As pioneers of speciality cleaning products, AF International has created a lucrative market niche by helping companies clean up their workspaces
As you would expect from a group of companies that has been manufacturing speciality chemical products for more than 50 years, AF International generates opportunity by keeping updated on all the very latest market developments.
From its manufacturing sites in the UK, China and Brazil, AF supplies a complete range of office-based cleaning products to a global customer base. Its parent company, HK Wentworth Group, is one of Europe’s leading manufacturing companies in the field of speciality chemicals and has a strong reputation for investing in R&D.
AF was one of the first players in this marketplace. It has developed its range alongside technical innovation and changing health and safety practices and legislation, with the aim of ensuring it always offers the consumer the appropriate product for their specific cleaning requirement.
Manufacturing and R&D facilities in China were opened more than four years ago to service the Asian market, with a wholly owned subsidiary and factory in Beijing and a JV in Shanghai.
Over the past 18 months, AF has extended its overseas operations by expanding rapidly into the Asian OP market. From being an unknown brand, AF has swiftly built an impressive reputation alongside significant sales growth.
Expansion into the growing markets of the Far East was an important goal within AF’s business plans and the company says it is extremely pleased with the success and growth demonstrated so far.
AF developed a strategic marketing campaign designed specifically to meet the needs of the Chinese OP sector. In order to consolidate its position within this sector, AF attended key international exhibitions such as Paperworld China and ISOT in Japan, as well as developing a uniquely packaged range of products specifically aimed at the Chinese and Asian markets.
Sharon Zhang, AF’s China general manager, tells OPI: “The sales team was tasked with growing the business in Asia and it has achieved great success. It has placed AF within several key catalogue distributors.”
And Ron Jakeman, group managing director, says: “We are delighted with the success of the AF brand in Asia. AF has been positioned successfully as a great value, quality range and this has enabled us to expand at a very fast rate into these markets. Education within this growing market is incredibly important for AF in order to convey why cleaning ICT equipment is so important in reducing the spread of infection and making working environments more productive places.
“Another benefit of being in Asia is that when you have your own company in China, you are able to control the manufacture and the quality of the products being produced. It is then very easy to supply high-quality products at very competitive prices not only in Asia but also to our customers in the rest of the world. We decided a long time ago that sourcing from China, the Far East or even Eastern Europe was not for us but manufacturing certainly was.
“It is also easy to produce products made from recycled materials that are themselves recyclable – there is a strong culture of recycling in China, as anybody who has left their stand unattended at the end of an exhibition there will know; everything disappears to the recyclers.
“The only real issue we had was finding the right quality paper for our wipes. We were determined not to use polyviscose wipes – they may look nice but they aren’t environmentally friendly. Eventually we decided to import pulp board from Canada and now we actually produce our own paper for the wipes in our JV.”
AF private label
As a global manufacturer of private-label products, to complement its own long- established branded product range, AF benefits from access to the group R&D facility. AF has continued to set the standard in creating specialist cleaning products that meet end-user needs. The now extensive range of products provides a solution for all office-based cleaning needs. AF is one of the few companies in this market that actually manufactures the products it sells. Jakeman says: “Our position on supplying private-label products is quite straightforward. We are one of the few specialist manufacturers of cleaning products – this is our core competence. We offer our customers either AF Brand or private-label manufacture and have found that if our customers offer their customers both brand and private label, higher sales revenues are generated on the private-label products. The reason is that our support of the brand creates additional awareness of the need for cleaning and we all benefit.”
With enhanced manufacturing capabilities and a simple cost-effective supply chain, AF provides its customers with an extensive, value-added product range of ICT cleaning products that meet all office needs.
AF is able to offer a full range of products in private label for high-volume orders. For smaller volume orders AF has an extensive range of stock kept in the UK, the US, South America, Australia and the Far East, allowing it to offer competitively priced private label in smaller quantities.
Jakeman adds: “By putting their name to these products our private-label customers know they are putting their name to the best quality products on the market at very competitive prices. Our customers can choose their own product offering from our product range, which far surpasses that of any other manufacturer. They have the advantage of the R&D that has been carried out by our team to manufacture this range of products to the highest standards. We also have the capability to work with our customers to create unique products.”
Dangers and legislation
AF has been concerned for some time with the confusion in the marketplace surrounding airdusters – the name alone can be confusing for the consumer.
Airdusters, spraydusters and compressed gas products are widely used in the office environment, where a blast of high pressure air removes dust and debris from keyboards, the inside of hardware and other equipment.
Traditionally the gases used have been non-flammable so they can be safely used on live electrical equipment. A common scenario is that the keyboard has filled with dust and crumbs and a quick spray of non-flammable airduster blasts this away without having to stop work and turn off the computer.
Users of these airdusters should be aware that some manufacturers are actually replacing the non-flammable propellant gas with flammable gas. If users are not aware of this change they could be putting themselves and their colleagues at risk. Flammable airdusters will almost certainly be filled with a butane and propane mixture – the same gases used in cigarette lighters and a plumber’s blowtorch!
There is a danger that by using a flammable airduster without turning off the equipment, and any nearby equipment, the gas could potentially ignite.
There are two reasons why some manufacturers have started to use flammable gas in these products. Firstly, availability of the non-flammable gas used has decreased due to reduced production, and so the price of this gas has rocketed over recent years. As a result the manufacturers of low-cost airdusters simply cannot afford the more expensive non-flammable gas. Secondly by using the flammable gas, their products are being marketed as HFC-free, with the implication that they are more environmentally friendly. This is very much a moot point.
The use of flammable-gas airdusters may also have wider repercussions. Distributors who store them on a large scale in a warehouse may be required by their insurers to install additional fire protection such as warehouse sprinkler systems or fire breaks. There may also be additional requirements with final delivery to the customers, which results in increasing difficulty and expense, together with additional paperwork.
It is imperative that users of compressed airdusters carefully check the product they are using to see if it has a new flammable symbol, as well as checking the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) before using it.
AF believes that, for safety reasons, a non-flammable airduster should be the industry norm, and will continue to supply this product in accordance with statutory regulations. It is mindful of the need to protect the environment and is actively seeking, over the medium to long term, alternative gas combinations that fulfill the non-flammability requirement and also meet environmental-protection needs.
Should any of its private-label customers specifically require a flammable airduster then it can, of course, supply these very competitively, but AF would not wish to supply flammable airdusters under its brand.
AF is completely aware of all of the relevant legislation, complies in full and applies best practices in all of its manufacturing locations.
Jakeman says: “When you are supplying cleaning products your customers expect, quite rightly, for you to be the experts and to take care of all the regulatory requirements. We have the structure and experience to do this.
“It still comes as a surprise, particularly where we are evaluating competitors’ products, that there are serious omissions in the health and safety data supplied, and that in many cases these are handwritten. There is a legal requirement to supply on the first purchase of any hazardous product, or any change, an MSDS to the end customer. For example, aerosols are classified as hazardous – this can be onerous, but we’ve invested in systems to cope with this.”
Bugs… Use wipes that work!
It is always in the media that the quantity of bacteria found on keyboards, screens and telephones compares with the number of germs found on a toilet seat. AF recently tested its wipes to find out how much bacteria the product can actually kill. They were found to kill 99.9 percent.
The average office worker will undoubtedly eat at their desk, if not everyday then at least every now and again. In order to avoid food poisoning (one of the illnesses caused by Staphylococcus bacteria), keeping desks and workspaces clean with products like AF’s Foamclene is essential, as food can become contaminated by the bacteria on the surfaces.
Absenteeism… Winter is not far away
The common cold and other respiratory viruses are the most frequent acute illnesses in the world. Their transmission is exceedingly easy and treatment is difficult. Infection is passed to another person via a variety of routes; not least from the surfaces of PCs, telephones and office equipment. These germs can remain viable for several hours. If telephones and other equipment are shared, it’s no wonder that colds spread like wildfire. The cost of absenteeism through illness is the UK economy’s single biggest annual loss. The bare minimum cost to employers of worker absence (not including the cost to the economy in lost productivity) is over £500 million ($1 billion) in wages and benefits paid for work not done. And 192 million working days were lost last year, costing the economy £11.2 billion in revenue. Even a moderate reduction in the incidence of colds and flu would therefore be of significant benefit to employers and the economy in general.
AF has created specialised formulations that not only clean effectively and hygienically, but also reduce the level of infection through viruses. Cleaning your work space will help eliminate bugs, create a cleaner office environment and reduce the transfer of germs that can cause illness.