How I Built a Luxury Brand Around the Most Basic of Commodities

Andrea Lisbona grew up in Barcelona, where her family owned a business that imported American goods and distributed them in Europe. One product that caught her entrepreneurial eye was hand sanitizer–so practical and sooo boring. Which is why, in 2016, long before Covid taught the world that keeping your hands clean is critical to staying healthy, she started obsessing over hand sanitizer. When she learned the U.S. owned 30 percent of the global market, she picked up and moved to America with dreams of reinventing a common household item. –As told to Kevin J. Ryan

There had been a total lack of innovation in hand sanitizer. A lot of the formulas smelled like tequila or vodka; they were sticky; they dried out your skin. It was a commodity. I’ve always admired entrepreneurs who are designers at heart, like Steve Jobs and Coco Chanel. I believed that, with a redesign, I could create a product people would love.

I moved to Miami because it felt similar to Barcelona–warm weather, near the ocean, a lot of people speak Spanish. I spent three years working on a formulation to elevate hand sanitizer. The goal was a gentler formula with a revolutionary design. Touchland is liquid-based–it feels like water–and is fast-absorbing and nonsticky. We reimagined the way it was delivered, too, creating a beautifully designed case that fits in your pocket. Push the pump and it releases just the right amount of spray. We created a variety of scents, like vanilla and cinnamon, watermelon, and citrus.

We raised $770,000 from investors in 2018 to help with the initial launch. Instead of selling to supermarkets and pharmacies, we pursued fashion and beauty retailers. We positioned ourselves as a lifestyle brand that happened to sell hand sanitizers. The next year, we persuaded the beauty retailer Ulta to give us a chance. We launched in 1,300 stores and sold out within about a week. Soon we had deals with Bloomingdale’s and Sephora. Most of these retailers had never sold hand sanitizer, but ours was different. We moved hand sanitizer from hygiene to beauty.

And we changed consumer behavior. People used to buy sanitizers one at a time when theirs was running low. Today, people buy six, seven Touchland units at a time so they can use a different scent every day of the week–like a perfume.

The biggest question for this category is, what happens post-Covid? We’ve focused on building a brand that is a powerhouse, not a shooting star. Sanitizer sales are declining across the broader market, but we’re selling 30 percent more units per week compared with 2020. Our success is clearly not just a product of the pandemic.

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From the March/April 2022 issue of Inc. Magazine

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