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Industrial soaps come in a variety of grease-cutting strengths and pleasant aromas, and are convenient and effective for washing grimy, hardworking hands. And some are even waterless, offering even more convenience.

But, don’t be fooled by the word industrial. These hand soaps contain coconut, palm and olive oils, citrus, walnut scrubbers, and natural glycerin. In other words, modern industrial soaps are easy on the hands and nice on the nose — but still tough on dirt.

The industrial market represents 15.3 percent of distributor sales, according to Sanitary Maintenance’sReport On 2010 Sanitary Supply Distributor Sales.” So, there is plenty of opportunity for distributors to move product. Those suppliers currently not serving this market can effectively compete by knowing their customers and providing personalized service.

Manufacturing, heavy industrial and warehousing are obvious sectors for industrial soaps, but others have a need, too.

“If you are a food manufacturing facility, you’re usually not dealing with a lot of heavy grease, but you’ve still got industrial hand soap out there,” says Denise Neff, director of sales and marketing for Scranton, Pa.-based Pennsylvania Paper & Supply. “It’s based on a lot of hand washing and heavy dirt.”

Distributors should keep in mind that food manufacturing requires an E2 rated industrial soap.

The automotive industry also is a heavy user of industrial soap, which is used for cleaning a technician’s hands.

“They tend to use a heavier grit because they have really greasy hands,” says Kari Hus, president of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Pacific Janitorial Supply. “We also sell to machine shops because they need something to cut the oil off their hands."

Glen Huizenga, sales leader at Spring Lake, Mich.-based Nichols, says that the industrial and manufacturing base is very open to industrial soaps because they are trying to keep their work environments clean.

“Anyone in the automotive or furniture industry typically needs to demonstrate that they maintain a clean facility, so they are more likely to invest in keeping it clean,” he says.

It’s not just manufacturing and industrial facilities that can be heavy users of soaps. Municipalities and government agencies can also use their fair share.

“Cities buy a lot of waterless hand soaps for the maintenance crews out doing [municipal] work,” says Hus. “They like to put the waterless industrial soap right on their trucks."

But because of budget constraints, Hus finds cities can’t always choose the highest quality, most expensive soaps.

“They like better products, but sometimes they just go with the lowest bid,” she says. “Pricing is an issue, especially in government [accounts].”

Other industries can be just as open to stocking industrial soaps, including hospitality, schools and office buildings.

“You can walk into the back house of a resort with a sample and talk to them about the features and benefits. As long as the pricing is in line, you can move product pretty quickly,” says Neff.

The proper location of soap dispensers can also impact sales of industrial soaps. Placing dispensers near restrooms and heavy traffic areas can ensure they get used.

“If you are talking about a food operation, there are a lot more sinks throughout the plant than there are in manufacturing facilities,” says Neff, so facilities should position a dispenser near those sinks. Other areas for soap dispensers typically include maintenance areas, loading docks and grease traps.

Selling industrial soap isn’t difficult, but it does take some thought and preparation for doing it successfully. Distributors have to understand their customers’ need for a particular soap, and then demonstrate how the product best fits that need.

Distributors also must know their industrial soap products inside and out, including all the features and benefits.

“You have to be able to explain to your customer the benefits of your soap versus the one on the wall,” says Neff. “You have to answer any objections and be ready with enough detail that you can answer all questions.”

Cynthia Kincaid is a freelance writer based in Columbus, Ohio.