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The coronavirus pandemic has forced many businesses to reduce capacity, shut down operations and grapple with financial difficulties triggered by an abrupt decline in customers. According to a UPS survey conducted in late March, nearly 70 percent of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) expect steeper declines in revenue in the short term.
Despite struggling to stay afloat, many companies are seizing opportunities to make a difference — donating goods, services and proceeds to healthcare workers, COVID-19 relief nonprofits and others in communities reeling from the pandemic.
At UPS, we’re talking to small business owners every day, and we’ve been heartened by the stories we’ve heard — I’d like to share a few with you.
Allison Albert, the founder of Pet Krewe, a pet costume retailer based in New Orleans, has channeled her design, sewing and manufacturing experience into creating personal protective equipment (PPE) for her local hospital.
Her community has been hard hit. “Everyone here knows someone who has died of the virus,” said Albert, whose sister contracted — and fortunately, recovered from — COVID-19. In fact, The Data Center in southeast Louisiana reported that New Orleans surpassed New York in the number of novel coronavirus deaths per capita.
When Albert discovered a private hospital in New Orleans needed thousands of protective hospital gowns per day, she turned to her contacts at her factories in China.
But she soon learned she needed to source product more quickly. Albert, who grew up close to an Amish community near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, connected with an Amish group of seamstresses to help.
The creative supply chain works like this: The Louisiana-based hospital ships medical-grade material to Amish barns in Pennsylvania, where a 100-member crew sews gowns for healthcare workers to Albert’s specifications. They ship them back to a warehouse near the hospital.
Albert delivers thousands of gowns per day to the hospital. Coordinating the process is not without its challenges. Her Amish workforce uses cell phones sparingly — and typically outside of their homes near their outhouses. They hand write packing slips and tag boxes with sharpies, said Albert. “But it all comes together.”
Albert, like other small business owners, is working harder than ever in the fight against coronavirus.
It’s all worth it, she said. “Cultivating kindness is the most valuable part of the business life.”
Ministry of Supply, a Boston-based men’s and women’s fashion brand, has turned its attention to mask production in the wake of the spread of coronavirus. They’re working with partners to produce and procure thousands of facemasks and respirators for the medical community.
“Mask shortage is really important, and it’s ultimately rooted in a supply chain challenge,” said Ministry of Supply co-founder and President Gihan Amarasiriwardena. “This is something where healthcare professionals are saying they’re down to days of supplies. Every day matters. Time is what we’re focusing on.”
Amarasiriwardena says his company has a three-pronged approach during the coronavirus pandemic: keep its team healthy, keep its business healthy and keep communities healthy.
“This is a supply chain shock and realignment, and it’s been amazing to see community brands step up,” he said. “But we know it’s going to get even harder for a lot of people out there.”
Adafruit Industries, a New York-based, open-source hardware manufacturing company and hub for electronics hobbyists, has also changed its focus.
The company, which provides free guides to help makers engineer DIY projects such as LED skateboards and motion-activated skirts, reallocated resources to make and distribute PPE such as face shields — and manufacture electronics for life-saving equipment for local government and hospitals.
Under New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order, Adafruit is an essential business, which allows founder Limor Fried, a MIT-trained engineer, to continue work with a skeletal crew.
The company’s online community shares design ideas to help the effort. One of Adafruit’s makers published a design for a strap that attaches to surgical masks to provide a custom fit for health workers.
Adafruit has posted a downloadable file so that others can create the strap. Among other ideas, the company also shared a maker’s COVID-19 virus science resource for educators and parents assisting with home learning.
Entrepreneurs noted that their small business experience prepared them to be nimble and resourceful during this disruptive time.
“Without my experience creating and running Pet Krewe,” said Albert, “I wouldn’t understand the full logistics chain, the details of design or even how to submit a proposal. I have the tools to help my original home community in Pennsylvania and my new home community in New Orleans.”
On behalf of UPS and its 495,000 employees around the world, I’d like to say thanks to the small business owners doing everything they can to help their communities weather the coronavirus crisis. And we’ll continue to mobilize our Global Smart Logistics Network to deliver life-saving products and business-saving services whenever and wherever needed.
Header photo courtesy of Ministry of Supply
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