MONROE — When beauty salons and barbers closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Innovative Salon Products was forced to lay off more than two-thirds of its workers.
“That was a large part of our business that disappeared overnight,” said David Hanen, owner and founder of the company, located at 154 Village Court in Monroe,
The firm manufactures salon-only hair care products under the Loma brand name and distributes them across the globe.
“We’re an international distributor here in little old Monroe,” said Hanen, who grew up in town.
The company laid off 30 of its 43 employees this month.
Like other manufacturers here and across the U.S., Innovative Salon has re-tooled, so to speak, to produce scarce medical supplies.
In the past, federal regulations would have considerably slowed or even barred such a rapid shift.
But the COVID-19 emergency has altered just about everything, including some Food and Drug Administration regulations related to the manufacture of health care products.
The agency said it’s cut through some unnecessary red tape that bars unregistered companies from producing some types of personal protective equipment and medical devices.
Hanen hopes to bring some workers back by ramping up hand cleaner production.
Note — that’s hand cleaner, not hand sanitizer. There is a regulatory difference, explained Hanen, a chemist.
A product labeled hand sanitizer requires FDA approval. Hand cleaner, which uses the same formula, “the same chemistry,” does not, Hanen said.
“We are manufacturing it to World Health Organization standards, Hanen said.
The FDA temporarily dropped a requirement last month that hand sanitizer manufacturers register with the agency. The agency’s formula standards remain in place.
Hanen, aware of the change, plans to stick to the hand cleaner label. “I’m cautious,” he said.
When employees at the company’s Monroe facility ran out of hand sanitizer a few weeks ago, Hanen made a batch.
It turned out so nice, he gave some to his neighbor — Monroe’s fire marshal, Mike Fitzgerald, and then to the city’s entire fire department.
Last week, he donated hand cleaner to EvergreenHealth Monroe.
First responders, including hospitals and police departments, can have it free, Hanen said.
His supply of the active ingredient, high-content alcohol, however, is limited.
“I’ve got enough to get us through a month of making this product,” he said.
Still, he’s taking orders from some of the region’s largest grocery chains for hand cleaner.
When the alcohol runs out, Hanen has a solution (he is a chemist, after all).
He plans to make even more — up to 1,500 gallons a day — using a non-alcohol disinfectant.
“I grabbed the last two crates of the ingredient used to make alcohol-free hand sanitizer — benzalkonium chloride,” he said.
The anti-microbial agent is an ingredient in contact lens cleaner, soap and antiseptic creams.
With that, he expects to make about 53,000 gallons of hand cleaner altogether, and put some employees back to work.
Hanen remembers being a kid and telling his mom that he wanted to grow up and run a toothpaste factory.
He missed his goal by a hair. “When I grew up I started a shampoo factory.”
Janice Podsada; email@example.com; Twitter: JanicePods