–Do you have any reservations or concerns emphasizing your race when marketing your business – is it an advantage or disadvantage?
My company has been in business for 34 years. In the past, we would never post the fact that we were a Black-owned business. History has taught us that it can be a liability. We’ve found that walking in the supplier diversity door of some companies comes with additional hurdles. The biggest one being bias where companies must prove that they can, in fact, do the work. Especially in our business of advanced manufacturing and electronics. We are now in a fortunate position. Our work now stands on its own, however, we do not highlight Black-ownership, nor do we hide it.
–Do you use any unique sites, tools or services oriented to Black-owned businesses (i.e. https://fivefifths.co/) to help market your business?
No. We are in a unique position because as a B2B supplier of electronics manufacturing services there aren’t many minority players at our level due to the high barriers to entry. When people come to us, they come for our expertise. On the backend, however, some companies are happy to learn that they are able to meet their diverse supplier spend targets by working with us.
-How has the BLM movement made a difference for your business so far? Has it?
The BLM Movement has made zero difference for my business because the average consumer does not buy industrial electronics manufacturing services. I think more of a difference has been made for B2C businesses. However, separate and distinct from BLM, the COVID crisis has highlighted the deficiencies in many companies’ global supply chains and they are realizing that they need stateside manufacturing services. At the same time, these companies are putting out BLM statements without even having an internal D&I focus or a supplier diversity plan. My hope is that these companies will extend their stateside search to include minority-owned businesses as a part of a larger strategy that includes making a concerted effort to identify and engage in doing business with black-owned entities.
-How do you think the current BLM movement will have a long term impact on your business?
It is my hope that companies will seek out and make concerted efforts to diversify their supplier base. Black businesses are least likely to receive financing for our businesses when compared to our white counterparts. Black businesses’ cost of capital tends to have a larger negative impact in comparison to their white counterparts. B2B companies can SHOW how black lives matter by supporting black businesses, not through handouts, but by simply DOING BUSINESS with black businesses. If they are willing to make that connection, there will definitely be a long term impact.
-How has the BLM movement changed the way you market your business?
There has been zero change.
-What advice do you have for other Black business owners who are looking to capitalize on BLM and grow their companies?
I hesitate to use the word “capitalize” in this instance. George Floyd’s life will forever be connected to this current iteration of the BLM movement. It was the tipping point that caused a massive and collective cross-cultural outrage. It caused people to look at systemic racism and how something like economic empowerment is just one spoke on the wheel of change.
Remember, black business owners are still having issues with obtaining CARES Act funding to keep their businesses alive. 40% of all black businesses will fail during this crisis due to a lack of capital. Many black businesses are looking for lifelines in order to just sustain the downturn.
Since pivoting earlier this month to heed the call from front-line workers, we have been able to meet the need of face shields across three states – Missouri, New York, and Pennsylvania.
A foundation reached out to us, asking if we could produce 1000 masks in order to meet the need in two states where they had a footprint. Like several businesses, some of our customers had been slow to pay their accounts receivable, so we ceased production on their products and pivoted to making the face shields. That 1000 mask number increased to over 14,000. This week we will have met the halfway point of this project.
Missouri doctor who received an Electro Soft manufactured face shield
And while raw material has been difficult to obtain, we tried reaching out directly to the manufacturer of one of the materials we used, only to be told, “our products were not meant to be used as PPE.” Definitely their legal team penned that response. But then we were met with the complete opposite response when we reached out to the President of another company whose material is used in the construction of the shields. He immediately sent a full pallet of supplies at a discounted cost, within DAYS.
Like that first company, our insurance company was a little uneasy about what we were doing and wanted to beef up our policy. And we could have easily stopped doing what we were doing in order to mitigate loss, but as human beings, making these masks quickly and for an affordable cost is the RIGHT thing to do, so we kept moving forward.
As we started constructing these masks for the foundation, we learned about the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium though a church announcement. Local black churches paired up with the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium to offer FREE testing to the minority community, which is being impacted at a disproportionately higher rate. Many African Americans are essential workers who cannot work from home, are front-line workers in hospitals (cleaning, hands-on patient care, etc), live in communities with little to no access to medical care, use public transportation as their primary means of travel, etc.
The consortium was using GoFundMe to raise money to pay for transportation and supplies to continue testing throughout the community. Unfortunately, like most health institutions, they had a hard time obtaining PPE. Electro Soft decided that we were going to provide all of the face shields for these doctors.
Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium
Since then, the doctors have been able to test close to 1,000 people who otherwise would not have had access to testing. One third of those tested were positive for COVID-19. We share this with you because there is still so much that isn’t known about this virus and who currently is infected. EVERYONE can do something in this fight. We are electronics manufacturers that were able to pivot to meet the need. While our effort is small in comparison to many, we are proud that we were able to contribute to health and safety of our neighbors both locally and across state lines.
All over the news hospitals are pleading for PPE. Manufacturers, like Electro Soft, aren’t equipped to make what they need, but we wanted to help.
A video by Dr. Scott Chudnoff was brought to our attention. We learned that Einstein hospital system in Philadelphia was accepting homemade products, so we went to work to make protective face shields.
We purchased all of the items listed and modified the lengths of the weatherstrip and ribbon in order to fit larger heads. In about an hour, four people were able to cut, punch, and fully assemble 100 protective face shields which will be sent via UPS this evening to the hospital.
Governor Wolf has allowed manufacturers to continue operating here in Pennsylvania, which is a relief as many of us are integral parts of supply chains around the world. Here at Electro Soft, we have been practicing “social distancing” and smart cleaning measures around high-touch areas of the business. My company, in particular, has not yet had a disruption in supply from our distributors, so we are able to continue manufacturing electronics assemblies for our industrial and military clients.
What I have found as a new owner is the overwhelming flood of inbound messages and information from multiple sources. Every company has emailed a letter detailing their position on the virus and what they are doing, all in an effort to reassure its stakeholders. Every email and social media post emphasizes washing one’s hands. There is a race to provide thought leadership, yet not one person has been able to fully comprehend what we are going through and how best to move forward.
I remember reading a quote from Mr. Rogers that spoke to the fact that as a boy when everything around him seemed scary his mother told him to, “look for the helpers.” And that is what I thought I would do. Below, I have distilled a list of organizations that I feel have truly been helpers during this scary time of uncertainty. I hope they will be of use to you.
GET THE FACTS
There is a lot of misinformation being spread. I found it best to go to solid sources for facts, not conjecture.
In my immediate area, I am associated with my county’s workforce development board as well as manufacturing industry professionals. We have been consistently sharing information and ideas since the pandemic started.
The company recently celebrated the retirement of one of our best and longest employed staff members, Ling. A senior member of the cable assembly department, Ling was known for her attention to detail and her ability to assemble the most complicated cable assemblies for military and industrial clients.
Ling was known for keeping meticulous notes and making sure that she was clear on all instructions in order to meet the client’s needs. Sometimes, on the backs of drawings, you could see her notations in Chinese.
Even her workstation was spotless.
Everyone was sad to see her go, but we were happy that she could spend her retirement spending time with her grandchildren. We wish Ling the best of luck in the future and to enjoy all that life has for her.