Editor’s note: The following is part of Startland News’ ongoing coverage of the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Kansas City’s entrepreneur community, as well as how innovation is helping to drive a new normal in the ecosystem. Click here to follow related stories as they develop.
When COVID-19 quickly cut into the Trabon Group’s business, the Kansas City printing company — a mass producer of restaurant menus — was forced to pivot, literally overnight.
The team’s realization: Trabon’s paper-cutting processes could work for manufacturing highly sought-after face shields, said Tony Trabon.
“We just kind of stumbled into it and day-to-day just tried to throw it all at this problem that we were hearing about in the news, which was the lack of medical supplies around the country,” said Trabon, vice president at the printing and menu management company primarily working in the restaurant industry, as well as USA Shields. “We didn’t really know how to get it done, but we threw our team at solving the problem of ‘How do you create a supply chain overnight for something that we don’t do?’”
“All of the [tools] we didn’t have on Monday, we were able to get by that Wednesday,” he added. “Then it turned to: ‘How do we actually sell some of these and get some cash flow coming in?’ Because we knew if we could generate some cash flow, we would be able to keep associates employed for a longer period of time as we produced these face shields.”
Click here to learn more about the Trabon Group.
By the end of the initial week, the firm was manufacturing as USA Shields — and able to locate a number of local medical centers interested in “taking a chance on them,” he said, noting with each iteration since, the team has only increased efficiency and the quality of outcomes.
“We can now produce about 7,000 to 8,000 units per day and we’re working six days a week,” Trabon said. “With our shifts, we’re able to employ about 50 to 60 people each day and if they’re producing 8,000 a day, that’s 45,000-plus shields each week that we’re able to produce.”
Planning past 24 hours has proved dangerous in the ever-shifting landscape in the new COVID-19 reality — the firm instead is sticking to a list of priorities, he said.
“The first is to help keep our associates employed for as long as possible and the reason I say that is that at some point we will return to printing and we will return to producing millions of restaurant menus across the country as we were before this crisis,” he added. “We want to have the same team in place and we want to give that team the opportunity to earn wages throughout this crisis. I know a lot of employers are not able to do that and we’ve found ourselves very lucky that we had the team and the resources to pivot.”
The operation is expected to continue for as long is possible in the current competitive climate and outsourcing of labor, Trabon said.
“We’re not as competitive with prices that are coming from overseas because we just don’t have the large supply chain, and we don’t have the equipment and really cheap labor that we’re seeing is passed from overseas production,” he said. “The goal is to continue face shields for as long as necessary until we see more stabilization in the restaurant industry. So we’re here waiting for restaurants to pick up the phone and call us.”
“Most of our clients now have been phenomenally helpful through this, and I really think we’re in it together with them,” he added. “Obviously we want to prioritize the health of the country, so the shutdown is probably going to last longer than we’d like it to economically. But if it’s the right thing to do, then we’ll just continue to contribute our part with the face shields until we’re ready to help everybody get back into restaurants and ordering food again.”