One in four businesses have temporarily closed, forcing entrepreneurs to pivot business plans in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among them, three Marine veterans devised a new strategy to provide products that are currently in high demand, while also creating job opportunities for many who lost employment.
DNA Multi-Service is a veteran-owned small business that provides contracting work for the government, from landscaping to janitorial services. But when the COVID-19 lockdown started, operations came to a halt. Owner James Dean contacted his friend Robert Germano to share an idea about making masks. Both are Marine veterans who served in Iraq together.
“He sounded hectic, like he had a lot going on,” Germano said. What Dean didn’t know was that Germano had recently had a similar conversation with Michael Arthur, another fellow veteran that he works with in Jacksonville, Florida.
Arthur, who owns First Coast T Shirt Co., and Germano discussed reconfiguring their businesses to make masks because after the coronavirus hit, business dropped dramatically. Germano told Arthur, “We have to change our business plan. We have to come up with something quick or we are going to crash.”
And it is a common challenge facing entrepreneurs around the country. Twenty-four percent of businesses have temporarily closed in response to COVID-19, according to the US Chamber of Commerce. Some business owners are afraid they won’t have enough funding to outlast the pandemic, and subsequently reopen.
Dean, Germano, and Arthur were determined to combine resources and find a way to sustain their ventures during this crisis. Within a few hours of his phone conversation with Dean, Germano had packed a bag and driven to meet him in Fort Lauderdale.
Dean’s wife, an anesthetist in Miami, started designing the mask. Germano says, “They wanted to make one that was comfortable and would be a high-quality mask.”
After spending a few weeks changing the design, they came up with a three-layer mask.
Dean bought raw material and was able to buy large amounts of fabric from the largest fabric wholesaler in Florida. He then went to out-of-work seamstresses and offered to employ them to make masks, and production began. With the help of a couple investors, they have been able to purchase industrial sewing machines to produce greater amounts.
“We started making masks and it’s really taken off a lot faster than I thought it would. It’s moving 100 miles an hour. We’re trying to keep up.”
This month, their new website went live under the operating name of DNA Masks. Orders started flowing in immediately, Germano says.
He’s also been blown away by the motivation of the seamstresses they’ve hired. Since the launch of the new website, they went from 14 to 28 employees. A third shift has also been added with a production goal of 1000 masks per shift.
“Some people just stay,” Germano says. “They are extremely motivated and anxious to work.”
With plans to open a second working location in Jacksonville, Florida, they are hoping for a bigger space (11,000 square feet) than the 2,600 square feet space they are currently in. One key thing is that employees are maintaining safety guidelines.
“Because of the six-foot distance it makes it more challenging to use all the space they can.”
DNA Masks currently offers five high quality products, including a children’s reusable five ply mask that comes in a small or medium fit. With every purchase of a five pack, one mask is donated to first responders.
“We hope to increase that. We are still trying to refine our costs and bring cost down and that will allow us to do more in the future,” Germano said.
Now that the masks are being produced in large amounts, the logo will be printed on the products by Arthur’s screen-printing company once the Jacksonville location opens.
“When you’re doing 5,000 masks a day, that’s a lot of screen printing. So that in turn helps out Michael and his operation.”
Arthur and Germano have also added liquid hand sanitizer as products sold by First Coast T Shirt Co. The t-shirt facility is the hub where they are learning to bottle, label and bag the cases of hand sanitizer, preparing them to ship to customers.
Germano makes one acknowledgement that is definitely true for our societal interactions as a whole.
“With the way things have changed in the last couple weeks, even the way we do business is changing. And I don’t know if it’s permanent or not.”
While Germano admits that he doesn’t know where this collaboration will go, but he’s proud to say that, “It’s veterans helping veterans and scratching each other’s backs.”
Visit DNA Masks and More for information on products to purchase.