Hitch-Hiker / Personal Protected
How One Amusement Industry Leader Innovated Its Way
Through The Pandemic
By: Ron Weber
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
As the saying goes — “When life gives you lemons — make lemonade”. That's easier said than done for most, and especially during this past year which posed so many challenges for the outdoor amusement industry.
Jeff Swartz of Hitch-Hiker Manufacturing was just recovering from February 2020 hip surgery when the effects of the Covid-19 Pandemic began to be felt. Swartz delivered 3-4 trailers in late March and early April as customers hoped for only a short pause, but discussions of new builds and pre-orders began to slow and then altogether stopped, as amusement industry closures continued and the future became less and less uncertain.
Some customers who were in production on trailers asked to put the progress on hold while others, remaining hopeful, pushed to open. But as the situation became more dire, even the most optimistic of customers asked to hold back on new equipment production.
As Swartz ruminated on the pandemic and what it would take to reopen, Daily media and Governor briefings were encouraging everyone to wash hands, stay 6ft. apart and wear a mask, a refrain that is now all too familiar to us.
It occurred to Swartz, while discussing the news in a casual office meeting, that two of those items, hand washing and social distancing, were something his company could assist with.
An idea quickly came to mind and Swartz retreated to his office to sketch out his idea for getting businesses open. His idea addressed not only combined hand washing and social distancing aspects, but also brought into play an element he is constantly aware of with his amusement business experience — volume.
With a sketch in hand, Swartz showed the rendering to the office staff in his office and from their reaction — he knew he was on to something that could provide a much needed solution for businesses during the pandemic and beyond.
He immediately went to work on fabrication, repurposing personnel to the new project.
About a week later, they had drawings prepared, patent applications filed and their first new prototype — a four person hand washing station that provided distance barriers between users and quick, easy access to keeping hands clean. Best of all, it could provide these services to large numbers of people per hour — up to 720.
Swartz reached beyond the amusement business for his first customer, showing it to former OSU football coach and now Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel.
In late April and May, Tressel visited the Hitch-Hiker facility and quickly saw this was the solution and tool for helping get students back on campus. Tressel envisioned the units being featured at entrances to large gathering areas such as the student halls, and Tressel placed an order for the first 10 units, supporting a local manufacturer in the process. Positioned in high volume areas, the 10 units can wash 7200 sets of hands per hour!
Swartz realized that the market for this equipment reached well beyond the amusement business so he decided to start a new company that better reflected the product's target.
Personal Protected was born.
Full article and photos on carnivalwarehouse.com