By Ben Hertzman, Chief Operating Officer at Luv2Pak
When this crisis began, we realized early on that we had a unique opportunity as a company to help and give back.
Although the average Canadian consumer might not recognize our name, they’ve almost certainly used our products, because we supply retail & gift packaging — like gift boxes and shopping bags — to businesses of every size across North America.
That work we’ve been doing as a family business since 1917 has given us deep experience in sourcing high quality goods from international markets. If there’s one company that’s set up to import Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), it’s us.
Since the Province of Ontario reached out to us more than a month ago, we’ve pivoted our business accordingly. We have had staff on the ground in Asia, visiting factories, securing production space, booking air freight and other work non-stop. In that time we’ve helped get hundreds of thousands of masks in stock in Canada - and that’s just the start.
Of course, like most businesses, we have had to learn to work in new ways. Following the government’s recommendation about social distancing, we now have our entire team set up to work virtually. This has brought new meaning to the term “digital transformation.”
When we had an inkling that we might have to shut down our office, the first thing we did was buy laptops for staff that didn’t have them, and prepare to have our entire staff work from home. Then it was a matter of training people who have never used video conferencing software before on how to share screens and collaborate.
There were a lot of processes that were historically done longhand and on pieces of paper. We had to change all that to scanning things and using products like DocuSign to sign contracts.
The most critical business processes needed even more specialized applications.
We’ve embedded Salesforce into how we’ve operated our business for many years, and working to source and secure PPE is no different.
We use Sales Cloud to assign inquiries for masks to a rep as they come in. The visibility Salesforce provides us is essential because there can be a lot of complexity in fulfilling those orders. There is a different level of complexity to fulfilling a 100 piece order from stock, or arranging the production & logistics for a custom run of 100,000+ pieces. A tool like Sales Cloud ensures we deliver what’s needed in a way that’s transparent and seamless to everyone on the team who needs to be involved.
The medical supply business has a lot of similarities with our traditional business in terms of production scheduling and project management, which we’ve been doing for over 100 years.
When working with suppliers, you have to know how many pieces they can produce per day with multiple factories running, and how to consolidate the shipments, and find the most efficient way to get the goods to Canada - whether it be Air Freight, Courier or Expedited Ocean Freight.
We use Salesforce to track where our largest needs are, and dedicate the right resources based on our analysis. The data allows us to ask ourselves smart questions that can have a big impact on the final outcomes: Are we using the right factories? Is the lead time too long?
Beyond that, though, we’ve been exposed to this whole other world. One where we’re constantly learning new regulations, and ensuring compliance with Health Canada’s standards. If you’re buying a shopping bag, you have to have quality control in place before you leave Asia, but it’s not like a medical device that protects someone’s life. There’s a whole other level of care and attention to detail necessary to ensure a mask or other PPE meets the necessary standards.
We’ve dedicated our entire company to this project. In doing so, we’ve had to set up systems to ensure we’re clear on direction, and well connected - especially since we are working remotely. This includes things we didn’t do before, like daily department meetings. Management meets every day at 12, sales at 8:30 and buyers at 10.
I’ve also learned you have to be more deliberate about being available to your staff. It means asking questions like, “Are you safe?” “Is your family okay?” We’re doing a lot more one-on-one calls to make sure everyone is doing all right.
We expect a speed bump every day. I don’t always know what it’s going to be but I know it’s coming. The good thing is, there’s no situation we haven’t been able to overcome yet. I can only imagine what those on the front lines must be facing on a daily basis.
When you’re able to have a higher purpose beyond your day to day, however — in this case, helping fight a global pandemic — it’s a win no matter how you look at it, and it’s incredibly empowering for your staff. For the rest of our lives, we’re going to remember these times, when we were up through the night to secure masks for front-line workers.