MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — In an era of urgent need, Radians CEO Mike Tutor is glad to have much of the company’s protective gear made close to home.
Radians is leaning on its North Carolina manufacturing facility to churn out more gaiter face coverings for COVID-19-driven demand. The company’s southeast Memphis facility is also keeping busy producing alcohol wipes, and Radians’ cloth face masks are made in Honduras.
Radians having facilities concentrated in North America allows for quicker turnaround times to satiate local customers needing masks fast, said Tutor, who founded the Memphis-based safety equipment maker in 1997.
“We were selling tens of thousands of masks a day when (COVID-19) first broke out,” Tutor said. ”... If you were an importer, it was four to six weeks before you could be getting any masks. By having local manufacturing, it paid off quickly.”
PRODUCT SALES MIXED AMID COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic sparked a demand surge for Radians’ N95 respirators, face coverings and alcohol wipes, along with anti-fog products as mask-wearers struggle to keep their glasses de-fogged. But the overall sales picture is a bit more complex for Radians, employer of 230 in Memphis and 354 overall.
Some of Radians’ safety products are struggling to sell like they did pre-pandemic, Tutor said. Uncertainty about how long the coronavirus can stay alive on surfaces affected that, leading to declines in Radians’ high-visibility clothing sales.
“Think about it — would you want to put on the same vest every day, 10 days in a row at work?” he said. “Or would you want to put on the same pair of gloves every day? Maybe disposable ones, but not ones that were worn yesterday.”
Radians is also grappling with the same question every other business is facing: What will the world’s economic climate look like a year from now? It’s the biggest challenge for the company to keep up its growth, according to Tutor.
“Six months ago, we were at a sales meeting in the Bahamas, and life was perfect,” Tutor said. “We were having a great year. Then, all of a sudden, the whole world starts spinning and nothing is the same ever again.”
Radians’ financial standing remains strong, according to Tutor, but not all companies making safety gear will be able to survive the COVID-19 pandemic. Radians could acquire some of the struggling companies to bolster its own product offerings, he said.
FAST FULFILLMENT OUT OF MEMPHIS
Much of Radians’ strength comes from having thousands of customers already, Tutor said. The company in recent years has focused on expanding the number of products it can offer to current customers instead of aggressively growing its customer base.
Those customers’ day-to-day needs drive operations at the company’s Memphis facility, which is distribution-heavy and focuses on frequent, quick-turn shipments. It processes thousands of packages daily. Automation has improved processing speeds, an important quality in an era of short-notice orders.
“We often don’t know what’s going to ship on a given day,” Tutor said. “I would say 85% of our orders on a given day come in that day, so it’s not like we have long lead times on this.”
Heavy investments in automation have allowed employees at Radians’ Memphis facility to go from 30 product picks an hour to more than 100, according to Tutor. Once a package has a bar code on it, the warehouse’s automated processes take over and guide the packages to where they need to go.
“Once you put the bar code on, it travels by itself,” he said.
The Memphis facility is also home to the company’s foam ear plug manufacturing operations. Radians produces around 26 pairs of foam ear plugs every second, Tutor said.
COVID-19 has raised Radians’ business profile, while a recent partnership has raised its local profile. The company announced its purchase of the naming rights to the Memphis Botanic Garden’s concert stage last month. The venue, now called the Radians Amphitheater, is home to the “Live at the Garden” concert series.
“Those people just do a fantastic job over there,” Tutor said. “We wanted to figure out something really good to give to our hometown, and that seemed like a good place to show that commitment.”