From retail packaging to 45 million face masks; SA company pivots to provide essential services in COVID-19

In just three weeks, South Australian manufacturer and TEC member, Detmold Group, pivoted its production from retail packaging to surgical and respirator masks to assist in the fight against COVID-19. Securing a SA Health and Federal Government contract, the innovative organisation will employ an additional 100 employees in Adelaide and produce 45 million masks by the end of the year.

Tom Lunn, Detmold Group General Manager, Marketing and Innovation, shares how the company shifted quickly and effectively to solve a real need in the current environment.

Greatest change to business

What has been the biggest change for your business as a result of COVID-19?

 Supply chain interruptions since COVID-19 hit China in early January has been the biggest change to our business.

Detmold employ about 800 people in China, and it’s taken a huge amount of management to make sure our employees are safe while also ensuring our customers still have supply of essential packaging right through this period.

We worked with the Chinese government with practical, effective return to work protocols for factories including temperature checks, protective equipment, distancing, hand-washing hygiene and increased sanitation measures.

Navigating the transition

How have you navigated the transition, in terms of operations and workforce?

In January we had a COVID-19 crisis response team that was focused primarily on the health and welfare of our staff, and secondly on ensuring continuity of supply chain to our customers.

In March, our business continuity plan (BCP) took over which has a broader focus beyond the supply chain, to include financial planning and cash flow. We have daily meetings with all cross-functional leaders of the global business, to keep across what’s happening and ensure we have plans in place for multiple scenarios.

Greatest challenge

What has been the most challenging aspect of the impact on your business so far?

 The retail downturn has impacted a significant part of our business. We provide a lot of packaging to fashion and non-food retail, and have a heavy reliance on the cafe, restaurant and hospitality sector; all of which have all been suffering.

The other challenging aspect has been the impact of the tightened level of access for our staff in countries in lockdown, and assuring their safety getting to, from and being at work. As a result, there’s been a significant increase in the resources required to manage our workforce, maintain production and look after employees, particularly in areas outside of Australia and New Zealand where there might not be that government support that we have here.

Greatest opportunity

What has been the most surprising/interesting opportunity that the crisis has presented?

 First and foremost; mask production. To accelerate from a retail packaging manufacturer to a mask manufacturer and national news story in a matter of weeks has been a huge change for us, and something we are all very proud of. The shift has ensured we can continue to grow, keep our people employed, and hire over 100 additional employees to execute the mask production.

Second to that, it’s great to see how well our teams have responded to working remotely. We've been very impressed and surprised by how well people are stepping up and delivering, particularly when it comes to team collaboration.

​Long-term outlook

How do you think 'business as usual' will change long-term for your organisation when the pandemic ends?

We’ll build a broader medical business off the back of entering the market with the mask contract. And on the flip side, we will re-focus and terminate production of some of our underperforming products once the pandemic ends.

The flexibility to work remotely will definitely be a long-term change for us as well as a finessed approach on how we work together. The technology we’re using at home has allowed us to effectively project manage with less meetings and less travel, which will be a permanent change in our business globally.

Leading in unprecedented times

How did your TEC group assist you in navigating this transition?

 The TEC group has been a great support for me personally in managing what's really been an extreme couple of months. As a business leader during these times, the risk is that you end up working seven days a week, 20 hours a day and not being able to step away. Having the peer support is great to take a step back, and share intel and knowledge on what businesses are experiencing, and how they are responding.

 

 

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