Before COVID-19 upended Americans' lives, John Strom and his marketing team spent their days primarily supporting sales of Georgia-Pacific products. But in mid-March, they had a new mission: helping keep people safe.
“I’ve never been in a place in my career where the external environment was shaping so much of what we were doing in such real time,” said Strom, senior vice president of marketing for GP PRO, the commercial business division of Koch consumer paper goods company Georgia-Pacific. “This became about keeping your neighbors safe, about saving lives. It became something that was less about a sales quota and more about a noble cause.”
GP PRO makes essential products like paper goods, dispensers and cleaning supplies. With the continuous deluge of business-related public health news and official guidance at the beginning of the pandemic, speed and sharing of information about these products were of utmost importance. “I told the team: ‘You used to be novelists, and now you’re reporters with a 5 o’clock deadline with a newscast that’s on at 6,’” Strom said.
So, within the span of a few weeks in March, Strom and his team created Hygiene Ready, a multifaceted online toolkit designed to help restaurants, retailers, arenas and event venues; commercial and industrial facilities; and other businesses reopen safely and confidently amid the coronavirus recovery. Drawing on resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and World Health Organization (WHO), it includes training materials, relevant news and links to updated guidance.
“This is a key tenet of the value we provide businesses," said Mike Adams, president of GP PRO. “Through straightforward guidance, tools and resources, we hope to do our part to make the transition into the new normal an easier one.”
The need for this information is urgent. According to a recent GP PRO market study, nearly three-fourths of the office workers interviewed (73%) said they are at least somewhat concerned about illnesses spreading in the workplace post-COVID-19, while nearly half (47%) worry that steps taken to ensure a hygienic workplace will not be adequate. Even though 88% said they would feel safer with hand sanitizer at their office entrances, just 59% said it was provided before the pandemic.
Those concerns extend to industrial settings, where 92% of managers said hygiene was a priority, but only 70% of non-managers agreed. And while 43% of industrial facilities workers said they had substantially increased their handwashing frequency, just 20% said they use a handwashing station on the production floor itself, pointing to an increased need for more accessible hygiene solutions.
Those findings might explain the groundswell of interest from customers when GP PRO unveiled Hygiene Ready’s first tool, a compilation of checklists with OSHA hygiene and safety standards for a wide range of employers, including industrial, healthcare, education, food service and high-traffic public facilities like sports venues.
Leading customers, including building/property management and distributor partners, responded overwhelmingly with positive feedback, asking to share and reference the hygiene tools with their own employees and customers.
“We knew there was something more there than what everybody else had created thus far,” Strom said. “It inspired us to do more.”
The response has shed light on the changes ahead for hygiene in public spaces. Some of GP PRO’s major customers are interested in new features like hygiene signage in retail stores or educational materials for staff training and their own customers’ peace of mind.
In food service and restaurants, as demand rises for contactless delivery, prewrapped cutlery and touchless experiences, more than half of consumers surveyed said they will be more concerned than before the pandemic in a variety of dining scenarios. Seven in 10 consumers said they will wash their hands more frequently, and nearly as many (64%) said they will use more hand sanitizer.
That might explain why, Strom says, GP PRO’s hygiene solutions for business customers go far beyond the toolkit.
One customer, a burger joint with a cult following around the world, approached GP PRO to develop a fully touchless restaurant experience, from touchless utensil dispensers in dining areas to touchless paper towel dispensers in restrooms, enabled by GP PRO’s KOLOTM Smart Monitoring System. Launched in 2018, the KOLO open software platform integrates data from GP PRO dispensers and other devices, as well as customer feedback and traffic management systems, to alert staff remotely when supplies or facilities need attention, eliminating the need to physically monitor the areas.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport was an early KOLO software platform adopter. Through app notifications and custom dashboards, cleaning crews get real-time updates on which restrooms need restocking or sanitization. Tissue, towel, soap and sanitizer supplies are monitored in each restroom through app-connected smart dispensers.
The Hygiene Ready toolkit is just the first step for Strom and his team in helping their customers, from airports to offices and beyond, adjust to a new normal. Getting people the information they need is paramount, he said. “Because if one more person is helped by not getting exposed or sick, then we’ll have all raised the watermark.”