Copper and Covid-19: Cu2 Consulting discusses with CuGrip’s President Larry Cole and CuGrip Europe’s founder Jo Rogiers
The Covid-19 pandemic has sparked growing interest in copper's long-known but so far under-exploited antimicrobial properties. With increasing focus on measures limiting SARS-CoV-2 infections, a growing number of copper products have been launched in recent months.
Cu2 Consulting published an interesting, featured article on this subject written for the CFCM by Andrew Cross, Director at ACT Surfaces, in the November edition of the CFCM (see issue n. 72).
Among other products, Andrew Cross also mentioned foils and pre-cut pieces like CuGrip.
So, we decided to contact CuGrip's President Larry Cole to dig deeper into the product and discuss its impressive development over the last twelve months as well as its targets for the future.
Larry Cole, a very motivated guy, passionate and enthusiastic about his venture, provided us with interesting insights.
We also took the opportunity to briefly interview Jo Rogiers, CuGrip Europe’s founder, to understand the company's activity and plans in Europe.
Let’s start with Larry Cole.
On March 4, Translink (Metro Vancouver's transit network) released the results of a pilot project that tested various copper-based products on high-touch surfaces of SkyTrain and buses. The trial results showed that copper products killed 99.9% of all bacteria within one hour from bacteria’s contact with surfaces. They are now entering the pilot’s second phase testing the two copper products that performed best on more trains and buses. CuGrip is one of the two products selected for the second phase. Would you like to briefly comment on this big achievement?
Thank you for the TransLink acknowledgment. What has to be appreciated by the outside transit world is how the testing results and data were handled throughout the study. CuGrip did not have any idea how we were doing until 5 minutes after the TransLink Press Release went out to the world. Each vendor received only their results, and we have no visibility into how the other vendors made out. This third-party testing had integrity and brought the kind credibility we can use for all our CuGrip use cases. If anyone within your readership would like to see our confidential Translink test results I would be more than happy to share them privately.
We knew from day one we had developed a great copper wrap, but to have it proven in situ, 24/7/365, scientifically, in a really tough use case like public buses and trains. To have no thefts or vandalism of our wraps, to have no break down in performance of our wraps. The results exceeded our expectations and allayed our fears. We did indeed celebrate the milestone, then got back to work.
Larry, innovative technologies, all-round innovation, and start-ups to be guided in their growth path have been the leitmotif of your
variegated work experience over the past fifteen years. Is it correct to say that GuGrip, your newest venture, feeds in a certain sense on your
previous professional experiences, embodying them in a start-up that, while producing and distributing a tangible asset, also incorporates
CuGrip does indeed fit nicely into my past entrepreneurial experiences. I have always gravitated to ideas that have the potential to solve big problems. I tend to get extremely passionate about products that can solve real human problems, especially on a global scale. This is what attracted me to CuGrip. When I researched copper and discovered the antimicrobial properties as they relate to viruses, I started to get a little excited. Not sure how but in my mind’s eye I immediately saw potential to retrofit thin copper wraps onto thousands of applications around the world to fight this disease we call Covid-19. It came to me over a weekend in February 2020.
A few months ago, when we first got in touch with you and discussed your business, you said: "We sell a solution that happens to be made of
copper, but copper is a small aspect to our larger value propositions." Can you develop this concept further for the audience of the CFCM, which, in turn, is definitely copper centric?
If I had the chance to go back to the day we spoke, I most definitely would not have used the phrase “small aspect”. Thank you for the opportunity to
clarify my thoughts and properly place this magnificent metal where it belongs in our value chain.
Let me begin with an obvious statement....no copper, no CuGrip. There is no way copper can be relegated to the back seat in the value propositions of CuGrip. I believe where I got off track was in learning what our mission was as it related to the problem. If I were to describe the “Problem” as originally defined it would be the transmission of viruses/bacteria/pathogens from human to human by way of commonly touched surfaces, such as rails, handles, posts, etc. Our CuGrip. “Solution” as originally thought through was to design and manufacture specific sized copper wraps to place on these frequently touched surfaces. Makes sense, right? Simple enough, right? As it turned out nothing is that simple. If it were, everyone would be doing it, correct? I did not fully appreciate the complexity of the business we were getting into. Would anyone in the CFCM readership believe for one moment CuGrip is in the “Behaviour Modification” business? I can categorically state no one thought last March this is where we would be in 2021.
It took thousands of conversations and market whisperings before CuGrip realized we were selling copper wraps to change people’s behaviours.
Can we say that the match between CuGrip and the copper industry could bring mutual benefits? On your side, copper is the instrumental heart of your offering, albeit you don’t assign it a predominant role in your value proposition (or better said, you did not assign it to it at the beginning). On the other hand, for the copper industry, your product and approach may help get public focus back on to copper for touch surfaces. Would you agree with that?
With no hesitation I can state the copper industry and CuGrip are completely tied at the hip. We post our ESG (Environmental Sustainability & Governance) mission right on our website for a reason. We want people to understand what CuGrip stands for. We believe in a circular economy, a circular business. CuGrip takes a 360-degree view of our business. Copper is mined, smelted, rolled, made into parts, sold, recycled when worn out, and the whole process starts over again. Almost all of these steps require the copper industry to be involved with CuGrip in one way or another.
There is one even more important area I believe we are connected as well. It is the profound message that copper saves lives during this pandemic and way beyond. This message is absolutely real, it is substantial, it is global, and it is shared by everyone connected to the copper industry. CuGrip is one piece of this puzzle and is humbled to be a part of it.
We are in a war with a disease called Covid-19, the front-line troops facing this disease are our healthcare workers, the casualties are our family, friends, neighbours and co-workers. Thanks to the copper industry, CuGrip can play a significant role of changing habits and behaviours of our populations to stop the spread of viruses.
How does your business model work?
When we incorporated CuGrip I thought about bringing a traditional Manufacturer to Distributor model to the venture. Meaning we use our facility in Columbus, Ohio to manufacture the CuGrip wraps, and then ship to strategically located independent stocking Distributors spaced around the world.
There were several advantages to this model, not the least of which is having the CuGrip product spread around and available for our sales channels to pull stock from. The other advantage to this model is for developing a global e-commerce business. Much easier to run our global ad campaigns for the Business to Consumer side of CuGrip.
There are some challenges to this model though. One and most importantly is finding the right organization to partner with. It would be much easier if we were manufacturing a well-known product with established sales channels, but CuGrip is NOT established as a product. Therefore, it requires a totally different level of risk management for the stocking distributor. We will continue to tweak this manufacturing, distribution and sales model as challenges are faced.
Are your distribution partners distributors of other copper products or suppliers of other healthcare products?
As mentioned above, we start with getting CuGrip’s out of our manufacturing facility to strategically located stocking distributors. It is from these locations that our Resellers, Sales Representatives and Speciality Distributors get their product. These include PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) suppliers, Sanitizing supply companies, etc.
You are also selling online through your website. Is this a promising sale channel? Can you disclose any figures?
The online promise is unlimited in my opinion. However, we need to set ourselves up for success. CuGrip has worldwide appeal, this we know. In order to take advantage of this globally we need to have our CuGrip Stocking Distributors ready. This means getting them the correct inventories, automating their online sales processes. We have the perfect Covid-19 B2C solution, it suits advertising spend, fund raising activities. The backbone is having the shortest route from a distributor to a buyer. Summer of 2021 is my target date to begin these activities in earnest. In the meantime, the CuGrip products are available off our websites but we are not pushing hard, just taking it as it comes.
How do you align your business model with your copper foil suppliers?
Interesting framing of this question, as it deals with our present business model and our future product expansion plans. As of today, we have several strong relationships with the foil companies. Each is under an NDA, so it makes it hard to elaborate.
I can say this, CuGrip is a manufacturer/distributor with customers around the world. Our sales channels give access to customers for the foil suppliers. Having a solid working relationship with CuGrip can dramatically shorten sales cycles for the suppliers.
The other side of the coin, CuGrip is always looking to diversify our product offerings, these include copper alloys. We need to keep a strong working relationship with the suppliers so when innovative products become available, we are there to take advantage of the situation. Sidebar, it is fascinating how small the copper industry really is in terms of everyone knowing everyone. Building trust within this sector has been a key component for me over the past year.
Have you established partnerships with specific entities or companies?
It is difficult to answer this question with specifics due to NDAs. The short is yes, we have entered into several agreements with Distributors, Resellers, Sales Reps, Specialty Distributors, industry suppliers and so forth. Our plan right from day one was to be a partner centric organization.
My process for doing this is a simple one. I reach out and develop a new relationship, we work hard to figure out what the intent of this new relationship might be, if we all agree there is something here, then we paper the relationship in a way that respects the intent. I do this over and over around the globe. I let LinkedIn and video meetings be my friend. This has become an ever evolving process as market acceptance is earned by CuGrip the product and CuGrip the brand.
What are your communication targets?
I spilt my communication into three distinct groups. A) Manufacturing Partners, B) Market Sector Influencers and C) Customers. CuGrip is new to the world, there is no previous product precedence to build momentum off of. Nothing to differentiate against. This presented a series of challenges as I was starting from scratch. All I can say is thank heaven for social media. CuGrip would not have taken off as fast as it did without the power of LinkedIn, Instagram and other online media. We had a zero-dollar marketing budget the day I joined CuGrip. My personal challenge was figuring out exactly how I was going to speak, write, and communicate through social media to my three core groups. I had to educate, get them to recognize the huge potential, get them to accept the CuGrip products, and lastly to purchase CuGrips. A tall order to be sure.
Your company has been developing very quickly: founded in Canada in early 2020, you have now established a worldwide presence. Can you comment on this? What are the most promising regions and which ones do you still have to reach?
Yes, sometimes I have to remind myself we are a relatively new firm. Somewhere inside this experience is a book I believe. Everything has had to align correctly or there is no CuGrip.
Covid-19 has been the catalyst, let there be no mistake there. The disease is indiscriminate when it comes to infecting the world. Which made CuGrip a global product idea right from day one. The areas where we have been successful so far tracks the worst hit zones very closely. UK, EU, India, parts of SE Asia, Australia, USA and Canada. The only area where Covid has been tragic that we have not found the right partners for yet is Central/South America. I have been involved with several conversations; we have shipped a number of CuGrip Trial Packs down to SA but we have not quite found the right Stocking Distributor conversation yet. Perhaps by publication time of this article the situation may have changed.
I hope so, we need local feet on the ground relationships developed in this area because it suffers greatly from the pandemic and subsequent economic fall out.
Could you also disclose some business figures to help us to visualize the development of your activity?
2020 was 6 figures. If we execute correctly in 2021 we will be north of 8 figures. We measure the total market opportunity as north of 10 figures in 2022.
The use of copper for hygiene reasons is not new, but for whatever reasons it has not been successful in gaining mass market adoption. How is CuGrip different?
Great question, thank you for asking. We agree 100% in the science; it is overwhelming and peer reviewed. So why no adoption? The following are merely my opinions, not meant to offend, just what I have learned along the way while presenting and promoting CuGrip.
I believe mass adoption of copper was stunted right out of the gate due to flawed marketing. To be clear, I define Marketing as the simple exercise of “Tell Me More”. From my discussions and research, the mistake likely came down to the copper industry believing there would be widespread adoption of solid copper items. This was based on health and welfare outcomes that were supported by solid scientific evidence. This turned out to be a less then favourable assumption. Copper costs are too high compared to other materials for use in everyday items like door handles. Plus, retrofitting commonly touched surfaces like taps and door handles with solid copper fixtures was a nonstarter. Budgets could not handle these kinds of changes. Lastly, I do
not believe there was a proper job of defining the benefits as it relates to end user problems.
So the question becomes, what does CuGrip do differently, even though we are still discussing a solid copper product.
Number one, we recognized the market is 99% made up of retrofitting existing high touch surfaces. Therefore, a thin pure copper wrap that will adhere to existing surfaces was the monumental breakthrough. Using pure copper or above 90% copper/alloy mixture to manufacture the wraps became the answer. This solved a number of the systemic issues faced by the solid copper fixture industry. The science side stayed intact due to high concentration of copper, costs were low because it is a thin wrap, installation of wrap was easy, wraps could be easily replaced when worn out.
However, this is just the beginning of the story. Now we get to the messaging of CuGrip in the market. We state CuGrips are a behaviour modification product. Once people are educated about the positive health outcomes that can be achieved by the use of copper, we can begin to modify how we approach high touch surfaces. CuGrips are highly visible wraps, easy to spot. We do not cover entire surfaces, but rather we provide a landing “zone” for a hand.
If we convince people to use these hand landing safety zones in Hospitals, Schools, Airports, Transit, Public Building or wherever they see them, we then centralize where the deep cleaners will spend their time. When this is achieved, we have people caring about the person in front of them and behind them. Anyone with a micro cloth could be a cleaner. Staff, customers, makes no difference, everyone is educated to why there is copper on the high touch
This is how CuGrips get our message across to a broader audience and our products help to modify everyday behaviour. Plus, we centralize cleaning, making it more effective. Benefit, a healthier society. To summarize, CuGrip takes copper and turns it into an ROI discussion for the customer. It can be measured, YOY, or in real time.
Are oxidation and/or discoloration an issue for your potential business partners? If so, how do you deal with it?
Another of those YES and NO answers.
When we use pure copper in our CuGrip there will be the issue of oxidation. Depending on inside or outside installation, cleaning regimen, number of daily touches, and type of touch (think of a pole on a bus and a user twisting as they try and stay balanced).
All these factors go into how long a wrap will stay copper clean and usable. So far, we have been wrong in a good way when discussing longevity of CuGrips. They are lasting far longer than we first imagined, especially in tough installations like transit. The issue becomes how much is too much oxidation and, as odd as it sounds, it is up to the client and what they can stand to look at.
Just because a wrap is oxidizing does not mean it is not working scientifically. Aesthetics is important to some, and not to others. Copper surface can be brought back to a shiny surface with some cleaning mixtures. There are so many variables when talking about looks that we have to take each situation, each client and treat them individually.
Which market segments do you see as being most open to this application, and which have the strongest growth potential?
The high impact areas I zone in on are easy to understand. Let’s start with hospitals where HAIs (Hospital Acquired Infections) are the 6th leading cause of death in the USA in a 2013 study. Just in the USA alone, HAIs account for a 45-billion-dollar yearly problem. CuGrip could cut this in half if properly utilized.
Schools, Transit, Cruise Industry, Hospitality Industry including Hotels, Public Spaces, Airports, Retail, Restaurants, Manufacturing. These are all the easy sectors to spot, where payback is measured in several different ways: less sick days, no flu seasons, healthier staffs, healthier industries.
Over the past few months, several other companies have developed products similar to CuGrip. In some cases, even copper fabricators have launched their own product lines of copper foils wraps. What makes the CuGrip offering different from others: films/spray coatings, service, others?
Yes indeed, there have been several copper firms starting to launch products into this safety space. This can be viewed as a positive for everyone involved.
There is a term in business that is not often heard but is important to understand from a brand perspective. Today, CuGrip “Commands The Message”, “We Own The Message”. This is an important distinction to make. As our sector grows this becomes important as it relates to a competitive landscape. We were first to bring mass produced copper wraps to the world. We were the first to get product on 6 of the 7 continents. We were first to discuss CuGrip as a Behaviour Modification solution as it relates to Covid-19. We are the first to develop deep global sales channels. We are the first to take part in multiple third-party efficacies testing and studies. We are the first to develop a circular ESG (Environmental Sustainability Governance) mission statement.
Now we will be the first to develop a vertically integrated company through industry partnerships. Gov’ts come to us for advice today, it certainly did not start this way. Clients are asking about custom OEM applications. All of these Firsts in 12 months. We work hard to be a leader in this sector. We want to be the best, we know how to be, with the highest quality products, and continue to innovate.
Are you planning to add new products to your range?
How timely, the short answer is yes: we will be adding a new CuGrip wrap this year if our discussions and testing come out positive. We have a performance guide we use that was developed internally to choose what new products and applications we will add to our line-up. Spring / Summer if all goes as planned. I will have more to say about this in the coming weeks.
What are your plans and goals for this year and in a longer-term perspective?
We called 2020 our CuGrip market education year. 2021 is our CuGrip market acceptance year. 2022 will be our CuGrip hyper growth year if we execute properly this year. The longer term gets a little fuzzier, I am afraid. At the moment, our strength is found in our market agility, we are able to act on sound business decisions on the fly. The larger we get the more entrenched we will become as a company; it is a part of any business cycle. I would not want to get too far out front of 2022, as, we all know, dynamics change. Today CuGrip is sticking to its knitting of saving lives, changing behaviours, developing safety strategies for a Covid Economy, this is enough.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the "copper community" that gathers around the CFCM?
Part of our leadership role is “evangelizing” the power of copper. It is real and people are just waking up to this fact now. We have started a Hashtag that I hope we can build into something bigger than our company. At the moment we call it #CuGripSafe, but it could just as easily be #CuSafe, #KopperForKids, #CopperSavesLive. It is centred around the idea of bolstering the Primary Protocols that are in effect (Masks, Washing, Distance). #CuGripSafe is about changing our behaviours and habits, being mutually responsible for each other’s health and wellbeing, being mindful about how 80% of viruses are passed amongst us by touch. We want something positive coming out of this disease we call Covid-19. Copper will be a leader in this regard.
Many thanks, Larry.
To conclude, a short talk with Jo Rogiers, CuGrip Europe’s founder
Jo, you spent more than 30 years in the copper industry: first at Umicore, then at Cumerio and, finally, at Aurubis. You have also accrued extensive international experience at European level, by working in Belgium, Germany, Italy, France, and Switzerland. You have now started a completely new experience as CuGrip Europe’s founder and CuGrip’s sale representative. What makes this new venture particularly interesting and exciting for you?
More than 2 decades ago I already investigated the impact of copper on bacteria and viruses. Our main focus at that time was MRSA. We found that copper was indeed very efficient in fighting bacteria and viruses in general and MRSA in particular; surely when compared to other touch surfaces. But at that time, it proved to be very difficult to apply copper in hospitals, as changing existing stainless steel or plastic touch surface to copper was very expensive.
Thanks to adhesive copper foils like CuGrip we can now easily apply copper to touch surfaces in a very economical way. So, I think that copper now stands a better chance to become an important touch surface material.
How would you describe CuGrip Europe’s activity and goals?
Our focus for the coming months is to put CuGrip into the market and to assess market traction & market maturity. If successful, we plan to enlarge our portfolio with different kind of products and become a total solution provider for copper touch surfaces.
Do you cover all of Europe?
We would like to become a European distribution center. and in order to do so we are establishing contacts throughout Europe. Unfortunately, the existing travel restrictions are prohibiting a quick roll out.
And in the meantime, how do you distribute CuGrip? Do you work with local distributors? What kind of distributors?
The regional/local distributors or resellers with whom we are collaborating are not the established copper products (re)sellers, but mainly companies active in the “health” or “personal protection equipment (PPE)” industry that want to enlarge their existing product portfolio. We support them with the marketing of the brand and store material for them for quick delivery.
Do you have European suppliers for foils, or do you only distribute CuGrip products made in North America?
We have contacts with a few European producers, but today we focus on CuGrip. We still believe that CuGrip is the premium brand amongst the adhesive copper foils.
How would you define the approach of your customers towards CuGrip? Are they reactive? Interested? “Hungry”?
Copper took the backseat in fighting bacteria and viruses since the development of antibiotics. So, most people in Europe are unaware of the antimicrobial properties of copper. But if you have the chance to explain it to them, most of them they become very curious and interested, willing to test the material.
What targets do you have in mind for the European markets and customers you serve?
From our today’s experience, the areas where a lot of people come together have shown the biggest interest: public buildings, retail or public transport. But we believe that going forward, healthcare in general (hospitals, residential care, ...) has the biggest potential. But surprisingly, it’s hard to put copper on the radar in these facilities.
Is there anything else you would like to share with CFCM’s readers?
After so many years in the copper industry, I know that copper is a magnificent material in many ways. It’s a key enabler for a sustainable development of modern society. And, of course, the booming ongoing electrification in all its aspects is hereby the main eye-catcher. But this is a very industrial view. Promoting copper for its antimicrobial properties gives copper its “soft” touch, demonstrating it’s not just an industrial metal!
Many thanks, Jo.
This is an excerpt prepared for CuGrip of Cu2 Consulting’s
CFCM – Copper Fabricators Competitive Monitor
n. 75 of March 2021
For info on the entire report: email@example.com