by Aaron London | Sponsored by Halifax Health
While consumers are bracing for a likely Covid-19 induced economic recession, companies are scrambling to find new ways to do business or new business to do.
For Volusia County business owners, the challenge of uncertainty is balanced by a determination to go beyond thinking outside the box to survive the present and plant the seeds for future success.
At FitUSA Manufacturing in Ormond Beach, owner Troy Olson is always on the go. His athletic apparel company has shifted to producing masks and personal protective equipment, or PPE.
“We’re moving really fast,” he said. And a big part of that movement is hiring more workers to meet the growing demand for protective equipment items.
“Each day we’re bringing in anywhere from three to five people, depending on their background and our needs,” he said.
Like most business owners, Olson said the need to shift priorities came quickly.
He said in early March he met with Ormond Beach officials about the situation and as a result found himself on a conference call with state officials.
“When I called I realized I was on the phone with a senator, and I believe the governor was on there,” Olson said. After running through current information and responding to inquiries, there was time for one last question and Olson jumped in.
“I told them I retooled my factory and can make masks now,” he said. “Within two minutes I was on the phone with Halifax Health. By noon the next day we had prototypes in front of them and by 4 we were making samples.”
A couple of days later, Olson said the company was ramping up production and taking orders.
“We were getting orders from hospitals and health care from around the county,” he said.
FitUSA began producing around 10,000 masks a day and doubled that by the end of March. Olson said his goal is to put out 30,000 masks a day to keep up with demand.
But before that conference call took place, Olson was already thinking about making the switch and was even hearing the same thing from employees. And when a growing number of athletic events started to get cancelled, Olson was sure.
“We were going to have to change our game plan,” he said, adding it wasn’t just his family he was thinking about, but how to keep his employees on the job earning a paycheck.
Olson also wanted to help the community after hearing that some restaurants were shutting down and other businesses began laying-off workers.
Needing to hire people to increase production, Olson said he wanted to bring in as many displaced workers as he could.
“We’re trying to utilize them, until the can go back to their regular jobs” he said.
For Olson, that spirit of community is the key to getting through the current crisis.
“When emergencies happen, we come together to work through it,” he said. “That is who we are as a people.”
Service industry shift
Reaching out to the community is also central to Florida Supply & Cleaning Products’ efforts to get through the pandemic.
The company on Mason Avenue in Daytona Beach serves hotels and resorts throughout Central Florida and up and down the coast with cleaning supplies, linens and other bulk items. But the impact of Covid-19 on tourism and travel forced the company to change plans.
Office manager Steve Towsley said the family-owned business knew it had to act fast once the theme parks started shutting
“Once Disney announced closing, we realized we needed to shift gears,” he said.
Placing an ad in local media offering their product to the general public started the ball rolling.
Towsley said while the company has always been open to the public, “but because we sell by the case and in large quantities,” average consumers don’t usually want that much of even a good thing like toilet paper.
“Even toilet paper comes in a case of 96 rolls,” he said.
To make it easier on consumers, the company began breaking down the cases and packing the items in smaller amounts.
As word spread of the company’s shift, more residents looking for essential items were stopping by. A timely radio spot increased the momentum and soon people were lining up before opening.
“It’s been a huge response from the community, a lot of people are coming,” Towsley said.
While supply-chain concerns are real, Towsley said as long as they continue to get supplies from vendors, Florida Supply & Cleaning Products will keep selling them.
“So far we’ve been fortunate that we’ve been able to procure those supplies,” he said.
As for the uncertainty of it all, Towsley is philosophical.
“If businesses can stay afloat and get their workforces working again, then the faster we can get back to some kind of normalcy,” he said. “The more normal, the less uncertain it is for people.”
One thing Jeremy Craig is certain about is shifting production of adult beverages at Copper Bottom Craft Distillery to hand sanitizer was the right thing to do.
“We saw the need right away,” he said. “We decided to do it and let the chips fall where they may.”
So the Holly Hill distillery reoriented production to sanitizer with 75 percent alcohol, well above the 60 percent recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Craig.
“We produce high-proof alcohol, which is ethanol and one of the main ingredients in hand sanitizer is alcohol,” he said. “We had guidance from the World Health Organization and the Food and Drug Administration on the formula.”
At first, Copper Bottom was making and bottling the hand sanitizer with its own supplies, but as word spread, that changed quickly.
“The first couple of days it was on our own dime, but then the community really stepped up,” Craig said, with donations of money as well as bottles to put the sanitizer in and extra help.
“We had a bunch of volunteers come to help us out,” he said. “It has been great to see, actually.”
Craig said the while the company is still selling distilled spirits, the sanitizer is all being donated.
“We’re able to do that because of all the donations we are getting,” he said. “We’ve been able to produce a heck of a lot more than if we had to do it on our own.”
Craig said Copper Bottom Craft Distillery is in the hand sanitizer business for as long as necessary – and possible.
“We’re going to do it as long as there is a need and as long as we possibly can,” he said.
New business model
Over at The Bake Shop in Edgewater, the problem owner Heather Harrison faced wasn’t coming up with a new product to solve a new problem. For her it was coming up with a new business model altogether.
So the southeast Volusia bakery has become an online business offering safe and secure delivery.
“It’s basically a different kind of business,” she said. “So we have to operate on a completely different level.”
Instead of visiting the bakery, customers go the store’s website at thebakeshopnsb.com to place on online order.
With protocols in place for safe delivery, Harrison said the business is gaining momentum.
“Within the first week I was making a quarter of my normal revenue,” she said. By the end of the second week it was up to half. And Harrison sees that trajectory continuing.
“I think by the end of this we’ll be exceeding our normal revenue,” she said. “I’ve got my fingers crossed.”
Harrison said she made the decision to change the business model early on, after hearing customers joking about the pandemic.
“I could hear clients were not taking it seriously,” she said. “I cannot get sick because if I get sick, there goes my business.”
Closing to in-store customers in mid-March, a website was quickly built and a plan for doing online deliveries was set.
The idea has worked so well, Harrison said she is going to keep doing it, even after the pandemic threat abates and life returns to whatever the next “normal” will be.
“I’ve found you can’t start something and then stop,” she said. “I think this is going to change how we do things in the future dramatically.”
For now, Harrison is focused on keeping her business afloat and providing some bright spots for residents riding out the viral storm.
“I am very grateful that I have a job to go to and to get out of my house every day,” she said. “I will do what I have to do and hopefully share a little bit of comfort with other people.”
This content is sponsored by Halifax Health. Halifax Health is on the front lines of care in the fight against COVID-19, and is proud of the way the business community has responded in providing items needed for personal protection.