It started with a friend’s request for help in early 2020.
At the time, Jonathon Picus was running a medical equipment import company and was returning from a business trip in Asia. The coronavirus had not yet made the impact in the U.S. that it had on that continent, where Picus found himself surrounded by people in masks and gloves.
He recalled his business associate and friend needing more personal protective equipment (PPE), which was scarce. On the flight back from Japan, it weighed on Picus’ mind.
“He’s asking me, ‘I need masks. Can you help me get masks?’ I wanted to help my friend in Tokyo,’” Picus recalled. “With the pandemic, we wanted to help the frontline workers. (And) that’s how we got into it.”
Soon after, Picus and friends Nick Hammond and Nikmal Abdullah put their desire to assist into motion with Ecep Han, their Scottsdale-based PPE manufacturing business they founded last year.
The company’s medical-grade, FDA-approved inventory runs the gamut from masks and gowns to hand sanitizers and surgical operation packages. All products are manufactured in Turkey at Ecep Han’s facility in Istanbul.
Picus and Hammond run the North American operation of their global company from Arizona, while Abdullah oversees operations in Turkey, where the majority of the company’s employees are based. Ecep Han’s PPE is distributed to healthcare facilities and organizations worldwide from those two locations.
A major textile producer with a skilled labor force, Turkey was a natural alternative to China, Hammond explained. With Abdullah already living in Istanbul and able to directly supervise the manufacturing of the products, it also made sense to have them made there. The central location also makes it easier to distribute PPE to Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
Ecep Han does all the manufacturing and owns all the materials. There are no subcontractors or middlemen at that level.
Demand drove revenue in 2020
The non-stop demand for effective gear propelled the $15 million revenue Ecep Han generated in 2020, according to company data.
Ecep Han is part of a global personal protective equipment market size that is projected to reach $92.86 billion by 2027, according to a report by Fortune Business Insights.
When the pandemic threw the globe into a whirlwind of fear, illness and death, the healthcare system desperately sought more PPE for their frontline workers. This environment was ripe for fraudulent opportunists focused on financially benefiting from this high demand.
Having direct control over the quality of products is a huge factor in Ecep Han’s growth, Hammond said.
“We’ve heard the horror stories about people sending money to China and not hearing back (from that company). People were ordering gowns and essentially getting trash bags,” Hammond said. “Having a partner there on the ground who’s invested as much as Jon and I are has been the biggest factor.”
Currently, they sell their PPE mostly through distributors but they have some smaller, individual clients as well.
Physical therapist Dave Nissenbaum reached out to Ecep Han in March 2020, when his physical therapy practice needed medical grade masks, which were nearly impossible to get at the time. Because there is a mask requirement, he needed a large quantity for his employees and patients who didn’t bring one with them.
“When the pandemic hit, we didn’t know what we would do,” said Nissenbaum, who owns Pro Physical Therapy in Middleton, Wisconsin, just outside of Madison.
Nissenbaum was able to order a supply of N95 masks from Ecep Han and received them quickly. He appreciated the quality and fit, and that his glasses didn’t fog up while wearing them.
Nissenbaum was aware of the fraudulent operators in the PPE space but never doubted Ecep Han.
“I was extremely comfortable and I felt I could trust them. It’s nice to know someone who could help you out,” he said. “They do what they say they’re going to do.”
Flag football, work in Afghanistan created connections
Years ago, Picus had owned a youth flag football league and Hammond was one of the coaches. That started a friendship that led to Hammond introducing Picus to Abdullah.
Prior to Ecep Han, Hammond was in the construction management industry. But from 2009-2014, he worked for the U.S. Department of State and was stationed in Afghanistan. Abdullah was his main subcontractor who became a friend. Abdullah later moved to Istanbul when Hammond returned to the U.S.
The three were in close contact when COVID-19 hit. They left their day jobs to focus on the concept that would become Ecep Han.
“As the pandemic happened, we realized the gap in the supply chain and dove into this face first,” Hammond said
Landing two large contracts with healthcare companies in the first five months served as the springboard that allowed them to expand quickly.
Much has changed since the start of the pandemic. At Ecep Han, Picus has noticed that quality and long haul thinking are the norm rather than getting bare-bones products fast.
“Quality is more of an issue. They are looking more long term rather than just today, which is refreshing,” he said.
Picus talked about a friend in his hometown of Milwaukee who works at a hospital. Ecep Han sent masks and gowns to her and her co-workers in need. She was so appreciative of the PPE and posted photos on her Facebook page to spread the word.
“That opened our eyes and made all of this well worth it,” Picus said. “We are helping people on the frontlines that are saving lives. The bottom line is that this is the satisfaction.”
When Picus tells people what he, Hammond and Abdullah do professionally, he often gets a reaction of surprise and admiration.
“People can’t believe what we do. (They say) ‘What, from Scottsdale, Arizona?’,” Picus said. “I say, ‘Yes, we do.’”
What: Ecep Han
Where: 8260 E. Gelding Drive, Suite 101, Scottsdale
Factoid: The global personal protective equipment market size is projected to reach $92.86 billion by 2027, according to a report by Fortune Business Insights.
Details: 480-656-5519, ecephan.com