While private labeling has been a popular practice in the jan/san distribution industry for decades, it’s yet to become a strategy that everyone embraces. The process is straightforward; it involves a manufacturer granting a product to be labeled under a distributor’s brand — despite the distributor not actually being involved in its creation.  

There are many reasons a distributor would consider utilizing this practice, including the opportunity to create their own product brand that can differentiate from established competitors. With their unique brand comes the opportunity for unique pricing, often making them an attractive option for end users working on a budget. Private labeling also gives distributors the liberty to control the branding of products they’d like to sell more easily; a key advantage in an industry where product demands or innovations can change on a whim.  

For many distributors, one of the main hurdles is how to get the process up-and-running. From delegating staff to research products and explore partnerships with manufacturers, to knowing which products are the best to private label or even how the creative branding process works — getting a process off the ground and establishing a consistent framework for success can be half the battle.  

To get a clearer idea of how a successful private labeling department works, Sanitary Maintenance reached out to Keith Attman, vice president of supply chain at Acme Paper and Supply Company, Jessup, Maryland, to glean some tips and tricks for mastering the craft.


Keith Attman
Vice President of Supply Chain
Acme Paper and Supply Company
Jessup, Maryland

Sanitary Maintenance (SM): What are the key differences between a private label product and just a conventional one?  

Keith Attman: What it comes down to is it gets your brand and organization out into the marketplace where people start to recognize it. I think that's the big draw of private labeling. You can have anything whether it's high, high quality, or high premium type products all the way to budget-based quality. It all depends on how you want your brand to be known.  

SM: Who at ACME is involved in the key decisions when it comes to private labeling and scouting products that could be the right fit?  

Attman: It's a band of one, but opinions of plenty. I'm the guy that runs our supply chain, and that’s where I've spent a lot of my time making those decisions — trying to find where those opportunities fall, and then try to work to find the right solutions. But then, we also work with our sales organization, sales leadership and the rest of our executive team — which is basically my father and my uncles — to confirm that the items are the right mix, and the partnerships make sense for the organization. While I make the final decisions on most of what we decide to private label, it’s crucial to get feedback from others before pulling the switch.   

SM: Walk us through your method when it comes to researching a potential private label product, and how the process gets off the ground.

Attman: Many opportunities come from the manufacturer network we’ve been able to establish over the years, but it’s crucial to not rely solely on those you’ve worked with most. I've always tried my best to keep an open ear to the marketplace. I ask myself, “If I'm not doing business with someone, could I be? What are the benefits to private labeling something that's in their repertoire, and are they willing to consider it?"  

SM: What notable shifts have you seen in the private labeling industry over your 20-plus years in the practice? 

Attman: As the industry continues to evolve, we’ve noticed some larger-scale manufacturers shift away from private labeling — including some of our largest clients who utilized it for years but recognized that it's just not something they want to do anymore. That doesn’t mean the interest in private labeling has dipped altogether, however.  

Instead, we found ourselves moving to some smaller players — and there certainly is not a shortage of small players in this industry who are willing to take on a private label.  

Securing smaller-scale clients sometimes requires a willingness to take on new requirements when negotiating. Whether it’s having to pay for the boxes yourself or taking on some other costs to get the process up and running, it’s something we’re willing to do because the final product resonates and is profitable.  

Structurally, it’s different when making agreements with smaller manufacturers. Compared to larger players who often want long-scale contracts, smaller-scale players prefer lower-risk agreements on shorter timelines. Once the agreement shows signs of being successful, it can lead to renewed agreements — but the upfront risk won’t be agreed upon as often for them.   

SM: Are there certain products that are easier to private label than others?  

Attman: From our experience, I think disinfectants can be challenging. It’s the same with sanitizers because you've got regulatory agencies that need to ensure the product both for efficacy and safety. There's paperwork required every year to private label those product types, especially with disinfectants. To get approval, you really need to be on top of the changing requirements to sell them, and sometimes it may not be worth the headache.  

But there's value to it, obviously. And there's plenty of items out there that people are willing to private label. Floor pads tend to private label more easily than other types of products. We’ve also gotten a lot of traction with odor control technologies as well. 

There’s also a subset of manufacturers who are always willing to allow private labeling of bulk chemicals. I wouldn’t say that’s indicative of the next trend with private labeling, but it’s a consistent base of clients.   

SM: Once a manufacturer agrees to a product being private labeled, how does the creative process work with creating a design and/or logo for the product?

Attman: We work with some third-party designers to help with that from time to time, but now we've got a good template as to how we go to market with it. If you don't have an artist on staff that is proficient at creating and designing concepts for a label, I would recommend working with someone that has expertise in that regard. Ultimately, the most important thing is ending up with a logo or design that fits what you're trying to communicate to the industry. For the products we private label, we've evolved our first designs compared to what they are today and keep pace with the shifting industry and what customers find compelling.   

SM: What changes did the pandemic bring to private labeling — if any — and do any still have an impact on the industry today?  

Attman: The pandemic brought supply tightening, which was interesting. Some manufacturers kept flowing with the private label, but others had challenges. I think it all depended on the segment that you're in and the products that you're selling.

If you were to look at hand sanitizer, for example — not that we were doing it — but I imagine that hand sanitizer would have been one of the first things that a manufacturer probably cut off for private label because it was easier for them to do longer runs.  

SM: Have you seen more opportunities for private labeling as the market returns to normalcy after those unusual years?  

Attman: Absolutely, there's contacts that I may not have known pre-pandemic and learned about them during those years as people needed to get creative with procuring and marketing products. I’ve built great relationships with some of them, which has led to exploring private-label opportunities with some of their products.   

SM: What's next for Acme regarding new goals or ventures surrounding private labeling? 

Attman: Currently, we're happy with where we are. An ongoing goal we always have, however, is to enhance and improve access to the information we put out on our private label for our customers.  

James DeGraff, senior associate editor, has spent four years creating and overseeing content for Facility Cleaning DecisionsContracting Profits and Sanitary Maintenance magazines, as well as