6 Months Later – KEP Challenges & Accomplishments - Kent Elastomer Products

6 Months Later – KEP Challenges & Accomplishments

It will take time to understand the full impact of the 2020 pandemic – on our company, industry and even our families and communities. But in just six months, we already have gained perspective on KEP’s response to the coronavirus. Through trial, error and persistence, KEP demonstrated:

  1. Fast, Responsible Reaction
  2. Positive Adapting to Circumstances
  3. Real, Practical Innovation

Fast, Responsible Reaction

It happened fast. We reacted quickly. In April, I addressed every employee on each shift in our three facilities to say we would be able to stay open with safe distance and hygiene protocols. Not just for our employees, but their families, too.

We distributed hand sanitizer and about 3,000 reusable masks for our employees and their families.

KEP also has a program where good attendance is recognized with points and rewards. Early in the pandemic, we maximized caution by encouraging employees to call off if they felt even a little sick or feverish – without penalty in regards to this program. I am proud to say that this was not abused by KEP employees.

Our daily cleaning and distancing precautions worked: Only four people from each of our three facilities have tested positive for the coronavirus. They all lived with people who were previously testing positive so it is likely the contagion was in their homes. They are all well now.

We continue to take all employee temperatures daily. We also continue deep, sanitized cleanings every day.

KEP recognizes how COVID-19 affects our employees outside of the workplace, too. Many employees have children at home who participate in remote learning. We do our best to adjust schedules to give these employees the flexibility to attend to their families. This includes a new vacation. Since people have not been able to travel freely this year, KEP will now permit up to two weeks of unused vacation time carry over into the new year.

Positive Adapting to Circumstances

At first, orders were canceled or postponed – especially in the dental OEM market. But there was a quick spike in orders for the tubing we create for ventilators and bellows. That helped to soften the blow of lost business. It also showed me how quick and nimble we are as a team, prioritizing fast orders for components essential to products needed in the COVID-19 fight.

Months went by. It wasn’t until late July that the dental OEM industry started reviving. It’s now moving in a positive direction.

The coronavirus hit the food and beverage industry pretty hard. As I write this (October 2020), our production of food/beverage products is light – but we anticipate its return to normalcy by mid to end of next year.

Layoffs & Call Backs

We did have to do a 4-week voluntary layoff. Nineteen employees from two different facilities volunteered. It helped our employees that we did that at the time when unemployed workers received an additional $600 unemployment benefit. Since then, everybody has come back to work. There were no permanent layoffs.

Sales & Services

KEP estimates that COVID-19 will cost $2.5 million in sales. “We forecast that we won’t recover until July 2021. To get back on track, it will be a two year process.”

Because of the disruption caused by COVID-19, our sales force had to change their ways.

In early 2020, KEP was getting traction on a 10-year plan to double our business. Last year, we created a new structure for our sales team to get out on the road seeing customers and prospects. With traveling canceled, our sales managers – working from home – are adapting remarkably. They are building relationships via virtual meetings, emails and phone calls.

Virtual meetings will not go away and will be part of the new normal. Even internally, we at KEP continue with the time-saving practice of Zoom meetings among managers of our different facilities. But nothing beats the face-to-face professional fellowship that makes for great partnership. We used to participate in several trade shows per year. Even before the pandemic, attendance was down at trade shows. We plan on resuming in-person client outreach and travel next spring. That is, unless a safe, effective vaccine comes out sooner.

Customers are Reevaluating Everything

Our sales team is adapting positively to the circumstances by raising the right questions with customers. All companies are affected by the pandemic. For many, the changes caused them to reevaluate their resources, products, organization charts – and their vendor and supplier relationships. Joe Williamson and his team recognize this and are asking all the right questions. We are building strong relationships.

Real, Practical Innovation

Innovation is an overused word. But I observed real innovation from KEP employees during the past six months. Here are just a few examples.

Our FDA-registered facility adheres to ISO 13485 guidelines. We have never experienced a remote ISO certification – but that’s how it had to be conducted. Our Senior Director of Quality Assurance, Beverly Kiglics, adapted to these changes by holding a “dry-run” check in advance with the auditors to make sure all technologies and environments were conducive. We used video conferencing to enable one-on-one interviews, screen sharing, and hosting for large group meetings.

Another example: We worked with our raw material supplier on a tubing offering with a zero extractability property for the biopharmaceutical market.

This same supplier also worked with us on a lower cost silicone replacement for these customers who may have an over-engineered part. In our recent downtime and moving forward we have also developed a new polyisoprene compound that can be used by customers worldwide. We will discuss more about these products in the upcoming months.

Through it all – our response, ability to adapt and innovative talent – our team has demonstrated a creative, optimistic spirit even in the face of uncertainty. I have no doubt that will also be our approach to the future.

– Bob Oborn, President

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