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How Purell cleaned up

How Purell cleaned up
How Purell cleaned up 02:15

It seems like Purell is everywhere these days, except at stores where they're struggling to keep up with demand.  And that's even with the company working round-the-clock to keep up the stock.

Hard to believe that, not so long ago, no one had ever heard of Purell!

"I guess you could describe it as a ten-year overnight success story," said Mike Richardson, an industry analyst at the Freedonia Group. "They held onto the idea and kept pushing it. And eventually, it became probably a far greater success than they would've imagined at the outset."

That idea was Purell, what's become a prized possession in our desperate attempt to keep our hands virus-free.

It's made by Gojo Industries, a family-owned business.  Back in 2013 "Sunday Morning" correspondent Rebecca Jarvis talked to then-CEO Joe Kanfer about the origin of the company: "My Aunt Goldie and Uncle Jerry, at the beginning in 1946, developed a hand cleaner to get grease and carbon-black off of working people's hands. And it was called Gojo, the namesake of our company today."

From 2013: How the makers of Purell cleaned u... 05:05

Uncle Jerry gave Kanfer half the company when Kanfer was in his 20s.

And then, in the late 1980s, the Eureka! moment: Gojo perfected an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that was pretty easy on the skin.  But just what do you call it?

"Frankly, I wanted to name the product 'Flash,'" said Kanfer, "because I was so excited – It worked in a flash!  I thought I was being quite clever!"

In the end, Purell – as in "pure" – won out.

But it took a while to clean up on the invention. Gojo actually lost money on Purell for years, until 2002, when the CDC determined that alcohol-based products were indeed effective in cleansing hands.

Today, Purell really isn't a luxury. Most families wonder what they would do without it, vindicating in a sense what Joe Kanfer told us seven years ago about the virtues of having your own company: "I probably would have been fired if I were working for anybody else!" he smiled. "But eventually it paid off."

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