For the last few weeks, Gatineau-based car dealership OB Prestige has given away thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer to members of the community – and there’s still plenty more to go around.
OB Prestige’s owner, Olivier Benloulou, has a large stock of hand sanitizer that he says could last until 2023. Initially planning on selling bottles and cases individually, Benloulou decided to support the local community by giving cases away for free.
“[The COVID-19 pandemic] is worse than ever, and people need protection,” said Benloulou. “The worst wave is here now, and people are in need. I intend on giving sanitizer away until my stocks are gone.”
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Those interested can drive by the dealership – located at 1380 Boulevard Gréber – and honk their car horn twice. Someone will attend to them and give them a case of sanitizer.
Benloulou saw the importance of availability for hand sanitizer when the pandemic began. As the owner of both a hand sanitizer company and company that manufactures health products and antibiotics, he found that a lot of people turned to him with questions about producing hand sanitizer.
He was also motivated to produce hand sanitizer after becoming angered by a combination of issues that led to scarcity: stocking issues and price gauging. In other words, people were stocking up on sanitizer in large quantities, as they did with toilet paper, at the start of the pandemic. Retailers reacted by jacking up the price of these products.
“I really feel that it’s not right to do it when it’s a necessity,” Benloulou said. “I felt it was abusive to ask for so much money for something so essential for people to protect their own safety.”
Initially, Benloulou planned to sell the sanitizer at an affordable price – but recently, he chose to take an even more helpful approach to distributing the product.
“When the second and third wave quickly happened, we had new variants and more people were getting sick,” he explained. “I realized that now was the time to act. I thought, ‘how can I help?’ My way to help was to give the products away to people in need.”
He announced online that he would give away a case of 24 bottles for free to anyone who stopped by over the course of a week. He estimates that 10,000 bottles were given away during the week. Extending the opportunity for another week, he found that interest only grew – he estimates that 15,000 bottles were handed out during the second week.
Realizing the positive impact that the free cases could make on the community, he decided to offer the opportunity permanently.
“There are so many kinds of people who come to get products: people from construction, people with businesses, mothers with kids, daycare operators, and elderly people,” he explained. “This is exactly who I want to help.”
Rather than giving away one or two bottles for free, each car that comes by is given a full case of 24 bottles – a decision that Benloulou hopes will pay off in the long run. He estimates that each case could be worth up to $175, depending on the retailer – though he says that helping the community is more important than making a profit off of his stock.
“It’s a large value,” he says. “If a family can stretch a bottle for one month, they’ll have enough bottles for two years.”
He also encourages those who get cases to consider giving bottles to friends and family members, should the opportunity arise.
Benloulou hopes that other businesses will be encouraged to support the community in similar ways.
“Let’s stay positive [and] take concrete actions,” he said. “If more businesses could help their community, we would be in a much better place.”