Fine Hygienic Holding – keeping it clean
Fine Hygienic Holding is an epic rags-to-riches tale, but recent events have seen them come into their own.
The founder of Fine Hygienic Holding is still alive in his 90s, but his story, and that of Fine Hygienic Holding itself, goes back to 1958. When he started, he was a Palestinian refugee exiled to Jordan with one dollar in his pocket. He was getting married and wanted to provide for his family, so he began trading in paper.
The business grew and people trusted him and worked with him because he concentrated on quality,” says James Michael Lafferty, the CEO of Fine Hygienic Holding today. “60 years later we’re the biggest consumer paper company in the country with a rich heritage of making high-quality premium products. We don’t make cheap stuff; we make high-quality branded items.” The company hasn’t just grown, it’s evolved.
“We’ve slightly pivoted towards being a wellness company that makes products that improve the health of our consumers,” Lafferty explains. “Our products are all sterilised and protect people from infection.” The point, Lafferty argues, is that people put tissues to sensitive parts of their body, and having those sterilised gives customers peace of mind. Fine Hygienic Holding has also expanded into healthy beverages.
“We own a major stake in Nai Arabia, a healthy tea and beverage company. We launched our protective wear, masks and gloves with germ-killing technology,” says Lafferty. “We’ve stayed true to our roots but expanded to 75 countries around the world and we’ve expanded our footprint beyond purely paper to other wellness categories to improve the lives of the world consumers.”
A Brand You Can Trust
Fine Hygienic Holding’s unique selling point is that it doesn’t believe in just selling products as a commodity. “We believe in branding and bringing real value to improve people’s lives and the perception of our brand,” Lafferty says. “We take tissues and touch our eyes, nose and mouth, the entry points into the body, and yet the only sterilised tissue on the market is ours. If the doctor puts a cotton swab up your nose its sterilised, but we just accept our tissues are made in a dirty paper factory. I find it amazing that the only sterilised tissue in the world is ours. I simply find it bordering on irresponsibility that the only company doing this is a regional company out of the MENA region.”
Fine Hygienic Holding still faces challenges, particularly concerning the commodification of the consumer paper industry. “Consumers say they don’t care about the brand of toilet paper they buy, so there’s a lot of switching and the challenge is to educate people that one tissue is not the same as another,” Lafferty points out. “They’re not all the same, there are differences, and you can have peace of mind with our product.”
To spread that message Fine Hygienic Holding has built a strong marketing department, fully engaged in digital and above the line advertising on radio and television and even in-store. “It’s about putting the message out there,” Lafferty insists. “The sterilisation claim got the endorsement of the most esteemed wellness organisation in the world. Their doctors are focused on preventative rather than reactive medicine. Many physicians are going into preventative medicine, doing things now to prevent illness later. The Medical Wellness Association in Houston, Texas saw our studies and it’s a big selling point, we’re the only tissue in the world recommended by a medical association.”
Cometh the Hour
Of course, this year global events occurred that would make hygiene, and paper tissues, more important than ever. “Now we’re in a COVID world. Six months ago nobody cared if you wore a mask or not. Now people care about that kind of thing,” Lafferty points out.
It’s a challenge that Fine Hygienic Holding is risen to admirably. “I’m very proud of our company. It’s easy in 2020 hindsight to point fingers but I interviewed a virologist friend of mine in January and everything he said has been true. He said if they’ve got 50,000 people infected, the virus is airborne,” Lafferty says. “Now it may not go great distances but it’s droplets in sneezes and coughs. Now if it’s spreading through the air it’s going in people’s mouths and nose. Coronavirus loves the human lungs; it loves the human respiratory tract. If it gets there it’s where its meant to be. If that is the case then the number one thing you do to protect yourself is to wear a mask. Number two and three are washing hands and sanitising surfaces, but number one is wearing a mask.”
Taking this knowledge, Lafferty decided to launch a mask. “The whole world laughed at me!” he admits. “At the time global health organizations said masks don’t work. But I didn’t listen, and they changed their mind. There wasn’t the proof then but let’s talk about common sense. If you’re sick you should cover your mouth and nose to protect other people. We were way ahead, then the final thing he told me was a billion people are going to get it. It will be a global crisis, and I believed him, but what could we do?”
Lafferty prepared by telling Fine’s supply chain to build an inventory of every raw material in anticipation of shipping will go down. “We took our inventory up by 50% so that when the whole thing hit, we were there and ready to produce as there were runs on products like toilet tissues,” Lafferty says. “We were there, we didn’t miss anything, and we had masks.”
It was a gamble that has already paid off big time, with Q1 of this year seeing Fine Hygienic Holding post its results ever, with Q2 set to beat that record. “In the middle of this crisis the company is incredibly strong and healthy. We gave raises and bonuses for people who worked extra hours because the company is healthy. So, our people are thankful to be working at Fine because everyone has a family with pay cuts or who lost their jobs,” Lafferty says. “We handled it very well in my view. We managed through every lockdown, keeping the business going, and I’m very proud of my team.”