Whether you’re looking at the industrial level or the individual one, COVID-19 has made a lasting impact. At the beginning of 2020, nobody really knew what the impact would be, and to a degree we still don’t. Undoubtedly, the ways we live and work have changed. I believe every area of industry has a unique story to tell. Here’s an inside look at our experience as a specialty metal vendor located in St. Paul, MN.
Who Knew We Were Essential?
We always knew we had a diverse customer base and while we don't sell medical masks, it was eye-opening to see how we could help support the response to COVID-19. We do sell metal to make nose clips for medical masks, strip steel to make brackets to mount respirator hoses to the wall in a hospital and beryllium copper used in circuit boards in ambulances. Like many manufacturers, we played a role. Without most of us doing our part, who knows how much longer it would have taken for cities and states to have been prepared for the crisis.
For us, being deemed essential really meant we were going to be ready to answer the call for anyone inquiring about metal materials. We kept a full production team, as well as remote sales and support teams. Which brought us to another difficulty...
Making Remote Work Work in Manufacturing
Manufacturing is an in-person, face-to-face, firm handshake kind of industry. In order to make remote work work, we had some things to figure out.
First, there was uncertainty of city and statewide restrictions and shelter in place restrictions. With how quickly things were changing, how do we adapt our processes to meet new restrictions? Seemed like a never-ending question.
Plus, we still needed to physically process material. We had to ask, what are our rights here, what is the authority we have as a business, and how does this intersect with the community as a whole?
Not only did we need to outfit our employees with the resources to work remotely, or work safely on-site, we had to encourage a culture of remote work, which was completely foreign to anything we’d done before.
And beyond everything going on behind the scenes, we had vendors and customers who needed our help.
Adapting to Changing Demand
Of the materials we stock, there was a noticeable increase in demand for stainless steel and a few different red metals, but overall, demand was more or less in line with historical usages.
We are fortunate we don’t specialize in providing metal to a specific industry. We support automotive, medical, aerospace, food processing and handling, tooling, domestic goods, and more. While some industries were slowing down or halting completely, others were picking up and experiencing increased demand.
We embraced new customers and new opportunities. We also found ourselves pivoting to support our long standing customers as they landed work a little bit outside of their wheelhouse. There was a lot of emphasis on producing items for healthcare, and ensuring safety and material traceability was in line.
The whole experience reinforced that Mead Metals likes being as diverse as we are. We were available and responsive to customers, new and old, and we learned about our internal limits and the value of staying in our niche.
Relying on Our Strengths
Since the onset of the pandemic, there’s been no shortage of uncertainty. Over the last few months, it’s become more and more clear the values we have come to rely on at Mead were exactly what we needed to pull through the difficult moments.
We were already a small, nimble shop where the need to wear many hats was a part of everyone’s job. Since COVID-19, we’ve become nimble in completely new ways. We’ve learned what it takes to adjust staffing and hours to support people at home with their young families. We’ve learned capacity is about more than the number of orders completed each week. It’s about being supported in your emotional and physical needs.
Our industry is one known for regulation, compliance, checks, and balances. So far, 2020 has been a year of adapting to new protocols, while upholding the ones already in place. When the familiar ways of doing business become unfamiliar, we continue to show up and do our best.
From all of us at Mead Metals, we hope you’re faring well.