This story is part of a series about Washtenaw County businesses' response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Support for this series is provided by Ann Arbor SPARK.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Michigan in March 2020, Ross Gordon, a co-founder of BankSupplies, Inc
., found himself in an unenviable position. Sales were down 60% and he had started to question just how long his company could stay afloat. Luckily, a successful business pivot — centered on his company's core values of collaboration and flexibility — meant that BankSupplies is not only still surviving, but actually thriving.
The pandemic hit just after BankSupplies had moved from Belleville to the Washtenaw County Business Park in Ypsilanti Township, making an already vulnerable moment even more challenging. BankSupplies provides about 30,000 different products, ranging from cash drawers to envelopes to furniture, to banks, casinos, credit unions, restaurants, and many other businesses where money-handling happens across the country.
"When these places closed down across the state and all across the country, things started to get a bit scary for us," Gordon says. "From a business owner’s perspective, you start to consider just how many months, weeks, and days you can survive."
When some BankSupplies customers reached out to ask if the company could supply clear acrylic barriers that would protect their employees when their businesses reopened, Gordon saw an opportunity to do good.
"We could have just refused and just pouted until the pandemic was over," says Gordon. "But our company has always highly valued collaboration, so we worked with our customers to give them what they needed to feel safe."
BankSupplies staff came up with three different designs and the company's plastics fabricator made them. When Gordon saw the shields, his first impression was that they were "cute." His line of thinking at that time was that his company was doing good for the world and that any bit of revenue could help.
"I thought we'd sell about 500. Instead, we sold 45,000 in four months," Gordon says. "The phones were ringing off the hook, the email traffic was blowing up, the website was processing orders, and we suddenly found ourselves trying to survive this new demand."
BankSupplies staff's dedication and flexibility were crucial to that success. On top of working their regular jobs, they threw themselves into the new endeavor. Gordon himself led by example. He explains that the company had to expand from working with one plastics fabricator to six. Knowing that he couldn't rely on trucking during COVID-19, Gordon bought a trailer and drove all over the Midwest picking up the shields from those new vendors.
Next, he had to hire 15 people to help with the packaging. It was tough to find people who were willing to work during the pandemic's first wave, but Gordon explains that the additional help was crucial.
"We had to quickly figure out how to package the shields safely so that they could survive shipping," he says. "It's one thing to figure out how to package a thing, but it’s quite another thing to figure out how to package 45,000 of that thing in a four-month period."
Now that a lot of the uncertainty is behind him, Gordon says he's proud he was able to keep his longtime staff employed as well as hire more.
"The challenges were huge, but we kept knocking them down," he says. "It's shown us that with continued teamwork, respect, and trust, we can continue to build what is already a hearty business."
For more Concentrate coverage of our community's response to the COVID-19 crisis, click here.
Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of Ross Gordon.