Midvale company shifts its production to help protect medical workers
May 05, 2020 11:17AM
By Sarah Morton Taggart
Workers at SugarHouse Industries create face shields from materials normally used to create boat covers. (Photo courtesy SugarHouse Industries)
By Sarah Morton Taggart | [email protected]
“It was equal parts wanting to help and needing to keep our doors open,” Mike Peterson said. Peterson is president of SugarHouse Industries, a company started by his grandfather nearly 80 years ago. SugarHouse Industries specializes in making vinyl boat covers and awnings.
The appearance of COVID-19 in Utah has brought many industries to a halt, including companies offering products for vacations and leisure time.
“People were canceling their orders,” Peterson said. “I was trying to figure out how to stay busy, stay relevant.”
The solution came from Romy Humphries, the sales and marketing director for SugarHouse Industries. She came across a story about another company that was making face shields to protect medical workers from coming in contact with the virus.
“The thing that caught her eye was that the company was using marine-grade vinyl,” Peterson said. “That’s exactly what we use. That made us think real seriously about it.”
Later that day Peterson created a prototype face shield. The next day he showed it to someone at a local hospital. Two days later the hospital ordered 10,000 of them. Two weeks later, SugarHouse Industries delivered the last of them.
Aside from that very large job, the company has taken orders from smaller medical offices, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, dentists, mortuaries, police departments and others.
Peterson estimates that by the second week of April they had delivered 50,000 face shields and 30,000 masks.
One way that SugarHouse Industries has been able to produce so much is through volunteers — friends, family and neighbors. Peterson’s youngest children, ages 8, 10, 12 and 15 recently had their first experiences working at the family business.
“Volunteers do the easier assembly: packaging, counting and sorting,” Peterson said. “My 8 year old was just as busy as can be.”
With each shield or mask made by a volunteer they brought in, employees earn “Volunteer Time Off”—paid hours they can spend serving causes they care about during the Christmas holiday.
SugarHouse Industries also put out a call on social media for volunteers to make face masks at home.
“They pick up the supplies, take them home, bring back the masks,” Peterson said. “People are good and people want to help. It’s been heartwarming to see the response. Too bad it takes a pandemic, but that’s the silver lining. People think about how we’re all in this together, and that’s pretty cool.”
So far all of the extra business has come from word of mouth.
“We haven’t been looking for more work because what’s coming to us has been overwhelming,” Peterson said. “The demand has been an unexpected challenge. We were not anticipating the demand, so lately our challenge has been sourcing materials. We’re going through a lot of it, and suppliers offices are closed or furloughed.”
Peterson is grateful that he hasn’t had to lose any employees. “Worrying about laying off staff was keeping me up at night,” he said. “Now I’m still up at night, but for better reasons. I’m stressing about how to get the work done.”
“It’s a conflicted feeling of hoping the demand stays up so we can keep working. Yet we want this (pandemic) to end. I worry about the unknown of what the economy is going to look like when this is over. Will people want to buy awnings and boat coverings again?”
For now, the company is busy producing equipment that will help stop the spread of COVID-19.
“I’m just so proud of our employees for stepping up and rising to the challenge,” Peterson said.