Hunter Amenities 40th Anniversary
It all started with mouthwash in vending machines for John Hunter, Founder and CEO of Hunter Amenities International.
John was a business student at the University of Western when he had the idea to make vending machines filled with mouthwash that could be used at restaurants, bars, convenience stores, and hotels. “We were at dinner one night and my brother’s wife made a comment on how there should be mouthwash available in restaurant washrooms which sparked the idea in my head.” After careful consideration, John decided to leave his studies at Western to focus on his new business idea and started selling his vending machines to every establishment he could, but it wasn’t the success he was hoping due to bad timing. “I started the business right in the middle of a recession in 1981 and it turned out to be a bit of a disaster. No one wanted to spend a lot of money putting in vending machines in restaurants and hotels at the time.” Despite his vending machine idea not working out as planned, John continued to pursue his belief in personal care amenity products for the hospitality industry, which was a blossoming trend in hospitality in the early 80’s.
Luckily, John’s confidence in his business idea was justifiable as personal care amenities became part of the new standard for the hospitality industry. “It’s hard for most to believe that the amenities we see in today’s establishments were not always there, but they weren’t. Before 1979, restaurants and hotels would just put a bar of soap in bathrooms, so I thought there was a big opportunity to do more there.” As more and more hotels began to offer shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, and other products, Hunter Amenities quickly saw business pick up with large Canadian contract deals for Canadian Pacific, CN Hotels and Best Western as well as their first US contract with Best Western.
During this time, the company also got into producing other items such as eyeshades and VIP travel bags for Air Canada and American Express Travel despite never making these types of accessory products before. “My philosophy has always been that if there is an opportunity to provide a product, seize the chance and worry about the details later.” As business continued, John quickly realized that the bigger market was in the U.S. and abroad, so Hunter Amenities bought a small manufacturing company in Flint Michigan which got them into the Las Vegas market and allowed them to become the sole supplier for recently opened hotels such as MGM, Bellagio, Mirage, Treasure Island, and others.
Once Hunter Amenities increased its footprint in the U.S., the company continued its expansion into other markets and developed into an industry leader that offered a one-stop shop for global hotel chains. “There weren’t really any global amenity suppliers for the hospitality industry at that time, so Hunter created a ‘strategic amenity alliance’ SAA in 2006 with two companies from Singapore and the Netherlands to offer international hotel companies a supplier that could support all their global properties. The alliance allowed us to create a global solution for the hospitality industry which hadn’t been done yet really.” The alliance proved to be a winning strategy, allowing Hunter to win global supply contracts one by one, with international hotel companies like Hyatt, Four Seasons, Starwood, Club Med and many more.
Through the course of the last 20+ years, Hunter has made many acquisitions bolstering its manufacturing prowess with manufacturing and sales offices in China, India, Malaysia, and Australia to name a few. Growing a global business has not been easy though, excluding the past year and half due to travel restrictions, John is typically on the road at least 100 days a year, logging more than 250,000 miles of international flight annually so he can expand the business he started when he was just 21 years old. Global crises and challenges, such as Sars in 2003, the financial collapse in 2008, and most recently the COVID-19 pandemic, have also brought adversity for the company, forcing it to innovate and adapt over the years. “When COVID-19 escalated into a global pandemic, the hospitality industry was the first and hardest hit as travel restrictions came into effect. For the first time in Hunter Amenities’ history, no one was travelling and staying at hotels.” Due to this unprecedented situation, in March 2020, Canadian operations at Hunter Amenities were temporarily closed and employees laid off. To minimize the length of the layoff, the company created a skeleton staff that worked long hours to try and find a solution that would save the company. During the period of 6 short, very fast weeks, Hunter Amenities worked with Health Canada and the Federal Drug and Administration to apply for new manufacturing certifications which allowed the company to make sanitizing products for both Canada and US markets. “The past year and a half have been one of the most difficult challenges our company has ever faced, but we didn’t give up and I am so proud of our team. The cards were stacked against us and we made our company stronger for the future.”
Despite there still being some time before the travel and hospitality industries go back to normal and the challenges of COVID-19 are over, 2021 is a year of celebration for Hunter Amenities as last month marked the company’s official 40th year anniversary. What started off as a small, summer business in 1981, has turned into an award winning, global company with 5 manufacturing facilities and more than 1,200 employees globally which supply hospitality and retail customers in over 100 countries.
What makes John proudest after 40 years of business? “The fact that no matter where someone stays in the world, there is a high probability that the amenity products they are using in their hotel bathroom are from Hunter Amenities. You’d never think a small Burlington company could be number one in an industry that is as global as the one we are in, but we are. It is truly amazing, and I am so thankful for our incredible employees and partners that have enabled us to get here.”