Minibar Systems takes unconventional road during COVID-19

The MicroSure line of sanitizing liquids creates an "invisible glove" on a wearer's hand. Photo credit: Minibar Systems (MicroSure)

Rockville, Md.-based Minibar Systems has been providing minibars and refrigerators to hotels for more than 50 years. The company specializes in in-room amenities like fully automated and manual minibars (SmartCube and Primo, respectively), safes (SmartBox), convenience refrigerators (SmartFridge), safes (SmartBox)—and now, in the midst of a pandemic, hand sanitizers and disinfectants (SmartHands). In total, the company has installed more than 2 million minibars and safes worldwide.

Walt Strasser, the company’s EVP in charge of sales and marketing, came to Minibar Systems after spending years at high-end hotel companies, where he learned about the supplier through his role in operations at Hyatt and Fairmont hotels. “I got offered a position in a new market,” he recalled. At the time, he didn’t expect the job switch to be a career shift, but he has remained with the company for three decades—which is not unusual for the firm, he noted. “The entire management team in Minibar has been here for 30 plus years, so I'm not even a junior,” he said. The company has even been owned by Andreas Jacobs and remained privately held for all those years, he added, making the company somewhat unique in its sphere.

His experience on the hotel side gave Strasser valuable insights that aided him in his new role. “You learn precision and you learn high standards of service,” he said. This knowledge is useful when transitioning to the supply side, he added, because it ensures the representatives know exactly what the hoteliers need. 

SmartHands

In May, Minibar Systems launched the MicroSure line of persistent sanitizers and disinfectants to help hotels protect guests and employees. The line works with the company’s new SmartHands line of touchless dispensers manufactured at Minibar’s factory. “We took one of the lines where we made our safes and fridges and made it into a dispenser production design machine,” Strasser said. The sanitizer uses mechanical-kill spikes as a barrier to provide better protection against germs and viruses beyond hand washing and alcohol-based chemical-kill products.

The line includes two sets of hand sanitizing options for hotels—one with alcohol and one without. The one with alcohol is 80 percent alcohol-free, while the one without alcohol uses a long-term persistent kill product that lasts longer than eight hours. “It puts a bond on your hands [that] keeps everything off,” he said. 

The company developed the two options, Strasser said, because of the widespread uncertainty over what is most effective at keeping people safe. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends sanitizing with alcohol, he said this is only because most testing has been done on alcohol-based sanitizers. 

“But the difference between persistent [sanitizers] and alcohol is [that] alcohol kills only when it's wet,” Strasser said, explaining that a hand sanitized with alcohol can get dirty again as soon as it touches something. Persistent cleaners, meanwhile, put a bond on a wearer’s hand that continues killing viruses and bacteria for hours. “It's almost like nano-spikes,” he explained. The microscopic spikes puncture and kill microbiotics even after the hand is washed. “And that's the difference between the two. You don't need to reapply it every five seconds because you touched the doorknob since the last time you put it on.” 

While alcohol-based hand sanitizers might be good for lobbies or spaces with high foot traffic so that guests and employees can regularly reapply the liquid, Strasser suggests putting persistent cleaners close to escalators and elevators or in meeting rooms and banquet facilities. “That's where the persistent really starts to make sense because then [guests and staff] don't have to be resanitizing those areas over and over and over,” he said.

Clicking with Clients

Strasser’s experience on the hotel operations side of the business has helped him maintain a number of property contacts that he can work with. After years of working together to find the right minibar, refrigerator or safe for a hotel, he said, clients often are interested in learning about in-demand products like hand sanitizers. “We've brought this out to the Marriotts and Avendras and Hyatts of the world, and that's where we're going after the business,” he said. “As  hotels get ready to reopen, we're fulfilling [their demands].” Since so many hotels are looking for hand sanitizers, he added, availability is a key factor in maintaining a positive relationship with clients. “There's a lot of backorder, a lot of preordering, a lot of ‘will deliver next month,’” he said of the responses hotels have been getting. “We are fully stocked and fulfilling orders.” 

Logic in Logistics

Minibar Systems has medical partners that collaborated on developing the SmartHands dispenser. Because the company supplies mini-refrigerators to hospitals and medical offices, Minibar’s leadership decided to leverage the relationships and provide medical-grade products to the hospitality segment, securing the persistent sanitizers from their partners. “As a company, we're very quick to respond,” Strasser said. “We took advantage of relationships [and] manufacturing, we made the machines ourselves, designed them to get something done and to market pretty quickly ... In an era like this, why would a minibar, fridge and safe company be in a hand sanitizing business? It doesn't make sense. But then, what makes sense in 2020? Nothing.”