A local company is looking to help hospitals get personal protective equipment.
As hospitals run low on face masks and health care workers go into battle without shields, Strategic Factory, a one stop agency and manufacturing facility in Owings Mills that provides marketing, is rushing to provide these resources.
“We were sitting around looking at all our business drying up and everything closing up, thinking ‘We have to do something,’” said Keith Miller, Strategic Factory owner and parent to three Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School students. Then, on March 9, they received an atypical request from one of their clients asking for face masks and sanitizers.
“It’s definitely strange,” Manager Kay Mamah said. “It’s not completely outside of our wheelhouse, but one of our company mottos is, ‘yes, yes, yes,’ so whatever a company needs, we find a solution.”
“‘Yes, yes, yes,’ is built into our DNA,” Miller agreed.
Because it didn’t make sense for the agency to make medical supplies in-house, the team at Strategic Factory leveraged its relationships with vendors to fill the need. They reached out to a vendor that had retooled its factory to make masks, and things spiraled from there. Strategic Factory found themselves matching requests for disposable gowns, face shields, alcohol wipes, sanitizer, thermometers, gloves, and quite depressingly, lots of “closed” signs.
Now, Miller said, 90% of the company’s revenue is coming from COVID-19 related products.
“We ended up opening a new line of business,” Mamah said. “I don’t expect that we want to go into medical equipment.”
Most in demand are face masks. On March 31, President Trump discussed the shortage and suggested Americans use scarves to cover their face while health care workers struggle with a low supply. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a list of recommendations to address the shortage, too, including limited use of the N95 masks and designated areas for use.
Miller said they are struggling to keep up with supply, but not because he is concerned that there is a shortage of product. “I am worried about the supply chain. Delivery times are slower,” he said. “Everything will be produced but it will take longer because there’s more disruption.”
While the first order was delivered within 10 days, Mamah said that, now, production time takes two to three weeks.
“It’s always a concern that supply could run out, though we’re hopeful that new players have come into the industry,” said Mamah. She gets notifications daily about new vendors with new products; however, most of them she cannot use because their products have not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The panicked atmosphere is a stressor to this.
Another concern is pricing.
“Unfortunately the pricing has been changing,” said Mamah. “The first orders were standard prices, but the demand has increased and while we were able to keep prices low last week and leverage with the vendors, we’re working through a significant price change that just came in.” For now, larger orders are cheaper.
The company is working to keep the supplies affordable by combining orders. “We may have a crew of 500 who want masks, so we combine that with a larger order of 2,500 for fire department so that we still get the aggregate pricing,” said Mamah.
Most customers are hospitals and those in the food industry. Within the last three weeks, Strategic Factory has seen more than 500 companies reach out. Some individual first responders have reached out too. But the more customers they can find, the cheaper their products will be, so they are reaching out to the community.
Mamah advises people to be wary of agencies who reach out to customers personally. She has heard of people from New York selling individual masks for $20 to $25. FDA-approved masks usually come in vacuum-sealed packages of 10 to 20, so customers should be careful of individual masks. Furthermore, she pointed out that New York does not even have enough masks for its own health care workers.
Miller advises other companies to keep up communication, and “If anyone knows anyone in need, please let us know. We’re as desperate as everyone else to keep our business afloat and are doing all we can to help where we can.”
He hopes everyone stays positive because “as crazy as it sounds, there is still a lot to be grateful for.” Looking at the community, he is inspired.
“Humanity as a whole is becoming a whole lot more kind, accommodating, and understanding,” he said. “That is something the Jewish community has always exhibited which is something beautiful to see continue in a time of crisis.”