In order for businesses to survive during the pandemic, at times they have had to find new avenues of business. For 2-SCALE this meant working with hospitals, schools, and other businesses to create a product to increase health and safety in their facilities.
About This Guest:
President - 2-Scale
Aaron Churchill is the president of 2-Scale who leads a team of artists, engineers, craftspeople, builders, and coordinators to create dimensional installations that feature a client’s brand and/or story. Now, 2-SCALE is specialized in creating customized plexiglass dividers for just about any space.
We sat down with Aaron about 2-SCALE shifted their product line to meet the unique demand and shift in climate that the COVID-19 virus presented.
Hello everyone and welcome to The Business of Cleaning podcast. My name is Halie Morris. I’m your podcast coordinator and host.
With me today, I have Aaron Churchill from 2-SCALE. Aaron’s the president, and he’s going to talk to us about 2-SCALE’s response to COVID-19. We’re going to start with what exactly 2-SCALE is, who they are, and what they do. So if you don’t mind, Aaron, would you lead off?
Aaron Churchill 0:53
Thank you for having me. So 2-SCALE, at its core, is a design and production firm. So we really serve first, the tradeshow industry, which is highly event-based, as well as the tradeshow side of things.
We also do environments. Through that, we’ll do like a full-scale design for space, or for a building that really concentrates on the branding and signage side of things.
To support that, we really have four core areas. We have a design and project coordination team that will design the space. However, to determine how everything is built, we have a fabrication team.
So locally at our facility, we have a production facility that includes CNC machines, saws, everything that is required to fabricate metal, wood, plastics, everything across the board. As well as we have a printing and graphics space. So we have multiple printers, to print signage, both flexible and rigid and we also have an installation crew.
Really, those four components supported the trade show and environment side of things, until obviously, COVID-19 hit. We had to transition significantly since all of the events that we were doing on the trade show side were pretty much being canceled.
From there, I’ll tell the story about how I saw this coming. I am a big consumer of information and news. So for my background, I went to college for mechanical engineering, and it really allowed me to digest information based on facts.
I’m able to read a number of different sources and naturally dig through it to look for what I deem as being factual. A lot of times, I’ll read multiple news articles, or I’ll start to read an article and I can get a feeling for how many facts are being cited from professionals that are relevant to the information.
So if I’m reading an article that had to do with an infectious disease or anything like that, I’d really look for who the person is and what their title is. Based on that, I could tell, is this information factual, or is it just opinions being spread? Because we deal with a lot of that right now, the title of “fake news” comes out there significantly.
Okay, what is an opinion? What is actually factual? I feel, at least for myself, I can read an article or read parts of an article to say, yeah, this doesn’t really have substance, or yes, this is right on, this is the direction of where everything is going.
As an information person, that’s really where my interest is. I started to look back in December and in January, through a number of different news sources. I have a couple of apps on my phone. I’m sure a lot of people do. One is more traditional, Apple News, which has a lot of different news companies that submit to it.
Also, I have a non-traditional app. I follow Reddit’s news cycle, which is really where I get a live feed of where the world is to an extent. Back in January, I was looking at- I think it was on Reddit. There was a lot of information even in December about this virus in China that no one knew anything about how rapidly it was spreading.
At that point, I started reading more and more on that as information came out. I was meeting with my core group here, including my business partner, and just saying, “Listen, this is how fast this thing is spreading and there’s no chance that this is going to be just stemmed in China. We have to prepare ourselves for what’s going to come next.”
Things kind of went on a little bit, where we were still talking about it and waiting to see what happened with events. We were being transparent with our customers to say, “Hey, events may be canceled. We want to let you know the risk. this not necessarily from a health standpoint. From a business standpoint, there are costs when you go to a show that you can’t recover.
That naturally came through at the beginning of March, when we started to see shows cancel. Basically, at the beginning of March, all events were shut down and that’s when the firm lockdown came in. So, at that point, we kind of looked at where we could pivot, because we didn’t see our industry coming back for probably about two years.
What’s the next thing for us, because we want to keep this business running? We want to keep our people employed. So we reached out to some partners and offered our capabilities, ran through the project coordination, design, fabrication, printing, and graphics, and installation to find out what we can do to help our local community.
What can we do to continue this business? So there were a number of pieces that kind of went together to get to where we are today. Do you want me to go into that fully right now?
Yes. So you’ve gone through, of course, this shift with that beginning of COVID-19 and so I think diving into those next partnerships, and those things that you started to do, to actually start to shift your product and your strategy to fit the situation is a great place to start.
Sure. So when we were in full lockdown, we had all our project coordination team and design team start to work with our customers. We knew that hospitals were going to have some needs for PPE.
We wanted to offer these production capabilities. Where can we help you? We had Promedica reach out to us, they’re a local hospital system, to partner us with a local car design manufacturer, Dana, to build intubation boxes.
So when COVID-19 first started, the hospitals, especially in New York and some of the other places, were starting to be overrun, and they had no place to treat people. One source of infection they were finding from patients to the health care provider side was when they intubated someone.
When they intubated or extubated someone, a lot of times they would cough and droplets would come out. So we worked with Dana and Promedica to build intubation boxes, which basically almost created a mini ICU around someone’s head.
The idea was that they could hook this up to the negative pressure ports in the room. So when someone coughed, it would suck the air out of the room. This took advantage of our fabrication capabilities and we made those out of plastic PTG. It’s a form of acrylic.
We served the local hospital community for about 100 units with that. The hospitals in Toledo really didn’t see too much of an overrun, I guess I’ll call it. The intubation boxes at the hundred units pretty much serve their need.
So we started looking at and contacting the customers about what we could do next. That’s really where we came to the partitions. Our first partner was Promedica. They have their downtown facility that had about 1500 cubicles and we worked with their team and their infectious disease experts to come up with partitions for each cubicle to close someone to the extent where if they were to cough or breathe, it would deflect it.
That was our first real push into the partition side of things. For the first two months to three months, we were really working with the hospital systems and local businesses that wanted to stay open through this to get as many partitions as possible.
A lot of them went on cubicle walls. Some of them are freestanding walls. Everything we did was custom for this. The goal here would be that we could fit the space with what they needed. It wasn’t just going to be a single product. We really wanted it to be large enough to provide as much protection as possible.
Being on the visual side of things, we wanted them to be visually appealing. Our goal there was that you’re not going to necessarily see them, that they’d be clean enough, and hopefully pretty much all clear. You just look right through them and see the other person that you’re trying to talk to.
We worked on the hospital and business side of things for about three months and that’s when we started working with the school systems. It was probably June and early July, where we started to reach out to them to offer solutions and to meet with them to find, not just a cookie-cutter piece that would work for them.
We wanted it to be something that would be customized to where if they wanted to be portable, they can move it around. If they wanted it to be permanent and provide protection for a teacher, it could be large enough to stay there and protect them.
So that’s really brought us around until where we are today. We’re still working with the school systems to provide partitions. We’re really being a solution provider. We’ll make some recommendations.
With anything else, we can’t offer any guarantees, but the goal here is that if there is someone standing and breathing, we can deflect their breath so it doesn’t reach that other person when you’re within that 6-foot to 10-foot distance.
So how many schools do you think you work with at this time?
Oh, all the schools that we work with are within probably 50 miles. We probably worked with about 20 to 25 schools– Sorry, I should say school districts. Within say Sylvania, they have 10 schools, so doing partitions for each one of those schools.
Our focus, if I can use Sylvania as an example, would be the elementary school. The goal there was to talk with the principals and their team to find out how many kids are going to be coming back initially, how they want to space them out, and how we can protect them.
So for each classroom, we did a large partition for the teacher for their desk and then individual partitions for individual desks. Think of a three-sided partition, that’s plexiglass. Polycarbonate is actually what we use. It’s a form of Plexiglas. It’s just impact resistant.
We were able to come up with a solution there that gave them as much space as possible on their desk, but we could hold it down without it falling off. They went in two weeks ago and I think it’s been very successful.
We’ve really tried to find individual solutions to each need they had. So if they have individual desks, we find the right product for them and customize that. If they have a shared desk of four kids, we’re able to divide that into four sections where you can still have those four kids there, and they are separating their breathing space.
For each school and each school district, it has been different. We try to lend some information from what we learn from some of the other schools or from the hospitals when we’re working with them to make recommendations, but we really want to listen to the principals and listen to the teachers to understand their concerns so we can provide them a solution.
So how do you actually keep, out of curiosity, the partitions on the desk?
So there are a couple of different ways we do that. If it’s a large partition, we use a clear, double-sided tape. It’s a specific type that’s removable. If they expect to leave these up indefinitely, we can use a very aggressive double-sided tape that’ll hold them on until they’re basically taken off with heat at that point.
There’s another type of tape, specifically. It’s called nano tape and the hold is very good. If it’s pushed, it’ll still hold, but you can actually pry it up later. Just with gentle pressure, it’ll release and come off.
We really look at the surface that it’s going on to determine what tape would be required and understand the length of time they want to have it on. That’ll kind of give us the solution, but most the time-
Well, I think we’ve only done maybe a few partitions where we mechanically fastened them down with screws or something like that. Our goal would be that you can put the partition down, remove it later, and not have any damage to the surface that it’s sitting on.
That’s interesting and it’s unique. I’ve been to a couple of places that have various forms of partition. I’ve seen everything from shower curtains to these fancy ones. There’s this cute little cafe, and theirs are sliding on hinges with wood frames that match the rest of the place.
So I’ve seen a couple of things, but I did wonder how it works with schools, especially because I have a little sister, who will probably be going back in-person here shortly.
I’ll tell you, the shower curtains and a fancy partition, it’s providing a function. If a school or say a restaurant didn’t have the budget for a really nice looking partition, I would encourage the shower curtains. It’s really providing a solution to block the airflow. Whatever you have to do to provide that, I recommend that people do it.
Do you know how often people should clean these partitions, as far as maintenance of them for the virus?
Sure. So what I would say is it’s really dependent on how you use the area that it’s in. If it’s an individual desk, that the same child sits there every day, then I would say a daily cleaning isn’t required.
When you switch from one child to the next, it should be cleaned after each use, because no matter what, someone is breathing. The particulates are going on that partition and kids are going to touch everything that’s around them. So they’re going to pick up that virus. Basically, at every change over from one child to the next, I would recommend cleaning.
Going off that, what do you recommend to your schools to clean the partitions with?
I wouldn’t use anything too aggressive, because they’re plastics at the end of the day that we’re dealing with. So you can use just a diluted alcohol solution that will clean and kill the virus. That works.
Really, I wouldn’t use any aggressive bleach solutions or anything like that. We usually clean and recommend our acrylics to be cleaned with alcohol.
Okay, thank you. Then, kind of switching gears a little bit, how does the business go about interacting with the schools because every school district is different?
Interacting with different principals, obviously, the priorities probably shift and how everybody’s handling the pandemic, as they bring students back in, it’s going to be different, whether it’s hybrid all in person, or they’re virtual, and they’re prepping for in person.
So how do you recommend those people handle those interactions with the schools from a business perspective?
When you’re looking at that, you have to find the right person to be talking to. That’s number one because if you’re reaching out and like from our end, we’re trying to offer partitions to maybe an individual teacher or something like that. That’s not the right person.
So we find success dealing with the director of facilities, or we can talk to an individual principal to find out “Okay, are you managing it on your school level? Or is this being managed by the district?” At that point, usually, it’s the district. If they have someone in facilities, that would be who I would recommend a business to reach out to.
Again, I think being a solution provider is the best avenue for that. We don’t walk in and say we have one product that we can offer. We say, these are our capabilities and this is what we’ve done with other schools. If you’re interested, and you have a need, please let us know.
If you’re just walking in selling one individual product, they’re just going to look at that product and not understand how it can be used. If you’re selling a solution, you’ll get further in with them.
Hopefully, the need aligns with the solution you can provide and then the business moves forward. If it doesn’t, you have to move on to the next one. That’s really our approach to it and that’s what I would recommend other businesses to do.
Thank you. I think that’s helpful to know, just because there are so many, whether it’s a distributor or something like that, that are now having more conversations with schools, even if they’ve already worked with the district, or they’re working with more districts.
So to open up that conversation on how, from a business perspective, if you see an avenue where you could help the system, how you should approach it.
What are you thinking as you look forward? What are your plans as we kind of shift into the winter months here shortly? I know we’re literally shifting into fall at the moment and I’m sure you’re already starting to look ahead.
Yeah, so we’re continuing to fulfill the partition need. The evolution for us has been the businesses that require it. Schools that we are working with right now are pretty much at a hybrid level. So they have about half of the partitions in there that they would need. We’ll continue to fulfill that.
We really are looking next at how we can assist everyone from a signage standpoint, Yes, I’ve talked a lot about partitions, but the printing and graphic side of things have really been a great source of business for the schools as well.
Also for businesses to understand certain areas that you can sit down and know what are the recommendations on distancing and all of that stuff. We really see that the signage, as things are going to evolve and more information comes out on the spread of this, we’ll continue to do that.
Partitions will still be a need and we’ve got a couple of other avenues that we’re kind of vetting out right now that I can’t really talk about yet, that, we hope to be able to continue on the business side and continue drive revenue, but also provide solutions for our customers to curb the spread of the virus.
Thank you for sharing that. I think it’s just important, even though we don’t know exactly what December, January, next spring, or even next summer is going to look like this to consider as a business.
We could still be in deep with the virus. We could be starting to work with vaccines coming. You don’t know.
So I was just curious to see what your plans are for this next upcoming stage.
It’s so hard right now to look at what can be that next thing because we’re kind of in a standstill on the virus. Not that much more information has come out to say these are the changes we need to make.
Yes, they have come out to say masks are more effective than everyone thought. Before it’s to protect the other person you may be talking to. The new information is saying that it protects you as well.
So there’s some information coming out and my goal is to digest that and pivot our business to find a solution for the information or the problem that’s out there that this virus is creating.
Out of curiosity, because obviously, we’ve talked about your product changes and just how you’ve shifted and met with customer demands and different partnerships and new business that’s come through, but how do you handle it internally? How have you handled it with your team as far as the transfer of information and the shifting of priorities?
So, that has been very interesting on our side of things. We tried to keep the framework that we had before, where we have a project coordination team that includes our salespeople, and our account coordinators, and our project managers.
Okay, I’ll kind of go through how a project works for us if that might illustrate better how things work together here.
A salesperson and their account coordinator would meet with a client to understand their needs. At that point, they’ll get all that information, that account coordinator will talk to a project manager that will also work with design to determine what solution we’re going to provide, in this case, partitions.
We’ll look at the individual desks that they have to say, here’s the size of it, this is where they need coverage. The designer will put something together for the design on it, and the project manager will go ahead and put some numbers to it and provide pricing to the customer.
At that point. If they give us the go-ahead, that’ll go into fabrication. Our detailer would have previously worked on a display to determine how things are built and everything would now work on a partition that would go through detailing. The project manager will work with the detailer to put together work orders that go to the fabrication team.
Fabrication will take those work orders and basically execute the routing files for a CNC router. The design will go to the fabrication team that does all the gluing. To put everything together for that.
Then that’ll go into finished products, where our installation team will review the partition to understand it and the drawings of it, and work with the account coordination team to execute the installation and work with the client to set an appointment to come out to install it.
Then our account team always follows up with our clients to make sure that the solution that we provided is what they expected. If there are any issues, we’ll make the corrections at that point.
So from an internal standpoint, it’s very similar to how we worked previously. We just pivoted it into the product that we’re making. Everything we do is custom, typically. So instead of building a tradeshow booth, or a dimensional sign or something like that, at this time, we’re doing it for a partition that may have three parts, four sides, all sorts of different pass-throughs in it.
How we digest that information is similar to what we had before. We had to adjust to the monotony of doing something so similar over and over because our team is always used to seeing something different. Our team enjoys change.
When we’re doing partitions, they may be slightly different every time, but it’s not giving them that variation. Our team has been amazing to say, “yes, we’re doing our part to serve the community. Let’s get through this on the back ends so we can get back to what we do on a regular basis.” They’ll get that change from a day-to-day basis of what they’re doing.
It’s good to hear that the response of your team internally is so good. I’m a creative person, so I can feel that little bit of pain from going from this huge variation in the types of products to something with less variation.
From a creative perspective, then you understand that because that’s our team. Even our fabricators, they could go and they could work at a builder or a cabinet shop or something like that, but the creativity that we put into our work is what they love. We’re doing that to an extent with the partitions, but it’s not as interesting as what we would normally do.
It’s a little pause on some of the high energy creativity, but it’s so important to what you’re doing. So yeah. It’s great to hear about that response. So I guess we can start to wrap up and tie into the end of our discussion. I just want to ask, then what advice do you have for businesses, when it comes to making such a pivotal and crazy change because of your environment?
So, for us, we try to keep open communication with our team as much as possible. When lockdown happened initially, we pulled everyone together to say, “Hey, we’re making plans of what’s going to happen next.” We don’t fully roll that out, we’ll get their input on stuff, but we’ll really make those plans.
We made everybody aware and we actually went into lockdown at that point where we closed the office. Then once we figured out our determination, we reached out to all our employees and said, “Okay, here’s, basically when we’re coming back to the office, and this is where we’re going next.”
We received a great response, just to be transparent with our employees and get their buy-in for that.
Then make sure that you have the framework to support what you’re going to pivot to. You may have a fantastic idea that there’s a need for, but if you can’t execute that, the solution you’re providing is going to be disappointing to the customer.
They’re either waiting too long for it, where you missed their expectations there or you’re not able to build what you said you could. You’re going to miss the expectations as well. So if you put the framework in place before you jump into it, or you verify that you have the framework in place, I think that’s where once you read it, you’ll be able to have success.
That’s great advice and I think it’s a perfect place to end on. I want to say, Aaron, thank you for coming on to the show today. I also want to thank everybody for tuning into The Business of Cleaning podcast.
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