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CAN DO ATTITUDE: Jessica Ollis of Spring Branch Kombucha loads up the company van for the first delivery of canned products.
Photo provided by Spring Branch Kombucha
CAN DO ATTITUDE: Jessica Ollis of Spring Branch Kombucha loads up the company van for the first delivery of canned products.

Crisis generates business innovation

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As the coronavirus pandemic continues, businesses have a greater understanding than ever of the age-old proverb: “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

It’s an environment where restaurants only operate as carryout and delivery, stores are limited on the number of customers allowed inside and many companies’ employees work exclusively at home.

Spring Branch Kombucha used the time to pivot production and lessen COVID-19’s steep impact on its bottom line.

“We’ll see the hit in April. I expect a minimum of 50%-75% decline,” said co-owner Chris Ollis. “I’m maybe being overly optimistic on that.”

Spring Branch’s fermented tea products were on tap at some 20 local retailers and establishments, but several now are closed temporarily. By mid-March, Ollis and his wife, Jessica, pulled the trigger on their long-range plan to can their products, previously only sold on tap.

“Our draft sales are going to be way down. So we’re redeploying production we have there toward cans,” Chris Ollis said.

Online orders of four kombucha flavors – strawberry rose, elderberry ginger, lavender and lemon hops – are delivered in Springfield every Thursday.

The immediate investment for small-scale canning production is minimal, he said, as they’re just labeling and marking the cans by hand. He expects full canning production in 12-15 weeks – a roughly $150,000 expense.

“We don’t have the manpower to, say, supply a grocery store right now,” he said of the three-person operation. “That’s why we’ve been holding off on it. But based on all the changes here, we’re going to let the market tell us exactly what we need to do going forward.”

Jessica Ollis said the initial April 2 run had 30 orders with nothing more than a message on social media promoting it.

“We’re learning what our capabilities are to manage this,” she said. “It’s a brand-new project. Obviously, we want to boost our sales, but keep it contained within something that’s manageable to provide our customers the best service and the best product that we can.”

Safety first
A new project for printing company nPrint Graphix wasn’t born out of necessity.

Owner and CEO John Fugitt said the staff wanted to help the health care industry with personal protection equipment. The company has been producing face shields for medical use over the past few weeks in addition to its everyday workload.

“We wanted to do something basically to try and help out,” he said. “We had the equipment to do it, so we just jumped in and started making it happen. Being in business 24 years, you learn to adapt really fast.”

That work led to a purchase order of roughly 20,000 face shields for Chesterfield-based Bayer Crop Science, the agricultural and environmental arm of German pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG.

Fugitt said his company made a new prototype for the order, adding Bayer is using 3D printing to produce the plastic headgear that holds the face shield in place.

“We’re roughly cranking out about 1,500 a day,” he said, noting Bayer reached out after seeing the company’s work mentioned in a recent KY3 broadcast.

Declining to disclose sales totals, Fugitt said nPrint Graphix has been holding steady since COVID-19 arrived. That includes its 12-person workforce, although he noted salespeople currently work remotely.

Around 500 face shields have been purchased by Mercy Springfield Communities and CoxHealth, Fugitt said, adding the company is currently working on 500 more for Jordan Valley Community Health Center.

Missouri State University’s Jordan Valley Innovation Center also is prototyping face shields using 3D printing and laser cutting, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.

The work is being done in partnership with CoxHealth, with designs shared upon request with other Each component of the shield can be taken apart and replaced separately, as well as cleaned thoroughly to hospital specifications. Upon finalization of the prototype, 5,000 face shields can be produced immediately, according to CoxHealth officials.

Polyfab Plastics and Supply Inc. also is assisting CoxHealth and Mercy with PPE orders, as each recently requested acrylic patient hoods that can be used for procedures, such as intubations. Both received prototypes the same day and have since ordered additional units, said Polyfab President and co-owner Mark Miller.

“We’ve always done acrylic work and environmental chambers before and this is very similar,” he said, noting roughly 33% of his company’s business comes from work with medical industry clients.

He declined to disclose order sizes and costs from CoxHealth and Mercy, but added Polyfab has remained fully staffed at 35 workers since the virus’ arrival.

Workers are observing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention social distancing guidelines, he said.

Going virtual
While the virus has kept students from returning to schools, Club Z! In-home Tutoring Services saw its business drastically fall off in mid-March.

“The first week of March, we had around 120 students enrolled. At the beginning of April, it’s less than 60,” said local Club Z franchisee Leisha Baker. “It’s definitely taken a hit.”

Revenue has fallen by about 50%, Baker said, declining to disclose the total. When Springfield’s stay-at-home order was enacted, the company made a quick transition into a virtual platform for tutoring sessions.

“We’re reaching out to all our tutors and trying to keep them working to some capacity,” Baker said.

Roughly 40 part-time tutors work for the local Club Z franchise, she added, a slight dip from 47 in 2018.

She said the company is mostly using the free version of Zoom, as well as Skype and Google Classrooms. She’s hopeful the beginning of the next school year will restore face-to-face sessions.

“I don’t think anybody expects this situation to be a long-term one,” Baker said. “It’s more for us a short-term solution, allowing us to provide support to our students.”

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