The coronavirus pandemic has many of us feeling unsure. How far is far enough when social distancing? How clean is clean enough?
Milwaukee-area entrepreneur Todd Muderlak thinks the coronavirus is changing the way people approach sanitation — and he’s developed products he hopes will fill a void.
Standing in the middle of his Glendale headquarters off Port Washington Road, Muderlak says as a kid he surrounded by his dad’s creations, including washroom innovations.
“So I grew up with my father’s business. His first innovation was the auto-flush, so he invented the retrofit auto-flush that you see everywhere, and that evolved in all sorts of no-touch products for the commercial washroom as a design and development firm under Muderlak Design. I grew up testing stuff and cleaning shops and building things,” Muderlak says.
He completed a graduate degree in entrepreneurship at UW-Madison in 2002, then returned to work with his dad. Muderlak says innovations kept coming.
“We decided to launch our own product line and our first product in the commercial washroom and kitchen was the hygienic door handle," Muderlak says. "You have all of these no-touch systems in the washroom and you get to the door handle and OK, what do you do? You use paper, you use your foot, whatever you can do to get out of the washroom, you did.”
The Muderlak door handle is encased with a plastic sleeve. When you’re opening the door and let go of the handle, a fresh plastic sleeve automatically rolls into place. Over the years the Muderlaks refined and tweaked the design.
“Anything that we do, anything that we innovate, we want to make sure it’s easy to install, easy retrofit. You don’t have to put a door in, you just have to replace the hardware that’s on the door,” Muderlak says.
They adapted the handle to fit the door.
“We’re selling in Europe where they have some old hardware. We’ve seen it all – glass door, you name it. In Dubai, they wanted it on both sides of the door, so they figured out a way, with us, and it was a simple accessory kit. So we’re continuing to develop accessory kits as well so that you can retrofit really any kind of door,” Muderlak says.
Muderlak radiates equal parts energy and drive.
The company’s newest product is an automatic no-touch soap dispenser.
“There’s only so much innovation you can incorporate into a dispenser,” Muderlak says.
So his design team is concentrating on the best formulations for the soap or sanitizer that’s being dispensed.
“What is the alcohol content? Does it kill 'corona?' Does it reduce bacteria, whatever the need might be. So it’s really working with formulators and chemists on finding the best formulations to put into your refill that go into your dispenser,” Muderlak says.
His supply chains and markets are global, influenced by prices, demand and politics. COVID-19 is turning those forces upside down.
Muderlak thinks back to a past public health crisis in 2009.
“That goes back to when we had the swine flu, and that pandemic, if you will. And all the same issues were at hand – we don’t have enough facilities, we don’t have enough this, we don’t have enough that ... And people really didn't want to cross-contaminate and whatever you could do to reduce cross-contamination helped the cause,” Muderlak says.
Muderlak says business grew during that period, but when the crisis passed, people forgot their concerns. He thinks COVID-19 won’t be as easy to shake off.
“I really do feel that yes, it will normalize a little bit after this, but not to the level that they forgot with the swine flu and SARS. It’s continuing to be impactful. And people just need to be smarter about hygiene,” Muderlak says.
As a son, husband and dad, Muderlak says these are sad and stressful times. But he says there’s also opportunity for companies that come up with new products to help keep people around the globe safe.
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