Connecting the Dots in a Global Pandemic
How one small business helped fill the gap for PPE
Woodbury, Connecticut: Project Graphics, Inc. a large format print and branding company saw many orders cancelled and contracts put on hold as the pandemic struck in March 2020. Faced with the high probability that manufacturing would need to be idled and employees laid off, trouble-shooting between the owners, Andrew Riecker and Gregory McKim was a round-the- clock activity to mitigate the pending doom. Facing an unknown future the company held meetings regarding the consequences the pandemic may take on the business. It was distressing and could bring big changes to everyone.
Reaching at straws, a single phone call would soon change the company’s mission and purpose for much of 2020.
Throughout its 30 year tenure, the company has forged many relationships nationally and internationally, particularly partnerships where component manufacturing is needed to supplement the company’s printed products. To this end, in 2010 the company hired a full-time procurement professional in China to assist in sourcing of hardware and frames to complement its product line. To remain competitive in the US marketplace, global sourcing had become a necessity. By 2016 Project Graphics was a known volume importer of various textiles, tent- frames and hanging hardware receiving shipments on a weekly basis.
In China, having just come off quarantine and a leave of absence, the overseas associate had heard the news about the pandemic raging in the US. He telephoned and offered to send some face masks that were manufactured in the medical sector of his city and he knew of additional companies manufacturing medical items who could export to the US. If we should know someone needing PPE, he was willing to negotiate for us.
Within 24 hours, Andrew and Gregory received a list of FDA approved protection equipment and had a commitment from a factory to ship 250,000 units per day of various items, face masks, face shields, gowns and gloves. Once the product was in the air, the two men broke the news to their staff, no layoffs, just get the word out. Inform customers, call hospitals, nursing homes and use email marketing to connect people to this critically needed gear. By noon on the first day the entire shipment was spoken for and negotiations with other factories were now required to increase the volume. Overnight, China had more product committed for export the following day.
By the end of the week, the company transformed from a graphics print shop to a major importer of PPE. A distribution center was hired to repackage and distribute the product as quickly as it arrived. Project Graphics employees worked tirelessly and often through the night taking phone calls from very distressed front-line workers in need. Nurses from clinics in New York who just worked a 48 hour shift with no protection, state emergency services who were receiving no feedback from their vendors, to Indian reservations with no options. One heart- breaking story after another, and always a crisis. The company’s new problem became, “how do we help all these people?’
In eight weeks time, Project Graphics ended up importing over 11 million pieces of PPE. At one point, while watching the government task force give daily updates on TV, the former President gloriously declared 1 million face-masks were landing at Kennedy Airport. On this same day, Project Graphics had chartered an Air China Jet stocked with over 2 million PPE units. There was no way the supply was ever going to meet the demand, but every person who could be protected would help a little more. The days were tiresome and there was rarely a time to come up for air or check in on how others were coping.
As our country moves towards an end to the Covid emergency, a mission of mercy doesn’t begin to describe how employees of a small business can rise to the occasion. Spun into a world of chaos by a pandemic and becoming the “go-to” people for products we knew little about. Each day dealing with updates and speaking to more people who so desperately needed product and wondering why there couldn’t be more airplanes landing with more PPE. The mission had gone well beyond self-preservation and keeping our jobs, it transcended into a humanitarian effort.
In June 2020, a new company PGPPE Medical was formulated as a spinoff of Project Graphics. Several of those who were helped with supplies have become clients. And now as the business world slowly returns to normal and our graphics business resumes, we will never forget this detour. From the factories in China who honorably allocated supplies and helped get them on airplanes, a dedicated employee who ran from factory to factory to negotiate for our country in need, to the distribution center who called furloughed employees to action. And a great company team at Project Graphics who made it happen without a second thought. At the end of a life-changing year, the stress of running a small business fails in comparison.
Project Graphics is a member in good standing with:
Main Street Now: National Historic Trust
International Council on Shopping Centers
Certified NGLCC Diversity Business