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How to Pivot Your Manufacturing Business for the COVID-19 Coronavirus

While some businesses will need to shut their doors to prevent the spread of COVID-19, others are being called upon to relieve the needs for urgent supplies.  Regardless of what business you are in, we urge you to first consider the health and safety of your work environment so that risks of operating are minimized, and ensure these are being communicated. (See our previous blog on strategically preparing your business for COVID-19.)

In recent weeks we have seen many creative businesses making that “pivot” move; i.e. changing their product or service offerings to supply what’s most urgently needed in a society reeling from the pandemic. To make a pivot, a business must look at its most basic skills, resources and equipment and creatively consider ways to re-tool them for another purpose. (For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus mainly on manufacturing businesses, but stay tuned for more information coming soon about how retail and service businesses can pivot.) For example:

  • If you have metalworking or fabrication equipment – could this be used to make cots, lighting, tables or stands?
  • If you make plastic products, could you make face shields, gloves, masks, or drop sheets?
  • If you construct homes or buildings, could you make modular walls or help design temporary/ modular shelters?
  • If you stitch or sew, could you make protective clothing, masks, gowns, gloves or bedding?
  • If you make packaging, is there any way you can help package foods or supplies in a more sterile manner for use in a healthcare setting?

Yes, there are yet steps to get the specifications being sought, learn how these products are made, and figure out if you can make them at a sustainable margin. But keep in mind that loans (check the BDC), and possibly grants, are available now for businesses looking to pivot.

So, we thought perhaps one of the most useful things we could offer to our business readers would be to provide a list of products most needed, and to give you some links and ideas for getting them to market.

Urgent Products Most Needed

There are many products needed.  The World Health Organization has published supply lists of what these are, but each country has its own purchasing sites which are seeking specific kinds of products. 

  • Cleaning Products.  Hand sanitizer (which beer and alcohol manufacturers are beginning to make), liquid soap, sanitizer for electronic equipment.  But how about air purification equipment
  • Personal Protective Equipment.  Here’s a facemask pattern for businesses that can sew, plus more items like PVC aprons, bags for medical waste, body bags, disinfectants for surfaces, disposable towels, face shields, sterile and non-sterile gloves, goggles and gowns.  Would you like to see the full descriptions of items in the list?  Download it here.
  • Technologies.  Programmers can also assist by developing apps that help people to modify behaviours (such as avoiding face touching, practice social distancing, or identifying when areas are least crowded), or developing testing kits.  Remember that many public places such as libraries are closed; giving access to broadband can help people without it connect virtually to the services they need.
  • Hospital Furnishings & Equipment.  There is an urgent need for ventilators, especially in New York State (and a Canadian ventilator design challenge on to manufacturers to make inexpensive simple units), plus boxes for sharp containers (syringe disposals).  Keep in mind that temporary hospitals are being constructed, there may be all kinds of products needed, from plumbing supplies to beds, modular walls and lighting.

How to Get the Orders

Now is the time to put on your sales hats and start reaching out.  You can reach out not to just Canadian procurement sites, but also US and Global sites.  In addition, you can contact wholesale distributors who sell such items to hospitals and care facilities. 

Pivoting a business is about creativity and tenacity. We would love to hear your clever ideas as to how your business, or someone else’s, has found a way to pivot during the crisis. We also strongly urge you to consider membership in the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association; this is an organization keeping daily tabs on facilitating this situation with governments during the crisis.

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Jacqueline Drew
About the Author - Jacqueline Drew
Jacqueline M. Drew, BComm, MBA is founder and CEO of Tenato Strategy Inc., a marketing research and strategy firm with bases in Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto. With over 25 years' experience in all facets of marketing strategy, she is a business consultant, trainer and speaker who loves to use her superpowers "to help the good guys win."