Local Souvenir Company Manufactures PPE during Coronavirus Pandemic
By Melissa M. Stewart
Bicast Laser CEO Stephanie Harris never could have predicted that in mid-March 2020, 100% of her customers would suddenly close indefinitely. With shelter-in-place mandates and bans on large gatherings of any kind, entertainment venues like theme parks, aquariums, zoos and museums no longer needed them to manufacture custom, laser-cut souvenirs like wooden magnets, ornaments and key chains.
The initial plan was to work on orders they had in-house and hold them for a future ship date, but a request from Governor Northam in late March asking Virginia manufacturers to convert to personal protective equipment (PPE), if possible, sparked the idea to try face shields. Bicast now efficiently produces thousands of shields in two different styles with all proper sanitation and distancing measures in place, of course.
“Our employees have been fantastic,” says Harris. “I basically told them we had a choice—we could lay low and wait it out or we could stand up and fight. They unanimously answered, ‘We want to fight!’”
The innovative company based in Toano has sold most of the shields to local hospitals and doctor and dentist offices but has recently also received orders from salons, retailers and restaurants as they all prepare to re-open.
“Just yesterday a dentist in Suffolk called,” says Harris. “She said they were ready to re-open and the only reason they couldn’t was their lack of face shields. I offered to FedEx them to her, and she said, ‘No, I’m getting in the car and coming to get them myself.’ We are very grateful to be able to provide protection for these people.”
Response to Change: “We have been busy every day and sales are good. Nothing would make me happier than if we didn’t have to make any more because this virus was gone, but it looks like we have a bit more to go. The sales do not approach the level of sales we had with our souvenir business, but we feel good about what we are doing, and we can keep the lights on.”
Biggest Challenges: “Sourcing scarce materials, maintaining strict sanitation protocols and missing out on the biggest months of our souvenir sales season.”
Best Advice: “You really have to pivot and reinvent the way you do business. I have seen some amazing business ideas since this started. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The first person I called was our local Chesapeake Bank, and they have been amazing. Second, I reached out to the James City County Office of Economic Development and then to any contacts I had at the state level. Everyone has been very helpful and supportive.”
Learn more about Bicast Laser at Bicast.com