee company KaTom Restaurant Supply began making its own with help from some Tennessee partners.

So far they’ve sold 20,000 gallons of liquid hand sanitizer in about four weeks, KaTom vice president of operations Charley Bible said, in an effort to capture a promising revenue stream while many restaurants remain closed or operating at half capacity.

“COVID will usher in a new baseline of sanitation practices for businesses and individuals,” Bible said. “That being said, I see hand sanitizer being one of those things that is a lot more readily available.”

KaTom selling liquid hand sanitizer

The company typically sells gel-based sanitizer dispensers with cartridge refills from Rubbermaid. Those cartridges have been back ordered until September, Bible said.

KaTom is working with a producer in Nashville to manufacture their own product. Clean Up K-SAN is more than 80% alcohol and made with hydrogen peroxide, xanthan gum, glycerin, food grade ethanol and denatured alcohol. The company has also submitted the product to the EPA to be certified as a surface sanitizer.

They found a supplier for commercial- use gallon jugs, designed a label using the brand Clean Up By KaTom, and worked with a label producer in just a few short weeks.

KaTom receives the sanitizer in 250gallon totes, so Bible needed a team to bottle and package the product. He called Stanton Webster, co-owner of PostModern Spirits in downtown Knoxville.

After Webster’s restaurant and bar liquor distribution sales plummeted by 95% and he was forced to lay off his staff, the opportunity to serve as the packaging arm in the production chain meant he could keep his employees paid; six of them have chosen to return to work.

PostModern employees fill the gallon jugs with hand sanitizer, label them and package them into cases of four to be shipped same-day.

“Being a small business allows us to be nimble and to really make the pivot (to focus) on one kind of function here in the supply chain,” Webster said.

No-touch sanitizer dispenser on the way

Because the sanitizer is liquid, not foam or gel, very little is needed per use. KaTom worked with a pump manufacturer to fit a 1/8 ounce pump onto a gallon cap so the jug can be easily turned into a dispenser. The pump is sold separately for $34.99. Four gallons of hand sanitizer sell for $219.99. Locally, PostModern Spirits is selling it by the gallon or the case.

KaTom just received a prototype for a no-touch, automatic hand sanitizer dispenser that uses 1/16 of an ounce per spray. Unlike many dispensers, customers do not have to purchase cartridge refills, but instead pour the sanitizer directly into a reservoir.

KaTom will get a shipment of a few thousand dispensers in mid-May; those $50 dispensers have already been sold.

Bible estimated the company sells an average of 5,000 gallons of hand sanitizer in a typical year. This increased revenue stream will likely become a permanent addition, Bible said.

KaTom has also partnered with Marc Nelson Denim to produce cloth masks, which will be available for sale soon. Mandated mask use is one of the semipermanent changes Bible expects to see in the restaurant industry.

“Right now, it’s hard to find dispensers (for sale) anywhere. Refills are sold out. Customers are calling us that have a Purell or Rubbermaid or one of the name brand solutions. Right now, all of their stock is going to large multinational corporations and it is going to the U.S. government and hospitals and first responders,” Bible said. “There wasn’t a solution for main street, I guess you would call it. And that’s what we’ve created.”

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Brenna McDermott

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit www.eteda.org


Published May 7, 2020