by Tina Manzer
Industry Manufacturers Adapt Successfully to Change
To take the pulse of the industry in April, we asked our magazine’s advertisers if, and how, they operated during the pandemic shutdown. Included in this very informal poll was a short list of questions. Ten of the companies responded; here are their stories.
1. Did your business close in March or April? How did you handle it with your employees and customers?
2. Closed or open, what happened at your business in April?
3. Did you develop new product for back-to-school? How was its introduction affected?
4. Did you apply for assistance from the federal government?
5. What were some of the takeaways from this experience?
6. What would you like dealers and retailers to know about your products right now?
“We remained open with a staggered office and warehouse schedule.”
KwiYoung Baumgarten, Baumgartens, Georgia
“Our SICURIX Identification Products are considered an essential business category, so Baumgarten’s remained open,” explains KwiYoung, recently named CEO of the small family-owned business. “We were able to provide our dealers nationwide with the products they needed (see pages 18 and 30).”
All of the Ed Dealer advertisers who responded to our questions stayed open in March and April, essential or not, and modified their operations to comply with the guidelines and keep their employees safe.
“We recognized that staying open presented a huge, potential health risk for our team members so, together, we all reviewed the CDC information on the virus and prevention. At the same time, we also discussed the opportunities of staying open and the potential consequences of closing. Unanimously, we decided to remain open and serve our customers the best we could. We did so by creating new safety rules and processes.”
Among them were staggered office and warehouse hours, a reduced four-day work week, and a protocol for using gloves. Those employees who could work from home did so. Others who worked in near contact in the company’s Atlanta facility wore gloves and masks. Specific areas were disinfected throughout the day, lunch times were staggered, and more microwaves and toasters were brought in to minimize crowding in the lunchroom. Video conferencing replaced face-to-face discussions, even when those conferring were in the same building. “We will continue to reevaluate these practices as we follow CDC guidelines,” says KwiYoung.
Baumgartens specializes in unique and useful products for the home, office and school markets under the brand names of Conserve, SICURIX ID Solutions, Plastiklips, ZEUS Magnets, Plastibands, PenAgain Writing Tools, and others. While sales of some products (SECURIX, gloves, aprons and flashlights) increased significantly in March and April, sales of other categories dropped as much as 80 percent.
“Like many small businesses, we were challenged to quickly align our products to our customers’ needs and priorities,” says KwiYoung. “There has been little disruption of our supply chain because we are required to keep a back stock of about six months on hand.”
The company applied for a PPP loan and was approved in the second round.
Today, Baumgartens is fulfilling new requests for homeschooling kits, which are available to dealers nationwide. “In addition, we’re offering Back-to-School kits for teachers, home offices, elementary and middle schools, arts & crafts, and special ed,” she said (see pages 18 and 30). “We’re offering a 10-percent discount on those kits through September.”
Due to the danger of the virus itself and the conflicting messages from individual states, KwiYoung expects tough times ahead. “We are prepared for a long and difficult recovery but our company is adaptable and resilient. It has a strong history of overcoming adversity. We appreciate the ongoing support of our customers and will do everything we can to fulfill their needs.”
She notes that the importance of running a business that’s fiscally responsible was a significant takeaway from the experience.
For more information visit https://bit.ly/BAUMKITS
“Looking ahead, we understand students and teachers may need to adapt to virtual learning and we are actively pursuing new school supply items to support learning in that environment.”
Jean Anderson, C-Line, Illinois
The office products company remained open as an essential business with the majority of employees working from home. It has been filling orders and trying to keep disruption of service at a minimum, Jean reports. “We appreciate our customers’ patience and understanding if orders are delayed or product shortages occur. We continue to monitor the situation and will notify our customers of updates if necessary.
“This unprecedented event has given us the opportunity to see what operations look like with so many members of our team working remotely,” she adds. “The biggest challenge remains dealing with the uncertainty that comes with the pandemic. We’re taking it one step at a time and planning for the future, while keeping those plans flexible so we can adapt to whatever our new normal may be.”
C-Line’s products include sheet protectors, name badges and holders, shop ticket holders, media storage products, laminating film, and more. New this year for back-to-school is its recently launched notebook category (see pages 16 and 28).
For more information, visit c-line.com
“We would like dealers and retailers to know that all our products can be produced with antibacterial agents, and that all our collaborative lines adjust very easily to different configurations. All of that may help in adjusting from periods of social distancing to periods of social cooperation.”
Dustin Knarr, Ergos Furniture, Pennsylvania and Portugal
By splitting production into several shifts, the Ergos factory in Portugal was able to remain open during the worst of the pandemic. “Other employees took vacations and some were able to work from home,” Dustin explains. “We have been working according to strict government regulations.”
Seeing how well the Ergos team adjusted to the changes and remained flexible was one of the valuable takeaways from the experience.
In May, Portuguese health authorities starting allowing small businesses to re-open. “The impact of opening will be monitored, and if there is an increase in the number of cases we will all go into lockdown again,” he explains. “People are still required to wear masks in public spaces, including schools, supermarkets, banks and workspaces.”
In the short-term, Ergos Furniture is increasing its online presence and reinforcing its environmental policies (see page 24 and 32). “We believe that the level of service we provide, the quality of our products, and our competitive price points will help us come back strong,” says Dustin.
“For us, the solidarity, cooperation, and care for others are important parts of the way we do business. We believe in working with people and helping their businesses to grow, and aligning technology with tradition. We want people to see where our products are produced and the people behind our brand.”
You can email Dustin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Everyone became more aware of our country’s food supply and its vulnerability. With reports of upcoming shortages, we will be positioning our OPCOM Hydroponic Systems as an effective option for growing plant food.”
Shelley Mathews, FullCircle26 Inc., California
Lettuce is probably blooming in the OPCOM Farm Grow Box in the otherwise empty front hallway of Guilford Elementary School. Students in Sterling, Virginia, have been able to experience hydroponic farming since 2018, thanks to a partnership between FullCircle 26 and painting-supplies-and-instruction brand Bob Ross Inc. The system’s enhanced and flexible lighting precisely simulates the sunlight spectrum, and a growth-boosting pump replenishes oxygen to the roots in the water.
Hydroponic foods are widely recognized as a healthier and more cost-effective food option, so restaurants, hospitals, universities, and even kosher food suppliers are using OPCOM Farm systems.
Shelley reports that in April, unexpected orders from consumers led to out-of-stocks, further exacerbated by customs delays as the systems shipped from China. Going forward, FullCircle26 is increasing its inventory levels to support the at-home-growing trend (see pages 31 and 32).
For more information, visit Fullcircle26inc.com/shop.
“Retailers can send their customers our ‘Retailer Rebate Code.’ It gives customers a discount on HABA’s website, and gives retailers a kickback.
Phil Wrzensinski, HABA USA, Central New York
“In March and April, we noticed a shift to more direct sales and fewer B2B sales. We believe the virus has fast-forwarded consumers’ online shopping habits,” says Phil. He believes that B2B will remain a significant portion of its sales, “but stores will have to embrace more digital selling options if they hope to keep customers. HABA will continue to support both channels as before, offering more and better ways for both types of customers to find us and order from us.”
In April, the company waived drop-ship fees for its customer base, which allowed retailers to sell directly to consumers from HABA’s inventory.
HABA operated with a skeleton crew during the shutdown, and continued to ship products. It applied and was approved for PPP, but “we haven’t seen any money yet since the banks went dry,” he says.
Here are HABA’s five takeaways from the pandemic lockdown experience.
1. “We see Bundles as a new element of our offerings going forward, and have introduced several Bundles to retailers that they can sell online.” (See pages 29 and 34.)
2. “We see new and different ways to support our retailers with/through social media.”
3. “We see new and different channels to explore.”
4. “We see the need to update our own systems to better integrate with how customers and retail buyers shop.”
5. We see the need to look at our product offerings with a more curriculum-objective focus.”
HABA’s Fall Flier, which includes several new items and new products to help retailers stock up for the summer and fall, was introduced in May.
For more information, visit www.habausa.com.
“Going forward it is ‘business as usual.’ We know 2020 will be a trying year, but will make the most of the recovery and sales curve.”
John Fox, Miller Studio/Magic Mounts Division, Ohio
Magic Mounts remained open to fill customer orders. “Most of our suppliers also remained open, we have a good inventory, and should have no delays once accounts are ready,” says John (see pages 31 and 35). “We have reached out to everyone to let them know we are here when they are ready for merchandise.”
Sales took quite a drop in April, John reports, and the company has not yet launched new product for back-to-school. “We will wait until it opens up a bit.” They looked into PPP but didn’t qualify. “We have altered our inventory a bit to control expenses, but will stay in stock with most of our items,” he says.
Email John at email@example.com, or customer service at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Having the PPP would be very helpful right now. We filed into the first round of funding and we all know what happened with that. At this time we have heard nothing, and more than likely are being passed over, like so many deserving small businesses. Canada and Europe have done a much better job of swiftly providing assistance to small business and workers in the crisis, without all the red tape and greed.”
Kevin Casey, Primary Concepts, California
Primary Concepts is located in the East San Francisco Bay area, one of the first communities to mandate a shelter-in-place order. “It came quite suddenly on March 16th near the end of the work day,” recalls Kevin. “Those employees who could work remotely started doing so immediately, and those in shipping, receiving, assembly, etc., stayed home to shelter in place.”
Businesses were required to close until April 7, per the Alameda County shutdown order, and Primary Concepts announced to its dealer partners that it would cease shipping until then. “This was followed by a statewide stay-at-home order with no expiration date, but far more guidance on how companies could operate during the crisis,” he continues. “Some of our warehouse staff agreed to come back to work April 1 and shipping opened up. As of May 4, our full crew came online with some positions working remotely.”
Primary Concepts’ bestselling products were temporarily out of stock due to the Chinese New Year shutdown followed by the closing of factories in China because of COVID-19. Having the assembly crew out during the month of April also caused backorders – but they were fulfilled in early May. In late April, the company experienced longer lead times for corrugated boxes and shipping supplies, “but there are workarounds on that,” says Kevin. “Primary Concepts’ new products are in stock and shipping (see pages 9 and 30).”
It is open for business with a four-day week, Monday through Thursday.
For more information visit www.primaryconceptsdealer.com.
“Most of us find comfort in structure, especially children, so we have made our Time Timer apps for iPhone, iPad and Android free so that people of all ages and abilities can add some structure to their lives, wherever they are.”
Heather Rogers, Time Timer, Ohio
“At Time Timer, our hearts go out to everyone who is impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. The impact is wide and inescapable, from having a loved one pass away to losing a job and even young children who miss their friends and teachers. Part of our mission is to help everyone lead a better life, so it is hard to see so much suffering in so many ways during this very uncertain time.
“Time Timer is located in Cincinnati. We were able to fully follow the stay-at-home orders issued by the State of Ohio and remain in operation. All members of our administrative staff worked remotely during March and April and we’re prepared to continue to work remotely for as long as it takes for the USA and the world to recover.
“Our warehouse and fulfillment partners are all able to continue operations with required precautions in place to remain safe. So, Time Timer is here for you and ready to support your business. We have continued our new product development efforts and intend to offer new products for the back-to-school season – whatever that season looks like (see pages 12 and 33).
“We expect that the education industry will not disappear, but that it will change in unexpected ways. Time Timer intends to be part of it as education evolves. All of us in the education industry, ultimately, serve the interests of young people who represent the future. Despite hard times right now, I’m convinced the future and role that our young people will play in it remain bright.”
For more information call 513-561-4199 or visit www.timetimer.com.
“Everyone is working and products are being shipped
as always.” (See pages 22 and 32.)
Richard Maas, Screenflex, Illinois
“Last December, we introduced our 2020 products in our catalog. We will be introducing more new products in May.”
Janell Palmer, WB Manufacturing, Wisconsin
WB Manufacturing was considered an essential business, so the manufacturing facility remained open and quote requests and purchase orders continued to be processed. “We understand that not all businesses were allowed to operate, and some of our suppliers are experiencing delays and closures,” Janell explains. “Currently, we are holding standard lead times on our quotes, and will let customers know if delivery dates will be affected based on the individual situation at the time.”
The company applied for and received PPP.
Like other essential businesses, WB implemented precautions to contain the spread of the virus, sent employees who could to work from home, and continued its conversations with customers using Zoom.
“We are fully operational today,” reports Janell. “Employees who were working from home are coming in on a staggered schedule throughout the week to reduce the amount of contact in the office. We will maintain the safety precautions we put in place, continue to monitor changes in our community, and pay attention to the guidelines of local government health officials. (See pages 33 and 35)
“Our business and our employees adapted to the changes quickly and successfully,” she concludes. “Together we can continue to manage this situation as it unfolds”
For more information, call 800-242-2303 or email email@example.com.