Hand Protection Leader Expands Its Grip on the Universe

Best Glove Inc., a leader in hand protection, offers more than 100 individual glove styles with more than 600 separate varieties for use primarily in the industrial and healthcare industries.

EHS Today talked to Bill Alico, who is president/chief operating officer of Best Glove Inc. Bill is responsible for the day-to-day operations for all Best entities. In addition to charting Best's strategic direction, he serves on the company's board of directors. Bill is an industry veteran; he started his career with Best in 1984, and has served as president/CEO of Tillotson Corp. and the vice president of Perfect Fit Glove Co.

In his career, Alico has gained experience in a variety of safety equipment markets beyond gloves. While at Perfect Fit, which now is a part of Sperian Protection Group, Alico was involved in many different types of PPE, including hearing and eye wear, fall protection and respiratory protection products.

About Best

Best (http://www.bestglove.com) is headquartered in Menlo, Georgia. The company has more than 100 distributors, as well as an extensive network of sales representatives.

In September 2007, Best was acquired by SHOWA of Himeji, Hyogo, Japan, one of the world's largest industrial glove makers. The combination of SHOWA and Best offers a high level of hand protection technology, a comprehensive hand product portfolio, extensive channel coverage and global production facilities. Both companies, founded in the 1950s, have a commitment to producing the world's highest quality gloves. Best continues to operate as a stand-alone company.

Best manages its entire production process, from research and development to manufacturing and marketing. This total “start-to-finish” control over production processes has established the company's reputation for quality products. The company also is well known for developing innovative hand protection technology

These best practices have provided the foundation for Best Glove's internal growth and the introduction of new lines such as N-DEX, the industry's first non-latex, non-vinyl disposable glove, and N-DEX Free, the industry's first accelerator-free, latex-free disposable nitrile glove.

A nitrile-based replacement for latex rubber exam gloves, the N-DEX glove has been instrumental in helping hospitals and health care providers effectively treat and protect patients and employees who are latex sensitive. It is also the preferred glove for clean room high-technology assembly and many industrial operations. The N-DEX Free glove provides laboratory, pharmaceutical and industrial workers an accelerator-free, latex-free option with greater grip, comfort and dexterity.

EHS Today recently sat down with Bill Alico to ask him about the changes in store for Best Glove and about the hand protection industry.

EHS: Are the Best Glove and SHOWA research and development budgets increasing? How does that fit into Best Glove's position in the industry?

BA: Yes, our R&D spend is definitely increasing, because that's our survival. Probably no one in the glove business has a bigger R&D spend than the combination of Best and SHOWA. Best has always been looked at as a global innovator in hand protection, and the same holds true for SHOWA. When you combine our two companies' R&D budgets, we probably have the most significant R&D spend in the globe, and I would put that up against anybody.

From a glove manufacturing standpoint, we are really pretty much the last man standing in domestic production. We really believe that provides us a unique positioning. Some of Best Glove's outstanding characteristics include our emphasis on R&D, our close working relationships with end-users to develop new products and certainly our time to delivery and the quality that we've produced here for the last 57 years — that's how long we've been in the business. Best Glove got its start in 1951.

EHS: With talk of recession in the United States, are you seeing any effects yet on safety spending or the PPE market?

BA: We had a good year in 2007, and there's no question that we are going to talk ourselves into some softness in the market here, but I have to say that so far in the first quarter of 2008, we haven't seen the effect of that. But we are not being naïve; there is going to be some softness in the economy, and we all know that our business is really related to the number of hands on the job, so the more hands on the job, the better our business generally is.

EHS: Are there more consolidations coming in the PPE industry? What do you think of Honeywell's purchase of Norcross Safety Products?

BA: You could certainly say that in the last 15-plus years that the PPE industry as a whole has been consolidating. What makes this Honeywell-Norcross transaction kind of interesting is that you have Honeywell as a supplier in the cut-resistant glove business — a supplier of the Spectra fiber — buying a manufacturer. So that makes this one interesting. I can't say that I've read anything that would establish what their strategy's going to be.

EHS: What percentage of Best Glove's business comes from outside the United States? Do you see any non-U.S. markets that offer especially strong growth in the PPE market in the years ahead?

BA: Just a short 6 months ago, on Oct. 1, 2007, we were acquired by SHOWA Glove (http://www.showa-glove.com), speaking of consolidation. With that said, we are two privately held companies, so we don't really speak to percent of sales and where it's coming from, but certainly we have an amazing global reach compared to all of our competitors in this business.

Just a few points, for example: We have manufacturing here in the United States, in Georgia and Alabama. We have manufacturing facilities in Canada, as well as in Central America, Vietnam, Malaysia and Japan. So from a manufacturing standpoint, I'm saying we have the biggest global reach in the glove business and that also ties into these two organizations, SHOWA Glove and Best, getting together. We employ direct factory representation, so from a “feet on the street” and direct contact with the end-user standpoints, our dynamics have certainly changed since October 2007.

EHS: Are there any hot hand protection products in 2008? What about Best's line of Hi-Tech gloves? Will that be a strong performer in 2008?

BA: In general, we've seen continued demand for some of the premium hand protection, especially in the high chemical resistance and our cut-resistant new rollouts. Also, we expect a strong 2008 from our high-visibility products that we are now starting to offer to the construction market.

EHS: Some safety distributors are branching into training and other services. Are Best's distributors going in that direction?

BA: In the glove business, really, we've provided hand and arm protection training at the end-user level free of charge forever. We also provide really detailed chemical-resistance guides in our ChemRest chemical resistance program. I can certainly tell you that education's been a big part of the glove business and a big part of Best.

For end-users, our training includes what we refer to as our hand-and-arms assessment. Here, we actually send a person into the end user's facility — one of our direct representatives — and they evaluate the hand protection that is used. They also make recommendations, and note any hazards that they observe. Our representatives also suggest needed changes in the operations, and they also provide a cost-to-wear analysis for the end-user.

(EHS editor's note: Best Glove Co.'s http://www.chemrest.com Web site is a dedicated web portal that contains all the information one needs to correctly select the most applicable and protective chemical resistant glove for multiple potentially hazardous applications.)

EHS: Are there any nontraditional markets for PPE that you see growth in for 2008, or that Best is exploring?

BA: Nontraditional is sometimes tough to define. Certainly we are taking a look at expanding our retail offering, and certainly our health care offering, as well as what we provide to the automotive aftermarket.

We have a whole new line of high visibility products coming out that we expect to have great success. This product line is applicable to construction, which might by definition be considered a nontraditional channel.

We've always been very active in NFPA-compliant products. We have a whole range of products that comply. These can be used in hazmat and law enforcement and EMS, etc. I would consider these areas to be somewhat of a nontraditional channel for people that are in our business.

EHS: Do you have any concerns over quality of imported PPE products, especially those from China?

BA: I still don't believe, overall, that their quality is at the level of a manufacturer like Best. U.S. vendors have an edge in the quality area, I believe.

I read somewhere that the rate of growth for imported PPE products was going to be 10 percent in 2008, and really, what that says to me is that we've been battling low-cost imports for over 15 years, and a 10 percent growth rate in a given year doesn't really alarm me at all, because, again, this is a battle we've been fighting for a long time. Certainly you can say that there's a differentiation in quality and support, so actually I'm quite encouraged that low-cost imports are only expected to rise 10 percent in 2008.

EHS: What are your areas of interest outside the office?

BA: I'm a family guy. I have three daughters, so when I'm not here, I'm bonding with the family.


Michael Keating is the research editor for EHS Today. He can be reached at [email protected].

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