A New Sanitizer Offers Big Change in a Small Package

Seeing a need for a more attractive, permanent solution, Jon Olsen developed the Vaask dispenser.

Sometimes, a small change can go by the boards. It might be something you don’t consider. But that seemingly minor change may just be a bellwether for coming shifts in an industry’s landscape.

In 2021, Jon Olsen introduced one such change: the Vaask permanent sanitizer dispenser.

Inspired by the Norwegian word for “wash,” Vaask—pronounced V-ahh-sk—came about based on Olsen’s desire for a higher class of clean. With an emphasis on sophisticated design and exacting engineering, Vaask redefines sanitizer dispensers with a modern design in mind, he says.

It all began with an idea that came to him after the coronavirus was declared a pandemic in March of 2020. Olsen, an engineer by training, was using sanitizer to keep his hands clean like everyone else amid the uncertainty. Yet, he was put off by the plastic, boxy, temporary-looking sanitizer dispenser designs that had begun to pop up everywhere.

“Why couldn’t there be a dispenser that was aesthetically pleasing that also got the job done?” he wondered. So, he literally took matters into his own hands and came up with a solution, which lives in his home’s entryway today.

Driven to Innovate

“What inspired me to create Vaask was the realization that no matter the quality of the space, hand sanitizer fixtures were all the same, whether you were in a five-star hotel or a fast-food restaurant,” Olsen explains. “High-end spaces expect high-end solutions. Every space I walked into had eyesores on every wall and counter. The other motivation was to address the lack of handwashing. Our research found that one in five people don’t wash their hands and, of those who do, less than half use soap. Hand sanitizer is an easy solution in helping to reduce the spread of germs.”

While his focus was on creating an attractive-looking product, he realized that the internal engineering of most existing units left a lot to be desired. Constructed chiefly of cheap parts, many of them were short-term solutions.

From the start, Olsen based his design on precision and durability. Each touchless Vaask unit is built using cast aluminum, hard-wired to AC power, and carries a five-year warranty. While that shows that Olsen is putting his money where his mouth is, it’s the internals that separate Vaask from other dispensers.

It features a PalmPilot hand sensor and a precision pump control that automatically stops the sanitizer feed when one’s hand moves away; LEDs that draw in potential users and notify staff when sanitizer levels are low; an easily refillable tank that can hold up to 2 liters of alcohol-based gel; and a pumping system that ensures no leaks or contamination.

Design to Complement Any Space

“My first prototype was a piece of furniture, but we soon learned furniture is specific to taste,” Olsen says. “We wanted to build a more universal design that can be used for all spaces. Every aspect of this product was developed based on feedback from engineers, architects, designers, end-users, and other experts.”

Working through seven different iterations of the prototype, Olsen and his team made a series of incremental improvements, such as modifying how the unit is serviced and filled; making it ADA-compliant; shifting from a sensor to laser range finding for a better user experience, and even changing its positioning within a space.

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“One of the early prototypes was a shadow box design that mounts to the surface of the wall,” he explains. “The design made it look like the back disappeared, but it was still surface-mounted. However, after getting input from designers and operators who showed a preference for recessed units, we made that change as well.”

As far as fitting into a range of spaces and designs, the Vaask faceplate and arms come standard in all black or all white or can be customized in a wide variety of plated metal and powder coating options.

Hitting Complementary Markets

Olsen gave a good deal of thought to the markets he wanted to serve.

“Fitness was one of the first markets we wanted to target,” he says. “It’s a space where paying customers care very much about cleanliness. Also, operators are very interested in making cleanliness and sanitization a feature they can promote to future customers. We also wanted to target high-end hotels. Common areas of hotels are very carefully designed. However, the sanitizer is usually an afterthought that detracts from the design, and we’ve found that operators are interested in removing them.”

Thus far, Olsen has found that demand for Vaask has been brisk.

“Seeing is believing for this product,” he says. “Innovative designers and forward-thinking operators immediately recognize the value that this brings to their space. These sorts of people

want Vaask in their spaces yesterday. This is a product that makes sense, and demand is very good.”

That said, he notes, “Moving to a permanent, durable product requires a shift in thinking away from the throw-away mentality. Accepting that they should be spending more to get this requires a forward-thinking individual.”

As for what’s next, Olsen notes that Vaask is working to introduce graphic fronts to the dispensers.

“The solid aluminum component provides a perfect canvas for any design,” he notes. “Soon, we’ll be able to provide customers with everything from their logo to eye-catching artwork. We’re constantly innovating and expanding the possibilities with our product line. We’re always looking for ways to encourage cleanliness in a commercial environment through design and technology.”

Manufactured in Austin, Texas, Vaask units range from $1,200 to $2,200, depending on the finishes and level of customization. The only accessories are the refillable sanitizer tank and high-end bulk and single-use sanitizer. Vaask will soon add a wall-frame model to allow for permanent surface mounting, a table-top unit that would be ideal on counters, and a freestanding version.

To learn more about Vaask, visit the company’s website.

Jon Feld

Jon Feld is a contributor to Club Business International.