Mother, Son Pioneer A Niche Market

September 24, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — What started with a stranger’s sweat dripping into Clean For You LLC president Nannette Wiltjer’s workout space has turned into a fast-growing enterprise for her and her son, Vice President of Marketing David Wiltjer, with applications across several industries.

“I’m a street runner, and we work out at (Grand RapidsCommunity College), which has a small space,” Nannette Wiltjer explained. “My partner and I had finished our run and were doing sit-ups in the gym, and the mat on the floor bumps up to the treadmill. There were these big guys on the treadmill, and, well, guys sweat more than women — all this sweat was just dripping on down onto the mat.”

While Wiltjer and her partner were able to move the mat out of the strike zone, the mat was still wet with perspiration.

“We were thinking that there has got to be something to wipe this off with,” she said. “But there really wasn’t. Most everyone was just using a spray bottle and paper towels or spray bottle and a rag.”

The majority of fitness centers use one of those two methods to clean and disinfect sweat-sprayed equipment. Paper towels create a great deal of waste, while in the case of a cotton towel, the same towel might be used all day long.

“Does anyone really think they’re killing germs with that?” David Wiltjer wondered. “They’re just spreading germs around, if anything.”

Another common problem is found when health club members use the spray too freely. “Overspray” can eventually ruin expensive electronic equipment, benches and mats, as well as paint, wallpaper and carpet.

With these concerns in mind, Nannette Wiltjer began investigating the options available for health clubs. She knew from the start that the best solution would involve a disinfectant wet wipe, especially with Clorox and others already doing the marketing legwork for wet wipes in the home.

She discovered a handful of other products that would soon become her competition, and quickly saw glaring weaknesses in each. None focused on convenience, whether in proximity for use or in disposal. Others contained bleach or alcohol, erosive chemicals no less damaging to gym equipment than overspray.

She soon developed the TOSaway disinfecting system. The 7-by-8-inch wipes are alcohol- and bleach-free, EPA registered, and effective against 99.9 percent of salmonella and bacteria found on hard, nonporous surfaces. The wipes come in containers of 150, a fourth the size of competitors’ products, allowing — for the same cost — containers to be spread around a facility, rather than just one in a central location.

But the single largest advantage is the dispensing unit. Wall mounted and designed to be unobtrusive and placed near every few machines, the stainless steel containers can be customized with a business logo, and each has its own self-contained waste receptacle.

“No one is selling to this industry,” David Wiltjer said. “Wipes have been hitting the household consumer market for years and getting bigger and bigger, but those companies aren’t targeting businesses.”

When Clean For You began selling and placing TOSaway in May, the systems quickly were embraced by many local fitness centers. BorgessHealthCenter in Kalamazoo and Powerhouse Gym in Wyoming welcomed TOSaway. Some facilities in West and southwest Michigan had already been using wipes, each with a variety of complaints. As anticipated, TOSaway had an answer for each concern.

With initial success in their intended market, the Wiltjers noticed an opportunity to enter other markets with similar sanitation concerns.

A number of news reports had mentioned the high concentration of bacteria on shopping carts, and much like his mother, David Wiltjer recognized an opportunity and acted on it.

“I’ve got two little boys and I know these (carts) aren’t wiped down,” he said. “There are bacteria, all kinds of things on them. I want to be able to just pull something out and wipe down the area they’re going to sit on before I put them in.”

Some local grocery stores have recognized that Wiltjer is not alone in this respect.

“There was a ‘20-20’ report that showed all the germs and bacteria on cart handles and everywhere else,” said Jim Parzch, store manager of the BretonVillageD&WFoodCenter. “When we saw that, it was a cause for concern. We started looking for sources that could provide some kind of solution. We didn’t find anything initially, and then (Clean For You) came along.”

In July, Parzch’s store, along with a competitor, the Family Fare store on

Lake Michigan Drive
, began a pilot program in which a TOSaway dispenser was placed adjacent to the cart corral at the entrance of the store.

This month, TOSaway dispensers are being installed in another six D&W stores, with a possibility of soon implementing TOSaway throughout the entire chain.

“So far it’s been a success,” Parzch said. “We’ve had nothing but a positive response.”

Of course, Wiltjer was expecting just that.

“Who is going to get upset about being provided something to wipe off your cart with?” he said. “The plan has been to get them in everywhere that we can — as much exposure as possible. That is why having them in the grocery stores is great.”

Wiltjer explained how when he had recently picked up some business cards, the printer had inquired about what his business sold. Wiltjer told him about the health clubs, only to hear the printer’s response: “Oh, like they have in the grocery store.”

“They’re eventually going to be everywhere as society gets more health conscience,” Wiltjer said. “We’re hoping to get these out in enough places so that people won’t be demanding them anymore; they’ll be expecting them.”

Grocery stores were concerned about volume, thinking the cost would be enormous as customers quickly exhausted carton after carton. The wipe supply lasted much longer than expected. The realty was that only the customers concerned about germs and bacteria were making use of the wipes. Those who found no value with the wipes did not use them.

In addition to supermarkets and fitness centers, Clean For You has begun actively marketing to daycare centers, tanning salons, schools, computer centers, libraries, restaurants and facilities with public telephones and public restrooms.

But the same concern has transcended every industry.

“Everyone is worried that they are going to give an impression that they’re dirty,” David Wiltjer said. “But people know there are germs there. Even if you did have a staff member wiping down every cart, every bench, or every machine after every use — if you don’t see it happen, how do you know it was done?

“Some things people would just rather do themselves. That way they know it was done.”    

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