Industry: Industrial & Equipment
Products: Automated handwashing stations and boot scrubbers
CEO David Duran and CTO Paul Barnhill are guiding the handwashing innovator to big growth in an increasingly broad market.
It was a match made in hygiene heaven: One of Meritech's founders was a doctor, and the other was a car wash executive. "They really started it in their garage," says Barnhill.
The initial aim was decreasing the number of hospital-acquired infections, or HAIs, but the target market broadened from healthcare into food manufacturing after two years.
It was a natural fit, as workers in food manufacturing environments are often required to wash their hands four or more times every shift on average. "You really needed to do a quality hygiene event," says Barnhill. "That's what the CleanTech systems are about. It's really about overcoming human behavior."
Meritech's CleanTech line of handwashing stations has emerged as an industry standard in the last 25 years. The company sells its products through an international national network of distributors, but most installations are domestic.
"There's every conceivable market that Meritech can play in, because human hands touch every aspect of our lives," says Barnhill. "Food manufacturing is still by far the largest market for us. We are in a lot of different, diverse markets: medical device manufacturing and pharmaceutical manufacturing, as well as schools and daycares, healthcare, and cruise lines."
The catalog includes the wall-mounted CleanTech 500EZ as well as the higher-capacity CleanTech 2000S and 4000S lines. "It's really about the number of people we need to handle in a certain period of time," says Barnhill. "It's the people, place, and the products. Once we understand those three Ps, we're really able to understand the best hygiene methods that are needed for that facility. In the old days, it was: Slap a sink in a wall, put a soap dispenser above it, and call it good. That doesn't work anymore in today's society."
The systems feature 20 nozzles per hand, he adds, "eight around your wrist and another eight in a helical pattern that have both pitch and roll to pull and wipe away the pathogens, and then four nozzles dedicated to just the fingertips."
Barnhill says it's all about standardization. "The biggest innovation is the unique methodology of taking chemistry and engineering and combining them together to create the perfect hygiene event," he explains. "The solution is automatically dispensed. We let you know what the solution level is. We count the number of hygiene events. That's a real critical aspect a lot of people overlook. If you're wanting to validate a process, you have to have data. It's impossible to do that with a manual method unless you police that behavior."
Science backs up Meritech's technology. "We have over 50 clinical studies proving that the system removes 99.9 or more percent of pathogens from your hands," says Duran. "It does it in 12 seconds, which is extremely efficient, especially for a production facility. It saves up to 75 percent of the water."
Footwear gets a similar treatment by way of Meritech's MBW, XBW, and ProTech boot-washing systems that are installed in tandem with CleanTech stations. "A lot of food manufacturers have what you call boot-dipping stations, where you're literally using a mat with fluid and sanitizer in it," says Barnhill. "We actually automated that, and we have 12 times the contact. Instead of dipping them in that and pulling them out, we actually have them in it for the entire handwash, allowing the sanitizer to do its job against the pathogens."
Meritech's proprietary cleaning solutions are manufactured by several partners. A team of 11 works in production at the company's 12,000-square-foot facility in Golden, assembling the stations from components sourced in large part from Colorado-based contract manufacturers. A nationwide network supports installation with preventative maintenance and repairs.
Individual products are priced from about $4,000 to $17,000, but Meritech also offers its systems as a new service dubbed CleanTech Plus. "It's really meant to sell the customer a set number of perfect handwashes for a year," says Duran. The monthly fee typically includes installation, solutions, and service for about 9 cents per handwash.
Notes Duran: "We don't consider ourselves a simple manufacturer or simple provider of equipment. It is much, much larger than that. We're very educational and consultative. What we do is work in partnership with our customers to develop a hygiene zone. We're not looking at one piece of equipment, but also where it should be placed and the flow of employees coming in and out of the facility. It's about eliminating the human behavior variable from the handwash as well as from the group of employees entering and touching a different aspect of a facility."
"We're looking at: Where are the doorknobs? Where is the time clock? Where are the gowns?" he adds. "That's where we add a lot of value, not just providing the technology and the equipment, which is very unique, but also consulting with the customer."
He adds, "The goal is to become an extension of their organization. We're not in the business of selling equipment and walking away."
"This isn't something that's just about having the coronavirus by any means, this is something Meritech has been preaching for 30 years," continues Duran. "We're seeing an audience that is much more receptive, but our message remains the same. The risk of having a disease spread, especially in our food production or healthcare system or in cruise lines, is huge, not only from product recalls, but also the brand damage that it causes."
Barnhill says space is a key component of a truly sanitary workplace. He advises "allowing enough area to have a hygiene process that works . . . making sure you have enough throughput."
He adds, "How we design a hygiene zone for food processing is much different from how we design a hygiene zone for pharma."
Clients include McDonald's, Bayer, Kraft Heinz, Coca-Cola, and Carnival. "The growth pattern has been phenomenal," says Duran, pointing to a "significant" spike in demand in 2020.
Pittsburgh-based Forest Lane Capital acquired Meritech in 2018, and Duran joined as CEO in May 2019. "The last year and a half has been transformational for the company," he says. "We're in the perfect position to participate in the level of awareness and take advantage of the situation in a really positive way."
Challenges: "Making sure we maintain this level of awareness about the importance of human hygiene, says Duran. "Even after the current pandemic passes, we can't forget how important human hygiene is."
Adds Barnhill: "The challenges are making sure people understand this is the first line of defense. It's really apparent in today's conversations about hand hygiene that the number-one method to prevent the spread of pathogens is washing your hands."
Opportunities: "It's almost like a new ballgame now," says Duran of interest in Meritech's products during the COVID-19 pandemic. He says he sees room for growth in every industry that Meritech supplies, citing educational facilities as a particularly promising market.
Adds Barnhill: "It's really about away-from-home hand hygiene. It's really about taking our technology and helping people with that process." That means sports venues, concert halls, and other places that draw crowds are possible customers.
Needs: "Avoiding the shiny object syndrome and staying focused our goals," says Duran. "If we're able to do that, I think we're very well set to grow significantly in the next three to five years."