[EDITOR'S NOTE — Each week, this feature section, “Movers and Makers,” will feature the stories of the movers, launchers, entrepreneurs and makers who contribute to the vitality of the Mahoning Valley. This section is supported by our first community partner, Farmers National Bank.]
NEW MIDDLETOWN — When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, many small business owners used their supplies to make new products for newfound health and safety needs. Hitch-Hiker Mfg., which specializes in custom concession trailers for the amusement industry, wanted to join the effort.
Instead of face masks or hand sanitizers, the 52-year-old company has used its manufacturing resources to launch Personal Protected, a new company that manufactures hand-washing stations.
A single Personal Protected unit has four hand-washing stations, with each station divided with barriers for individual users. The four station units are designed for large venues, and provide 720 individual 20-second public hand washes every hour, according to the company's leaders.
Personal Protected is a division of Hitch-Hiker Mfg., 10065 Rapp Road, and Jeff Swartz, president and head of sales, and his wife, Holly Swartz, vice president and head of public relations, are heading Personal Protected together.
“What we initially drew up to get our industry back — the fairs back to having patrons and guests back on the fairgrounds — we immediately [also] realized this [product] is going to help college campuses, football stadiums, NASCAR races ... any place that there's large venues and volumes of people,” Jeff Swartz said.
In addition to meeting hand-washing needs, Personal Protected was established as a way for Hitch-Hiker Mfg. to adapt to the rash of amusement industry cancelations during the pandemic.
“We started the design probably about two and a half to three months ago. As soon as we came up with the design, we went from a conversation, to a quick sketch, to a more formal conceptual drawing of the unit,” said Jeff Swartz.
“From there, we started a patent pending process and have three different patent processes in the works. From that stage, we immediately built a prototype, and probably had the first prototype done within about a week and a half,” he said.
After the company presented the Personal Protected hand-washing station to Youngstown State University officials in person, the university ordered and deployed 10 units across its campus.
According to Jeff Swartz, local K-12 schools have also shown interest in the hand-washing stations.
“We have currently sold units to about a dozen local area schools by superintendents referring our company to other local school superintendents,” Jeff Swartz told Mahoning Matters in an email.
Customers of Personal Protected units also have the option to customize their units with graphics like slogans and team mascots.
In Jeff Swartz’s opinion, even though Personal Protected is filling immediate needs, he believes conscientious hand washing is “here to stay.”
“It's recognized as the gold standard for personal hygiene and protection. It reminds me of the days of running into grandma's house, and the first thing she always said was, ‘Wash your hands.’ We've gotten away from that over the years, and I think that [because of] this pandemic, people aren't going to soon forget that hygiene is really important,” he said.
On Aug. 1, Personal Protected is launching "A Healthy Humanity," an initiative to encourage well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic. "A Healthy Humanity" will sell both "Wash Your Freak-N Hands" and "A Healthy Humanity" merchandise. Holly Swartz said the profits from the merchandise will go toward donating Personal Protected units to local nonprofits.