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Renes Story

"The call from the Norwegian"

It all started with my father, Hans Wåhlstam, who at the beginning of time developed Ultra Gel, a product that would become the springboard for the future.

He left the job at Barnängen and moved into a basement room in the SOHO of Stockholm. The door sign Konsultbolaget R&D New Products and Stockholm Analytical did not directly appear to be a burgeoning future promise. But history would show otherwise.

Ultra Gel was sold to hospitals. “Good things die hard” and it is still produced today and has been the basis for our entire product development. Unlike then, when a lack of own production caused a friend to take care of it, we have our own production now.

From 40 to 80 sqm

Like father like son as one usually says. I might not have his reading head and academic interest, but entrepreneurship attracted me. Although that particular insight had not landed in 1975 when ABBA’s “S.O.S” and 10cc’s “Not Not In Love” topped the charts and I, as a 15-year-old, started working extra for my dad packing Ultra Gel.

Four years later, dad stepped down, attracted by a job as development manager at Mölnlycke. Two years later, in 1981, just 21 years old, I took the step fully and shouldered all ownership of the business. At the same time as my life really began, my dad’s life ended. Shortly thereafter, he unfortunately passed away quickly in an asthma attack.

I started off in a modest 40 sqm room. The sales budget was also modest which was based on selling analyses for SEK 500 / day and Ultra Gel for the same amount. When I did not reach the budget, I called the customers to fill the incoming orders. I brought in a colleague to gear up the calls and have to admit that we exceeded our expectations.

We knew outsourcing production meant lower margins and we had a hard time getting the business going. Instead, we rented a new space of 80 sqm and started our own manufacturing. Far from high-tech I admit. In a 50-liter drum with a metal welded spoon, a spirit level connected to a floor well and water that was manually collected in a 2-liter jug from a tap in the broom closet, we started to produce smaller batches of the only product we had so far.

From 40 to 80 sqm

Like father like son as one usually says. I might not have his reading head and academic interest, but entrepreneurship attracted me. Although that particular insight had not landed in 1975 when ABBA’s “S.O.S” and 10cc’s “Not Not In Love” topped the charts and I, as a 15-year-old, started working extra for my dad packing Ultra Gel.

Four years later, dad stepped down, attracted by a job as development manager at Mölnlycke. Two years later, in 1981, just 21 years old, I took the step fully and shouldered all ownership of the business. At the same time as my life really began, my dad’s life ended. Shortly thereafter, he unfortunately passed away quickly in an asthma attack.

I started off in a modest 40 sqm room. The sales budget was also modest which was based on selling analyses for SEK 500 / day and Ultra Gel for the same amount. When I did not reach the budget, I called the customers to fill the incoming orders. I brought in a colleague to gear up the calls and have to admit that we exceeded our expectations.

We knew outsourcing production meant lower margins and we had a hard time getting the business going. Instead, we rented a new space of 80 sqm and started our own manufacturing. Far from high-tech I admit. In a 50-liter drum with a metal welded spoon, a spirit level connected to a floor well and water that was manually collected in a 2-liter jug from a tap in the broom closet, we started to produce smaller batches of the only product we had so far.

An odd assignment...

Strengthened by our (relative) success, we soon realised our thoughts on developing essences for spirits and liqueurs that where pitched at a BP station nearby. It was probably more a fun whim than a well thought out industrial idea (but it would play a key role at a later date). You have to have some fun too. Joy gives birth to success and soon we again invested in a larger costume; 120 sqm with lab and production. With the entrepreneur’s zeal and ingenuity, we managed to come across a 500-liter tank that we found in the attic of my old school.

We did already set high goals for us but, if possible, they became even higher when one of our customers asked if we could produce shampoo and soap. Before we even thought about it, we purchased a 1500-liter tank, mounted a propeller in the bottom and taped a dip heater at the opening. We never came further than that as the customer soon went bust. A financial blow to us, and a failure. But also, a very useful learning.

A Norwegian story

Unaffected by the blows we kept on fighting, convinced that the success was around the corner. It lasted until 1983. Then the phone rang and from the handset came the voice of a Norwegian named Svein Hall. He had tested Ultra Gel and wanted to start selling it to hospitals in Norway. Based on our experience, we did not bet all our money on same horse but started cautiously producing 1 ton.

Shortly thereafter he asked us if we could produce other things. I sent him a sample collection with some essences, liniment and a hand cream in gift format that I had produced for another customers ad campaign. Didn’t hear a thing from him. Several months passed. Half a year. We thought Svein was gone and the cardboard box probably collecting dust in his basement.

When Svein eventually cleaned up his supplies, he found a cracked bottle of the “promotional item” with hand cream at the bottom of the box. This gave him the idea to develop a skin lotion for the Norwegian healthcare system.

The packaging obviously left a lot to be desired, which is why we visited Scanbech in Denmark, which had developed a stylish, stable, square 500 ml bottle. Our Norwegian friend ordered 1000 units the first week, 5000 the second week and after a few more weeks 10,000 units. It was clear that Norwegian hands liked our skin lotion. The product sold like hot cakes to hospitals and pharmacies and became the No 1 Body Lotion in Norway.

This Norwegian success meant that we grew very fast and needed to seriously increase our capacity. Once again, we had to get bigger space. The entire 200 sqm we had, turned quickly out to be too small. Most of the premises became a warehouse for finished goods and took important space from production. We thus rented some space from the neighbour and knocked out a wall to get enough room to separate the filling from the production. It became the starting point for better production and paved the way for Good Manufacturing Procedure (GMP).

A Norwegian story

Unaffected by the blows we kept on fighting, convinced that the success was around the corner. It lasted until 1983. Then the phone rang and from the handset came the voice of a Norwegian named Svein Hall. He had tested Ultra Gel and wanted to start selling it to hospitals in Norway. Based on our experience, we did not bet all our money on same horse but started cautiously producing 1 ton.

Shortly thereafter he asked us if we could produce other things. I sent him a sample collection with some essences, liniment and a hand cream in gift format that I had produced for another customers ad campaign. Didn’t hear a thing from him. Several months passed. Half a year. We thought Svein was gone and the cardboard box probably collecting dust in his basement.

When Svein eventually cleaned up his supplies, he found a cracked bottle of the “promotional item” with hand cream at the bottom of the box. This gave him the idea to develop a skin lotion for the Norwegian healthcare system.

The packaging obviously left a lot to be desired, which is why we visited Scanbech in Denmark, which had developed a stylish, stable, square 500 ml bottle. Our Norwegian friend ordered 1000 units the first week, 5000 the second week and after a few more weeks 10,000 units. It was clear that Norwegian hands liked our skin lotion. The product sold like hot cakes to hospitals and pharmacies and became the No 1 Body Lotion in Norway.

This Norwegian success meant that we grew very fast and needed to seriously increase our capacity. Once again, we had to get bigger space. The entire 200 sqm we had, turned quickly out to be too small. Most of the premises became a warehouse for finished goods and took important space from production. We thus rented some space from the neighbour and knocked out a wall to get enough room to separate the filling from the production. It became the starting point for better production and paved the way for Good Manufacturing Procedure (GMP).

A tough buyer and a name change

As one knows, the apple does not fall far from the pear tree, and I asked myself the obvious question: Why couldn’t the same product work in Swedish hospitals?

My first call went to the Stockholm County Council where I came in contact with an impossibly tough and stubborn buyer who refused to be convinced. After several long meetings, he began to soften and started to realise that it was just such a product that his nurses were looking for. Before being released through the needle eye, we had to undergo several tests and get approvals from various professors. A new name was developed: Dermosil, which had a good tone and relevance we thought. It became so popular amongst hospital staff (most of them brought it home for their own use) that the planned annual consumption was reached after only one month.

Now it became really serious and it was high time to get our ducks in a row. A new period of rapid growth followed, and we improved both our capacity and efficiency.

A shopping trip to Denmark where I traded steam boilers, generators, melting tanks, pumps etc. was combined with a sales tour. While the equipment went by truck to Stockholm, I sold Dermosil to the County Councils in the south of Sweden and then returned to the capital to assemble all the new equipment. No moss is growing on a rolling stone, so during the same trip I used the evenings to develop the soap SH Cream Soap. A product that remains and lives in wealth still today.

A tough buyer and a name change

As one knows, the apple does not fall far from the pear tree, and I asked myself the obvious question: Why couldn’t the same product work in Swedish hospitals?

My first call went to the Stockholm County Council where I came in contact with an impossibly tough and stubborn buyer who refused to be convinced. After several long meetings, he began to soften and started to realise that it was just such a product that his nurses were looking for. Before being released through the needle eye, we had to undergo several tests and get approvals from various professors. A new name was developed: Dermosil, which had a good tone and relevance we thought. It became so popular amongst hospital staff (most of them brought it home for their own use) that the planned annual consumption was reached after only one month.

Now it became really serious and it was high time to get our ducks in a row. A new period of rapid growth followed, and we improved both our capacity and efficiency.

A shopping trip to Denmark where I traded steam boilers, generators, melting tanks, pumps etc. was combined with a sales tour. While the equipment went by truck to Stockholm, I sold Dermosil to the County Councils in the south of Sweden and then returned to the capital to assemble all the new equipment. No moss is growing on a rolling stone, so during the same trip I used the evenings to develop the soap SH Cream Soap. A product that remains and lives in wealth still today.

The sunbed that went out

First, we took Norway. Later Finland. By chance really. Expanding to Finland was not a stated strategy, but as a result of Arne showing up at the BP station and challenging us to produce a whiskey essence that actually tasted good. With childlike enthusiasm, we accepted the challenge, and managed to impress him with what we produced.

Arne then introduced me to his cousin Klas who owned a solarium in Finland with a companion named Henry. They wanted a tanning lotion to sell.  However, the “solarium sun” went out for me when they sold it.

But I kept in touch with Henry who was stuck with an empty factory where he previously made jeans. We came to talk about new opportunities and after a while Henry decided to use the factory to sell Dermosil. It became, as the story goes, the beginning of a long-standing business relationship that still exists today.

A sunshine story with far better lustre than the solar project. Henry today runs the company Dermoshop, one of our oldest and largest partners.

The sunbed that went out

First, we took Norway. Later Finland. By chance really. Expanding to Finland was not a stated strategy, but as a result of Arne showing up at the BP station and challenging us to produce a whiskey essence that actually tasted good. With childlike enthusiasm, we accepted the challenge, and managed to impress him with what we produced.

Arne then introduced me to his cousin Klas who owned a solarium in Finland with a companion named Henry. They wanted a tanning lotion to sell.  However, the “solarium sun” went out for me when they sold it.

But I kept in touch with Henry who was stuck with an empty factory where he previously made jeans. We came to talk about new opportunities and after a while Henry decided to use the factory to sell Dermosil. It became, as the story goes, the beginning of a long-standing business relationship that still exists today.

A sunshine story with far better lustre than the solar project. Henry today runs the company Dermoshop, one of our oldest and largest partners.

Still as fun

A few more years have passed. The products, customers and employees have become more numerous. Like the number of square feet.

Today we live in a plant of over 7500 sqm in Stockholm. Our capacity has multiplied several times over and we aim to double our turnover by 2025.

We continue with our winning recipe; to develop unique products together with our customers and secure production of the highest quality.

To live the dream. Love every minute. And honouring Dad’s springboard.

Still as fun

A few more years have passed. The products, customers and employees have become more numerous. Like the number of square feet.

Today we live in a plant of over 7500 sqm in Stockholm. Our capacity has multiplied several times over and we aim to double our turnover by 2025.

We continue with our winning recipe; to develop unique products together with our customers and secure production of the highest quality.

To live the dream. Love every minute. And honouring Dad’s springboard.

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