Maryland Thermoform sources locally as much as possible — plastic, boxes, even palettes. Nothing is too big or too small to be bought in Baltimore. But when local institutions started calling to place big face shield orders as the COVID-19 pandemic began to heat up, Maryland Thermoform faced a national plastic shortage that threatened to dry up business.
Panicked efforts to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) did not mix with global supply chain disruptions, explained Maryland Thermoform CEO Scott Macdonald.
“If we don’t have the material — and the material was backlogged most of the time — we’re in trouble,” he said. “One of our biggest challenges was telling our client base we needed extra time.”
That’s not to mention working around the challenges faced by Maryland Thermoform’s clients grappling with the effects of the pandemic. One customer asked for an expedited order, but then didn’t have the staff to pack the product because more employees were being told to stay home.
He explained that while many employees have concerns about safety, he and the Maryland Thermoform team have done their best to make sure they can return to work without fear.
“We’re doing the safe thing. We’re trying to keep six feet apart, wiping the bathrooms and all the fixtures that people touch daily, trying to do that several times a day. Everybody’s given gloves and face masks,” he said. “We’re trying not to become the next hotspot.”
For Macdonald, one of the benefits of investing in locally-made products is keeping more Baltimoreans employed. Small business owners, he said, have a responsibility to take their employees’ concerns seriously, and in return their employees are invested in doing quality work. And as they pivoted to PPE production, everyone at Maryland Thermoform could be proud of their work.
Manufacturing jobs often require special skills and are valuable, Macdonald added, creating more stability in Baltimore’s industry.
“Everybody talks about Baltimore’s post-industrial past — all that’s BS, and you can quote me on that,” he said. “There are still people out there that are trainable, that are willing to do the jobs, and they pay better than Amazon.”
With the right materials for production and packaging, Macdonald said that Maryland Thermoform could comfortably put out 10,000 face shields in a day. They also produce intubation boxes to keep individual hospital beds quarantined, as well as sneeze guards and other plexiglass barriers which have become more popular as businesses seek ways to safely reopen. And they’re working on a clear plastic facemask design.
You can buy Maryland Thermoform’s face shields under their Quake Science brand here. But Macdonald emphasized that they typically fulfill large orders. The schools, hospitals and other local institutions that are their typical clients are facing challenges of their own, and so he added that he still has to chase business down.
The shift to PPE may have seemed obvious amid the pandemic, but Macdonald explained that they had to adapt as their typical business, including lots of consumer packaging, dwindled. Follow the demand, he added, is a core lesson for small business owners.
“Figure out which markets are gonna continue to buy — that’s the key thing,” he said. “And be sure your banking relationship is solid. You’re gonna get hit and your volume is gonna drop, and you can’t survive at half forever.”
When Maryland Thermoform’s volume dropped in March and April, they secured a $5000 grant from Baltimore Development Corporation which they used to purchase foam from Orlando Products, a family-owned packaging company in Lakeland. This foam enabled the production of 29,000 face shields.
Procuring foam from Orlando Products just aligns with Macdonald’s firm belief in buying local, which he said was an important lesson for Baltimore business owners. In addition to being a member of Made In Baltimore, Maryland Thermoform is also a member of the Maryland Manufacturers Cooperative, a state-wide group of manufacturing companies that Macdonald calls on for business collaborations.
Networks like these, he said, can help business owners invest in the local community and support one another.
“I believe in buying locally. It supports all of us where we live, and where we live is where we should buy first,” Macdonald said. “The entire Baltimore community is stronger for buying in Baltimore. Whether it’s vegetables, whether it’s plastic, whether it’s palettes — whatever it is, try and buy in Baltimore first.”
Thanks for reading! Please visit Maryland Thermoform’s Quake Science online store to check out a range of thermoform products here.
We at Made In Baltimore are focused on responding effectively to the needs of our members. As part of that effort, we want to share more amazing stories from our members to our network of customers, local collaborators and small business super fans! If you’ve got a story tip for us, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!