Tuesday, August 29, 2023
The pandemic has New Gear Medical’s antimicrobial bags surging in demand.
Ed Crane for The National Business Post
March 22, 2021
It’s hard to find a shop selling buggy whips…or typewriters. Can you even buy a new pay telephone? Changing times, evolving trends and technology have made many a product and once thriving industries obsolete. If you’re not paying attention and looking ahead, that book of success you’re writing will end with Chapter 11.
Back in 2016, Ed Holland, President of New Gear Brands began to get a bad feeling about the company’s core business. New Gear then specialized in smartly designed camera bags – must haves to haul around the cameras, lenses, filters, lights and film the pros used in their trade – and simple gear bags for photo hobbyists as well. It wasn’t that competitors were making better bags at a lower cost. It was the fact that cell phones and tablets were coming equipped with simple to use cameras that took great photos that could be shared, enhanced, emailed or e-filed instantly. Suddenly there was a reduced need for filters and lights and film that needed to be developed. Ergo, a diminishing demand for Camera Bags.
Come to think of it, when was the last time you saw a Photomat?
New Division
Rather than panic, Holland told the owners of the privately held company, it was time to ad lib. After a lot of give and take, it was decided to stick with the business model, developing special equipment for a specific industry, but shift design, and manufacturing to another industry.
“We decided to launch a new division, New Gear Medical,” Holland explained. “We saw years before Covid hit that there was a need for better medical equipment bags. We noticed a trend to release patients from hospitals much faster, and often many of the discharged would need home visits from nurses. We surfed medical and hospital websites, talked to nurses, other medical professionals, even first responders and we found there really weren’t any good bags out there. They’d buy one, and because their equipment was heavy, the bag would rip in three months. Plus, there were no bags that offered any antimicrobial protection.”
That, Holland noted, was a major problem. Nurses and therapists would drag those equipment bags on up to ten home visits a day. Some homes, as any nurse will tell you, are clean and tidy while others, not so much. Whatever the bags picked up were going to wind up back at the medical office or at the medical professional’s own home – not good – this being the precedent even before the Pandemic hit.
“We decided, look, we’re bag professionals,” Ed Holland recalled. “Bags are all we do, we can fix this.”
Antimicrobial Properties
But how? The accepted technology was to use the germ fighting properties of silver in a solution to treat the bags. But silver can be toxic, and the price was escalating.
After extensive research, they decided to coat the bags with a versatile natural sugar called chitosan. Derived from the shells of crabs and lobster, chitosan has been used for a variety of medical applications. It can stem bleeding, and has long been used in bandages because it has a natural antimicrobial property. Unlike silver, it is actually edible, and is even sold over the counter as a supplement to control hypertension and lower cholesterol.
Ok, so the bags were more or less germ resistant; but what about that other problem, durability?
It may be an industry problem, but Holland decided it was not going to be a New Gear Medical problem.
“We learned that the top weight medical pros were carrying in their bags was about 30 pounds, and in months, the bags would tear apart. So we loaded our bags with 60 pounds of bricks, then hooked them up to a machine that jostled them every which way, and they held.”
The other problem for the industry were the zippers. As most travelers will attest to, bags that are opened and closed frequently have to be able to withstand such frequent use. The durability of zippers was a necessity. These medical bags had to be able to sustain such daily use. Holland’s crew tested those as well.
“We use the most durable zippers out there. Our bags are built to last and I’m proud of that.”
Asked if sales might suffer, if the company could be prisoners of their own excellence, Holland laughed.
“If that bag breaks in a few months, you’ll never buy the brand again. What we may lose in repeat sales because of our products durability, we make up with great reviews that generate more sales.”
New Gear Medical is a lean, mean bag making machine. Outside of company president, Ed Holland, who works from his office in London managing European sales and Asian manufacturing, New Gear employs a few US based design consultants and the multi-tasking Connie Bassani, who holds down the fort in Milford, Pennsylvania.
“Well, I do all the book keeping, deal with the distributors, make sure the product is delivered to Amazon, correspond with customers and handle any returns or replacements,” Bassani explains.
Of which there are few. Sometimes another color is requested, or one size bag may be swapped for another, but quality is rarely an issue.
With sales likely to reach close to $2,000,000 this year, New Gear Medical enhances profits with a simple sales strategy. Seventy percent of the inventory is sold and shipped via Amazon. New Gear Medical sets its own price for its line of 14 bags and accessories, which are consistent whether the gear is purchased on the company website or Amazon.
“A smaller part of the business is producing gear on an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) basis, for companies that want to sell the bags under their own label, in those cases there is usually a quantity discount,” Holland points out.
Given current geopolitical concerns, Holland was asked if making goods in China is the smartest strategy.
“Yes,” he says, “tariffs are an issue”, but his decades-long relationships with the Chinese manufacturers, and those from whom he sources materials ensure consistent material and production quality.
“Of course, the labor cost is cheaper, but China offers experts in stitching and other bag making skills that I can’t find in places like Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. When you factor in everything, I can’t afford not to keep the operation in China.”
It’s been said that Covid changed everything, including a more active approach to germ fighting. That, coupled with pent up demand for travel, would make the new year’s expansion into antimicrobial gym bags and luggage a no brainer. Now sold across North America, eight European countries and parts of Asia, Holland sees a potential sales explosion post pandemic.
With so many decision makers working from home these days, many haven’t seen or used the products they might have committed to in 2020. And the newly acquired ongoing war with germs, will only make the aforementioned antimicrobial gear more in demand.
“We’ve actively been looking for partners. We’re a small company and you can’t attack all these potential new markets and new products… and the big companies are already entrenched without a lot of money for advertising and promotion, new designs and increased production. Yes, we have the technology and limited resources, but to do it right, we’ll need a partner.”
While he’s confident that will happen, Holland sees New Gear Brands as a $20,000,000 company in a few years, but neither he nor the private owners, who prefer to remain anonymous, are averse to a total buyout.
“They’re getting up in years, I’ve been doing this for a while and it might be nice to sell at a good profit and just watch the company grow.”
Insight that probably never registered with the buggy whip and typewriter crowd.
Copyright © 2021. The National Business Post. All rights reserved.
Ed Crane is an award-winning broadcaster and freelance writer whose career spans more than four decades including anchoring CBS Radio’s World News Roundup and CBS Special Reports. Today, Ed makes his home outside Sacramento, CA, where he currently resides with his wife Barbara and their Yellow Lab Sandy, enjoying the pleasures and pastimes of the El Dorado Hills – golf and wine tasting.