Three manufacturers from past episodes of FuzeHub’s New York State Manufacturing Now podcast spoke with us recently about their experiences during COVID-19. Sue Kerber and Zak Kerber from RAD Soap joined Lloyd Ploof from Square One Coating Systems and Shawn Baker of Chenango Valley Technologies in a special three-part podcast that examines what they’ve been doing during the pandemic.
Steve Melito: Welcome to New York State Manufacturing Now, the podcast powered by FuzeHub. I’m your host, Steve Melito, and today, well, we’re talking about COVID-19. How could we not? We’re also taking a look back and a look forward in a way, as we’re talking to some New York state manufacturers that we’ve spoken to before. We want to check in with them and see how they’re doing. To start it off, we’re here with RAD Soap. How’s everything going there?
Sue Kerber: Great.
Zac Kerber: Hey, how are you? How’s it going?
Sue Kerber: Yeah, we’re surviving. We’re changing with the time.
Steve Melito: All right. All right. Good, good. Tell us what’s new at RAD Soap. How have you weathered the storm?
Zac Kerber: Yeah. The biggest thing was the initial shock, I guess, and was trying to get our employees to just be calm. That was the biggest thing, to ensure their safety. So we ended up closing the store initially in the initial announcement. We’re lucky enough that our business actually makes hand sanitizer, so we were considered an essential, which was huge for our employees, us. So we could still keep jobs, which was huge. The demand went off the charts. I mean, we were working a lot.
Sue Kerber: We had open POs, as much as we could make, as much as we could ship.
Steve Melito: All right, good. For those that don’t know, you have a storefront. It’s in Albany, right?
Sue Kerber: It’s at Stuyvesant Plaza.
Zac Kerber: Stuyvesant Plaza. Yep.
Steve Melito: Stuyvesant Plaza. And then your manufacturing facility is in Menands.
Sue Kerber: Yes.
Zac Kerber: Yeah. Yeah. So when we closed that… We actually just had our first day today, soft open today with all the precautions taken, and we’re doing curbside.
Sue Kerber: Yep. We set up ropes. We set up a nice shield for them. They feel very… I checked in with them before we came on because I wanted to know how it was doing. And we’ve made it very comfortable. We’re more concerned with the employee comfort level because they got so paranoid because there were so many things that were not said and things like that. So what we did was make it so that when traffic comes in, it’s very light. It’s only five people in the store at once. We have a line. We have a shield for them.
Zac Kerber: Six feet apart.
Sue Kerber: And six feet apart. There’s a lot of different things that we set up differently, but she said they feel so safe. So that was my main concern with the whole thing.
Steve Melito: Good, good. Now, have you had to reconfigure your shifts in any kind of way?
Zac Kerber: Yeah. What we did was we had to look at our high traffic, because online exploded, actually. So we had to look at our traffic. What we had to do is see when the most demand was. Our Monday mornings is when we put on our heavier shifts, and then it kind of trickles down towards the end. And Fridays usually are so light. There’s not as much work going on anymore.
Sue Kerber: We label, and yeah, we do other things. But we took the retail, and when the store closed, we wanted to keep our employees, and some of them we had to pay for their salaries because it was just what we wanted to do. We wanted to protect who we had working for us.
Zac Kerber: Right.
Sue Kerber: So what we did was we paid them, and then they started working up here. So we actually, after they were home for 14 days, then we brought them in so that these people could feel secure. So it was the adjustment of just the comfort. It was more the comfort level of your employees than it was anything else. We were very concerned.
Zac Kerber: Yeah, we were battling the mental state of each employee more than it was anything else for us, because the demand was there. But it was maintaining the craziness of just family members and how are we going to keep everyone safe. So that was, I think, the hardest thing for us.
Steve Melito: Good. And as we head back or as we head towards a quote- unquote ” new normal,” where do you see things going?
Sue Kerber: Internet more. It has to be. I want phone- ins. I want to see if I can set up the store so that we can do call- ins and they can just pick up curbside. We’re trying to establish that, but I’m not doing it yet. It’ll be soon.
Zac Kerber: I think the biggest thing with the future of it all is that online’s going to be a big thing.
Sue Kerber: Absolutely.
Zac Kerber: We’re lucky enough that you can do Zoom meetings, like we’re doing right now, recording this. I think just using technology in a way that we can keep us all safe. Right now, it’s really the-
Sue Kerber: And working. I mean, everybody wants to go back to work. So we’re trying to create that atmosphere, and that’s what everybody- I think they have to use just their- You’ve got to get innovative. You’ve got to change. You can’t stay the way you were. You’ve got to think outside the box. You’ve got to change what you’re doing. So I think that’s what a lot of businesses have to look at.
Zac Kerber: Yeah. And masks. We all wear masks when we’re here.
Steve Melito: Good. Well, I’m glad that everybody’s doing well. Importantly, that you’re both healthy. And this is Sue Kerber and Zac Kerber from RAD Soap that we’re speaking with. Sue and Zac, thanks for taking the time to be with us today.
Zac Kerber: Yeah, thank you so much.
Sue Kerber: Sure, no problem. And everybody be safe.
Zac Kerber: Yeah, stay safe.
Steve Melito: All right, you too. Now we’re here with Lloyd Ploof from Square One Coating Systems. Lloyd, how are you?
Lloyd Ploof: Good. How are you doing today?
Steve Melito: Doing all right. I’m very curious to know how things are going out there with COVID- 19.
Lloyd Ploof: Well, to say that it hasn’t impacted our business would be a lie. We’re considered an essential business because we do work for both the military and for people that do medical device manufacturing. So we were considered an essential business. However, when everything shut down dramatically, two of our largest customers decided they would shut down also. So they shut down for a couple weeks until they decided they were essential businesses and they began to open back up. So neither one of them are at full production capacity as of yet, but they should be back to full production capacity by the middle or end of May. So it has impacted us by quite a bit, but we’re still staying strong, still keeping everybody employed.
Steve Melito: Now, how’s it been with your manufacturing employees? Is there a level of anxiety about getting COVID- 19, or is everybody just kind of in stride with it?
Lloyd Ploof: Some more than others. I mean, we implemented all the guidelines of sanitizing, and twice a day, we go through and spray off everything. And everybody’s been offered masks, and everybody’s been instructed on hand- sanitizer usage and washing their hands frequently and social distancing. So we’ve implemented all that. There have been a few that were very nervous about it, but everything’s been taken pretty much in stride now.
Steve Melito: Now, you’re in Oriskany, right?
Lloyd Ploof: Yes.
Steve Melito: Do you think it might have been a little easier to weather the storm out there than, say, Rochester, Buffalo, or-
Lloyd Ploof: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. It’s just social distancing is easier to do in a less populated area than it is in a city, obviously.
Steve Melito: Did you have a hard time sourcing PPE at all?
Lloyd Ploof: At first we did, but then it became pretty easy to get pretty quickly. We sourced a lot of hand sanitizer early on, and we sourced a lot of masks early on, so we’re pretty well set with PPE and sanitizer.
Steve Melito: Have you had to change your shifts? For example, some shops that had one now have two just to separate people and reduce the risk?
Lloyd Ploof: No, we were pretty separated anyways. We only had 24 people in a 14, 000- square- foot facility, so it’s pretty easy to keep everybody distant.
Steve Melito: Where do you think we’re headed at this point? Do you think we’re going to see any kind of normal anytime soon in terms of even just your own ops there?
Lloyd Ploof: Well, I don’t think we’ll ever return to, not for a long time, to the old normal. I think people are going to be wearing masks and doing PPE and social distancing for a while. Again, most of the manufacturing that I’ve seen is opening back up or has opened back up, at least most of our customers. There’s been a few of them that have shut down for a week or shut down for two weeks because incoming sales were down, so they just decided to shut down for a week to save cost. So I expect manufacturing, at least the manufacturing that we see, to be back up and fully operational within two months.
Steve Melito: Good. And how’s your supply chain been? Have you had a lot of conversations with people to see if they’re ready to support you?
Lloyd Ploof: No problem whatsoever in supply chain. We did have a few problems… Going back, we did have a few problems with a couple of our people. So when our two largest customers decided they were going to shut down the same week and it was going to be indefinitely at that point in time, we laid off about 10 of our people. And once those two larger customers decided to come back on, we attempted to bring back everybody back on, and two of the people decided they didn’t want to come back to work. They had jobs offered, but they said, ” Well.” One guy came back for two days and said, ” Well, I think I need a couple weeks off. I’ve just got to sort some things out.” And it was sort of the same guy. So I think they were trying to take advantage of the higher unemployment payment that’s out there now. And I’ve heard that from other businesses also. Unfortunately, though, since they had a job offer, so they shouldn’t be eligible for unemployment. I’m not sure how that’s going to go on. But we had to go out and find a couple new people to take their place to come back on.
Steve Melito: And that probably, I’m going to guess, wasn’t all that easy even before COVID- 19, because I heard it was tough to find workers. Did you have an easy time here?
Lloyd Ploof: No. I mean, one guy… We needed a new truck driver, and one guy said, ” Yeah, yeah, I’ll start on Monday.” And come Monday, he never showed up, and we can’t get ahold of him. I guess he just decided he wanted to stay on unemployment.
Steve Melito: I’m glad that you’re healthy. I hope everybody there is also well.
Lloyd Ploof: Yeah, we’ve had no known cases of COVID of anybody here or of anybody’s family from here. I mean, possibilities of somebody being asymptomatic, obviously, but nobody’s been sick and nobody’s had fevers. So we think we’ve been lucky.
Steve Melito: All right, good. Lloyd, I’m happy to hear it. Thanks for taking the time to join us on New York State Manufacturing Now.
Lloyd Ploof: Not a problem, Steve. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Steve Melito: All right, you got it. Hey, now we’re here with Chenango Valley Technologies, and we’re talking to Shawn Baker. Shawn, how are you today?
Shawn Baker: Good, Steve. How are you doing?
Steve Melito: Doing great. Thanks for being back on the podcast. We had you on last fall. We enjoyed having a chance to talk to you and learn about CVT and the injection molding and the tooling work that you do. And it’s always been very appealing to us at FuzeHub that you work with startups. So here in the age of COVID- 19, we wanted to touch base and see how things were going, how you’re coping.
Shawn Baker: Well, we’re coping better than most. During the beginning of Pause New York, due to the restrictions put on us, we had to send about half of our people home. And since, we’ve been able to call everybody back to work, even before the governor announced that manufacturing was open again. Most of our work was not considered essential, but over the course of time, some of our customers were able to get exemptions, and we were able to work on a exciting project, which is this face shield here, which is actually part of the solution of the pandemic, COVID pandemic, so-
Steve Melito: It’s fantastic. So there was an opportunity that came up?
Shawn Baker: Yeah. It was a very fast timeline. I was sitting in my office on a Monday afternoon. I believe it was March 31st, and an old customer friend of mine calls me up and has a design for a facial frame that he would like to mass produce. And timing was critical. That was Monday afternoon. Tuesday, they gave us an order. We built a mold over the course of Tuesday evening, Wednesday, Thursday, and I delivered parts on Friday. Now, this was record time, considering most molds take weeks or months to build. We were able to do it in a few days.
Steve Melito: Yeah, that’s great. How did you do it so quickly? Because as you said, usually molds take a long time to make. What sort of magic did you have to work?
Shawn Baker: Well, we had to take into consideration the supplies, the materials we had on hand. Fortunately, the part was simple in design, and we worked around the clock until it was done. We had our engineers start working the moment we got the order. So the next morning, our tool room could start building the mold. And we kept that mold in production around the clock until it was finished. We were able to go from concept to finished production part in a matter of days. I believe it was Monday we got the initial contact. Friday, I delivered production parts.
Steve Melito: It was really fast. Now, what is the shield itself made of? What’s the material?
Shawn Baker: This right here is the protective face shield. Our portion is this frame here, and this is made out of polycarbonate. Another interesting fact about this project is, because there was such demand, when we started production we were making a thousand pieces a day. Our customer, GetEm Innovations out of Barneveld, New York, ordered more tooling. So over the course of a few weeks, our volume went from 1, 000 pieces a day to 10,000 pieces a day. Currently, the capacity is at 30,000 pieces a day.
Steve Melito: That’s a lot of production. Do you know where all of the units go to? Is it throughout upstate New York and maybe even across the world?
Shawn Baker: It is mostly nationwide. They are selling some to other countries, but most of their volume has been in the US. Now, I believe they have sold to most states at this point.
Steve Melito: Wow, that’s great.
Shawn Baker: Yeah, it was an impressive project. It was also a morale booster on our team because when the governor, when our government shut down most companies, it doesn’t do well for morale. And this project was able to really pick up morale around the shop.
Steve Melito: Now, is this a product you think you’ll continue to make, say, maybe a year from now, or is it just too early to tell?
Shawn Baker: I believe we will. I’ve been in discussions with our customer, GetEm, and the way that they’re marketing the product, they are selling them to markets that will continue to buy. So I’m excited that we should make these frames for many years to come, although I feel that right now is going to be a high point in their sales.
Steve Melito: Now, Shawn, do you feel like the company learned something about itself? Did you develop some new capacities and capabilities? Because these were pretty tough times.
Shawn Baker: Yeah. I’ve always had a lot of confidence in our team. I’ve been around this industry my whole life, and I’m aware of our competitors and other shops with similar capabilities, and I knew we could pull this off. It is very uncommon. But we have a very dedicated staff here, and I’m very pleased that they were able to do this as part of our team.
Steve Melito: That’s great. Yeah, they’re an outstanding team. Has everybody been able to stay healthy?
Shawn Baker: Yeah, we’ve not had any sicknesses related to the COVID pandemic, just the normal colds and whatnot. But yeah, our team has been healthy, all things considered.
Steve Melito: When do you think you’re going to get back to normal, or is that just a question that none of us can really answer?
Shawn Baker: Well, right now, I feel that we are operating as a normal month, so to speak. Our sales are on pace. Our shipments are going out on pace. Freight is slowed down a little bit. But right now, I feel as though business is usual. What I’m concerned about is my ability to forecast down the road. Normally, I can forecast accurately out about six months. With all the events going on in the world, I’m not confident to forecast out six months. I really could only forecast out about 30 days.
Steve Melito: Yes, it’s really uncertain times. Now, have you had to buy things like hand sanitizer, PPE, or all that kind of stuff?
Shawn Baker: Yeah, we have to stay compliant with our state’s and local government’s requirements. So we have the hand sanitizer spread around the shop. We’ve increased our cleaning procedures. We are working on a program for the unpause of New York. They require that we put a plan together. So at minimum, we are compliant with their plans. But we have some enhanced cleaning going on because we do have setups where more than one operator throughout a day will use. So we have an enhanced cleaning procedure.
Steve Melito: Great. Hey, last question for you. Are you still looking for new customers, if there’s anybody out there that needs injection molding or 3D printing?
Shawn Baker: Yeah, we’re always looking for new customers, and they can email DBigger@ chenangovalleytech.com. Dan’s out there on the streets. And yes, we are, Steve, looking for new customers.
Steve Melito: We’re with Shawn Baker from Chenango Valley Technologies, and I’m Steve Melito for New York State Manufacturing Now. We’ve been talking to companies that we’ve spoken with before and trying to find out how they’re weathering the storm of COVID-19. These are challenging times, for sure. That’s the understatement of the year. But help is available. If you have a manufacturing need, if it’s business or technical assistance that you’re after, please reach out to FuzeHub. The best way to do that is to go to fuzehub. com. We’re online anytime. Look for the solutions program menu. Look for the option to ask a manufacturing expert, and you and I will get to have a conversation, and we will find the right person to help you. So again, on behalf of New York State Manufacturing Now, I’m your host, Steve Melito, signing off.