Take a mental step back in time to the beginning of March.
Serial entrepreneur Lisa Drader Murphy is preparing to head to her home in France for some creative downtime. She’s also working on a new collection of designs for her self-named design house and anticipating a busy season for her hospitality enterprise.
Terry Malley, the president and CEO of specialty vehicle manufacturer Malley Industries, was full throttle — but he sensed some storm clouds on his horizon. The coronavirus had already begun to affect Chinese manufacturing companies, some of whom were part of his supply chain. “We expected some short term pain,” he says, “but we didn’t anticipate how quickly Covid-19 was going to shut down manufacturing here in Canada.”
It’s been a devasting three months since then for a lot of businesses, but both Malley and Drader Murphy found creative ways to survive and thrive. See below for the full interview and three valuable lessons from their pandemic pivot.
ONE: Identify your strengths (and build on them)
Though Drader Murphy is best known for high fashion, she also has a background in technical industry design. She also owns one of the few vertical design houses in Canada – which means they design and manufacture their product. Within 24 hours, Drader Murphy had reconfigured her production line to produce neoprene fast masks. So far, she has made and shipped 30,000 products.
Malley, meanwhile, saw the opportunity to double-down on their thermoform plastic products. They’d long been producing partitions and dividers for vans; they quickly adapted to create protective shields that could isolate drivers from passengers — a necessity for professional drivers in the taxi and bussing industries. They’re even working to develop a “quick shield” that hands from the shoulder harness, so that drivers can quickly install a physical barrier between them and passengers. Their graphics division has also been busy working on floor symbols. According to Malley, the new products mean they’ve “been able to fill in where we dropped off on the other side”.
Within 24 hours, Lisa Drader Murphy reconfigured her production facility to pivot from high fashion to face masks.
TWO: Beware the golden nails
Malley says that his company’s velocity was sometimes punctured by what he terms “golden nails” — five-dollar parts that could hold up the shipment of $100,000 vehicles. “Just in time delivery, in Atlantic Canada, usually means late,” says Terry Malley.
Drader Murphy experienced a similar issue, saying she was held up on the shipment of 5,000 face masks because she was waiting on the delivery of cord locks. “We couldn’t ship without them.”
As a result of the supply chain uncertainty, Malley says he and his team are undertaking a comprehensive supplier review. “The best suppliers aren’t necessarily the cheapest, but the ones who are there when you need them.”
For Terry Malley of Malley Industries, Covid-19 brought both new opportunity and new insights into the value of a reliable supply chain.
THREE: Embrace the change
Drader Murphy says she had been planning to develop a more robust online presence for some time, and Covid forced her to accelerate that process. Noting that she can now reach customers more directly, she plans to make continued website investments a bigger priority going forward.
Over at Malley, they discovered a previously underrecognized advantage of their thermoform plastic ambulance interiors. “Some services are only using our vehicles for Covid transport because they’re so easy to clean. We’ll be promoting that,” he says simply.