Turns out there’s a Forest City connection to hotel rooms and cruise ships all over the world. Who knew?
Photo: Dispenser Amenities Inc. president, Ian Wallace
LONG BEFORE WE began ditching plastic grocery bags, rethinking plastic straws and supporting charities that haul great gobs of garbage from the oceans, Ian Wallace was helping divert millions of plastic bottles from the waste stream.
From an unassuming office on Newbold Street. In London, Ontario.
Almost 25 years ago, Dispenser Amenities Inc. popularized the notion of refillable dispensers for soap, shampoo and lotions in hotels, motels and cruise ships. It’s no exaggeration to say the company has stopped the use and disposal of millions of tiny, single-use bottles — the kind that were mainstays in hotels for decades but are being phased out all around the world.
Wallace didn’t collect the old bottles or fish them out of the ocean. He simply helped his customers avoid buying them altogether.
“We don’t usually talk about ourselves, but I have to admit, I’m proud of the fact that we’ve kept those bottles out of the waste stream,” Wallace says. “We pioneered the whole thing.”
Thirty years ago, Wallace and a Toronto-based partner had the worldwide rights for a mould of the first soap dispenser designed for use in showers. They were selling them through retail channels for home use. In 1997, they split the company in two: Wallace created Dispenser Amenities and focused entirely on the hospitality market while his partner continued with the retail market. That company continues today, selling dispensers through retailers like Home Depot and Lowe’s.
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Wallace, meanwhile, built a global empire selling dispensers to every part of the hospitality industry, literally around the globe. The company has 60 designs, ranging from basic to elegant, sleek to industrial. All can be customized with the hotel brand as required. When hotels are built or renovated, Dispenser Amenities products go into the bathrooms and showers.
Dispenser Amenities is the exclusive supplier to Carnival and Norwegian cruise lines, not the best news in 2020. However, in two years or so, when pent-up travel demand mixes with lockdown-inspired savings among typical travelers and worldwide vaccination success, it’s easy to imagine the travel industry roaring back to life.
“All our customers are hurting right now, for sure,” Wallace says. “But we’re not in any danger. And you know people are anxious to get out of the house when things get back to normal.”
Dispensers are manufactured in Taiwan, where the company has a warehouse and sales office. It also has a European sales office. In London, there are eight employees at the head office and warehouse.
Dispenser Amenities also sells the liquids that go into its dispensers. Produced in Concord, Ontario and sold in five-gallon containers, soap, shampoo and lotions are shipped to customers in North and South America. It’s too expensive to ship heavy liquids elsewhere in the world.
Wherever its customers get their liquids, they’re buying in bulk, avoiding the cost and environmental damage of single-use bottles.
It’s not that Wallace is against polymers. He just prefers the ones that last for years and are used indefinitely. The kind in hotel rooms from London to Los Angeles, Bangkok to Barcelona, and hundreds of places in between. Christopher Clark