Last year Vectair Systems, Inc. celebrated its 30th year of business. Today the odor control system and hygiene product manufacturer maintains a presence in more than 120 countries worldwide. But despite Vectair’s current wide-reaching network, the company stems from rather humble beginnings.
In 1981, Paul Wonnacott was a veteran salesman living in London, England. Wonnacott began his jansan career in the mid-1970s selling for a major manufacturer of hand dryers; however, after several successful years selling other people’s products, his entrepreneurial spirit got the best of him.
“After some time as a salesman, I eventually realized working for men in grey suits wasn’t what I was good at,” says Wonnacott, now president of Vectair. “I realized there was major need in the jansan marketplace for a company to specialize in air fresheners and odor control systems. In order to fill that gap, I decided to go into business for myself and that’s really where Vectair began its life. I know it might seem hard to believe seeing how expansive the company is now, but I started Vectair right out of my bedroom at home.”
While Wonnacott relished the opportunity to be his own boss, going his own way presented him with a slew of hurdles—most pressing was securing funding for his new venture. As (bad) luck would have it, Wonnacott was trying to establish a new company while the United Kingdom, and much of the rest of the world, was suffering through one of the worst recessions in history.
“The single biggest challenge faced in Vectair’s early years was raising funds to sell luxury products,” Wonnacott says. “Who wants to buy air fresheners while the markets are crashing? The country was gripped in the harshest recessions on record, and there I was pounding the streets looking for people to buy my fancy smelling deodorizers.”
Faced with the daunting task of trying to finance his company in a struggling economy, Wonnacott looked for a helping hand and found assistance from a major international player in the jansan marketplace. “I was fortunate enough to get in touch with a well-known manufacturer and supplier in 1989,” Wonnacott says. “We signed a long-term and very mutually beneficial agreement that provided us with the resources we need to establish ourselves. And in turn, we helped them grow their international footprint further.”
Following 14 successful years, Vectair’s agreement with the international firm came to an end, and Wonnacott was more than eager to strike out on his own. “[The year] 2003 saw us finish our partnership—on very good terms I might add—and we finally were financially strong enough to support our own in-house product design, development, and manufacturing teams,” he says. “The first thing we did was sit back and listen to what our customers had to say. Vectair began to incorporate our customers’ wishes into our product design and soon we were able to take the marketplace head on, including our previous partner.”
Wonnacott credits the feedback Vectair received from its customers as a major influence in setting the company apart from a crowded marketplace. “One of the most important things about our company and a major differentiator between our competitors is that we have an enormous amount of empathy for our customers,” Wonnacott says. “When designing a product, our designers ask themselves ‘What do our customers need to make a difference in their everyday lives?’ We don’t just manufacture any run-of-the-mill air fresheners. It is our own internal policy to (whenever we can) develop patented features and points of differentiation in our products. To assist our customers better, we go out of our way to develop products that last longer, run more economically, and keep user costs down as much as possible.”
By listening to the needs of its users, Vectair has been able to inspire long-lasting brand loyalty among its customer base. “In some ways it’s obvious; if you believe in a brand you’ll continue to buy through the years,” Wonnacott says. “Brand loyalty stays with consumer for a long time. When it comes to product design, we really try to hone in on market concerns and the latest trends. We then focus on filling our customers’ needs in a responsible, sustainable way that ultimately gives the user the confidence in the Vectair brand.”
Over the Ocean
The brand loyalty Vectair developed in its first 20 years of business eventually led to its expansion out of the European marketplace and into North America. The company opened the doors of its North America headquarters in Memphis, TN, a little more than 10 years ago. However, trying to establish a foothold in the United States proved to be a challenge when the brand was only well known across the pond.
“The biggest challenge we faced was no one knew who we were, in some ways, Vectair is still considered a baby in the U.S.,” says Chad Davis, Vectair’s Executive Vice President of North America. “Most of the competition had already made names for themselves in the marketplace and were well known by both distributors and consumers. Plus, most of our competitors sell through redistribution, but we don’t. Instead, Vectair does business directly with its customers.&rdquo
In order to succeed in a new market, Vectair needed to know its audience. One of the ways the company did so was by leaning on local experts. “As we’ve expanded, we’ve made a point of hiring local sales and customer service agents, people who understand not just the American market but the culture, as well,” Wonnacott says. “They understand that our business is not just the cleaning industry, but the individual folks they do business with. For example, the managers of the Midwest region are from the Midwest itself, they know and appreciate the audience. An extremely important facet of our business is being on the pulse of the local market. And we’ve applied the policy as we’ve expanded to Australia, Asia, and all over the world.”
Another hurdle Vectair faced as the company continued to grow was the subtle differences in cultures across various consumer markets. “As much as we like to think human beings are all the same and the world is getting smaller, there’s differences in audiences,” Wonnacott says. “Fragrance is a classic example of these nuances. Take cinnamon. In the United States it always scores high in focus groups; people say it gives them a sense of comfort, [and] reminds them of mom and apple pie. But try selling a cinnamon product in some European countries and it would be the last thing on our customers’ list.” In order to be successful, Vectair needs to remain acutely aware of these preferential differences.
Vectair has ingrained itself into the cleaning industry on both a macro and a micro level, and its membership and participation with ISSA has helped to leverage this success. “The association’s trade shows provide Vectair with an invaluable combination of the latest industry insights and face-to-face customer interaction,” Davis says. “Each show I walk away with something different, but something fruitful—new product ideas, great meetings with potential customers.”
ISSA is more than just the trade shows to Vectair. Vectair is able to stay on top of the latest industry trends and regulations by being an active member. “As a manufacturer, we look at it as an absolute necessity to be a member,” Davis says. “ISSA keeps us tuned into the heartbeat of our industry, and in turn, by showing a solid partnership with the association, our brand only looks stronger.”
After more than three decades, Vectair continues to expand, owning its growth to a dedicated team of professionals who aspires to achieve outstanding customer loyalty. Wonnacott sums up the company’s outlook on its future succinctly when he states: “I like to think that even though we are now a global company, we still able to care about each customer, going out of our way to react quickly and positively to their needs.”