How did a company which didn’t even exist before the pandemic establish a global footprint in such a short period of time? By really understanding the market, designing a smart business plan and putting in a tremendous amount of hard work – to the extent that the founder volunteered himself to test the safety parameters of his products!
Conrad Kullman, Managing Director, FAR UVC Africa, told Mrigank Warrier, Assistant Editor, Clean India Journal about the short but speedy journey of his company, from inception to market leadership.
Conrad Kullmann spent 23 years working in the exhibition industry. Even in the early days of the pandemic, Brussels Expo Centre claimed to be the first Covid-safe exhibition facility in the world. After researching the claim, Kullmann noted the use of FAR UVC solutions in the building. This inspired him to research manufacturers of FAR UVC products and ultimately start FAR UVC Africa.
“World over, there were very few companies that manufactured such products; only limited units were produced”, Kullmann said. “Their cost would be prohibitive if imported to South Africa; no one would buy them. I realised that with the pandemic, demand and volumes would rise and costs would come down.”
He zeroed in on a manufacturer of UVC lamps in China, whose prices were more competitive. After an investor came on
board, FAR UVC South Africa was in business.
The differentiator: Customisation
Back in April 2020, existing products in the market consisted mostly of a FAR UVC lamp in a metal box; industrial-looking and not very appealing. ‘Products’ is a misnomer; there was just one product.
Drawing on his sales and marketing background, Kullmann resolved to develop a range of products for a range of applications. “I asked myself, if I were a client, what features would I want in a product?” he pondered. In an office, a troffer model would be most appealing. A retail customer whose facilities have high ceilings would want the product to be suspended; a pendant-type design was created. A hotel with hundreds of rooms would not be able to afford a lamp in every room; he developed a mobile unit which housekeeping staff could wheel from room to room, turn on before they clean a room – since FAR UVC is safe to use around people – turn off before they leave the room, and so on.
Those who use credit or debit cards have to punch in numbers in a Point-of-Sale device or ATM machine. Thousands of people touch the same surface every day; using alcohol-based disinfectants after every use would destroy the surface. Presto! Kullmann’s team developed a unique FAR UVC device for disinfecting such minute, high-touch surfaces, now used across a chain of stores in the United Kingdom.
Running a tight ship
One crucial decision that Kullmann took has stood the company in good stead; to sell through a distributor network, rather than via direct sales. “It was important for us to keep our expenses to a minimum. I didn’t want to employ a large number of salespeople; instead, we started looking for international distributors”, shared Kullmann.
Difficult though it may be to believe, FAR UVC Africa, which was founded in April 2021 and shipped its first products in April 2022, now has 32 distributors across the world but operates with a small team of just four people!
With distributors taking over the responsibilities of promoting and selling the product, backed by a strong library of accessible marketing material and sales support from head office, Kullmann is now focussing on growing the business.
The first installation
A restaurant in Bloemfontein, one of South Africa’s three capital cities, became one of the company’s first clients. At the time of my conversation with Kullmann, the restaurant reported that since FAR UVC came to the facility three months ago, no employee had reported sick to work. These are people who work indoors, where all patrons have their masks off; a real high-risk area.
Since then, the products have been installed at a variety of locations, including food and meat packaging clients who rely on the technology to kill E. Coli, Salmonella and other known contaminants. A difficult-to-convince hospital chain, with sky-high hygiene standards, has also completed a pilot product, which was very successful; they are now budgeting to install the products in all their bathrooms and sluice rooms. Over and above this, FAR UVC Africa has installations in six countries.
“We are already on the second version of our original products”, revealed Kullman. “We are upgrading them and making them more user-friendly, but keeping costs as low as possible for both our customers and ourselves”.
The potential of India
“I think the market for our products in India is massive. Obviously, they should first be rolled out in high-risk areas like hospitals, clinics, dentists’ rooms etc; where people are really on the frontline”, believes Kullmann.
He has already found a local partner in Trivector Biomed LLP, which performed due diligence on the products, from the pricing perspective as well, before coming on board.
Interestingly, the price of the product remains the same across countries. “At the end of the day, we want to save lives. Whether it’s a rich country or a poor country, we try to make our products affordable for everybody”, he said.
What the future holds
Let us say a UV lamp has a life of 4,000 hours; it needs to be manually monitored and replaced before time. Imagine scores of lamps, one in each room of a facility; it is cumbersome to switch each one on and off manually.
Enter IoT. By incorporating this in future models, Kullmann will make it possible for operations to be controlled and monitored through an app on the customer’s mobile phone. When the lamp has been used for, say 3,900 hours, the customer will be automatically alerted that it is time for it to be replaced. Devices in different rooms can be switched on and off remotely, without the need to physically be present in each room. If the unit has a failure issue, the distributor will automatically get a message on his phone to go to the site and fix the product.
The introduction of a carbon dioxide monitor in the device will also improve efficiency. If it detects a rise in levels beyond acceptable limits, the facility manager will be alerted to investigate. It will also reflect how many people use that room; if a device is found to have been used for relatively little time, it can be moved to a high-traffic area for more productive use, rationalising the number of devices needed.
Sensors are also on the anvil; with this, a device will come on whenever someone enters a room, and switch off 15 minutes after the last person has left. ‘Connect and forget’ underpins all future innovations. In the not too distant future, FAR UVC LEDs will come into play.
“Whatever is the future of this pandemic, people will still fall sick, and this will impact businesses. Whether it is Covid, a flu outbreak or any future airborne pandemic, our products will always be relevant”, Kullmann signed off.