The Zogics facility in Pittsfield, as seen from one of the company's drones.

BUSINESS MONDAY: How one Berkshire County manufacturing business is surviving the pandemic

Retooling to expand their sanitation and cleaning product lines, while also offering existing products to new sectors, gave the staff a sense of purpose during the pandemic.

Lenox — When the pandemic hit in March the business world was thrown upside down. Conditions were changing daily. Businesses wondered how they could stay open and protect employees and many instantly feared the worse.

At their Lenox office, Zogics, a company that supplies cleaning supplies and wellness equipment,  and its CEO Paul LeBlanc sprang into action to adapt to this new normal as quickly as possible. LeBlanc knew his first step was to make sure his staff were safe and able to work from home. He closed the office March 17 and quickly equipped employees with whatever they needed to optimize their home office setups. “There was no limit to what employees could request, from new computers to comfortable office chairs to telephone headsets and desktop Zen gardens,” LeBlanc explained.

Going the extra mile for employees isn’t new to Zogics. It’s a central part of the company’s ethos. For two years in a row, the company has been named one of Inc. magazine’s best workplaces in the United States due to benefits that include flexible time off, $500 a year to spend on local performances, exhibits, galas and all the Berkshires has to offer, and another $250 a year to spend on competitive athletic events. There is an in-house massage therapist and employees can bring their dogs to work and even get a week of paid time off if they get a pet.

Zogics CEO, Paul LeBlanc (second from right), receiving the AIM Next Century Award last year. Photo: LinkedIn

The transition to remote working happened amazingly quickly. “Ultimately, what we did most right before COVID hit was to staff the company with individuals who embrace challenges and thrive in chaos,” LeBlanc said. “That gave us a passionate, flexible workforce that was capable of adapting to a very difficult situation. We’re also a very technology-forward company and already had systems in place that allowed us to operate remotely without missing a beat.”

The next day after going remote, the company was already fully operational. According to LeBlanc, it was as if they “flipped the switch on remote work one afternoon and were up and running the next morning.”

Switching to remote work to protect the staff was one thing; keeping the bottom line safe was another.  Zogics works mainly with gyms and hospitality businesses to sell a line of products ranging from gym wipes, high-quality cleaning supplies, wholesale towels, fitness and exercise equipment and wellness products. Within days, those businesses were being closed around the country.

“We faced substantial challenges early on,” LeBlanc explained. “Our main customer group was large commercial gyms, and nearly all of them were forced to shut their doors. Our future was uncertain, and we had to quickly pivot, expand our offerings, and diversify the industries we served.”

That meant adapting what they do and understanding that Zogics’ expertise in cleaning and sanitizing gyms could now be valuable to potential healthcare, education, aviation and corporate clients.

“It was an all-out scramble, with staff working very long hours,” Leblanc said. “We understood the products we made were desperately needed, and everyone in the company went above and beyond to adapt to our new realities and to help as many businesses as we could.”

Retooling to expand their sanitation and cleaning product lines, while also offering existing products to new sectors, gave the staff a sense of purpose during the pandemic. That hard work has, in turn, been highly valued by new customers. Zogics shares customer feedback company-wide, and each day customers flooded the company with notes of appreciation.

“We make products that help keep people safe and healthy, and I believe we’re all genuinely motivated to serve others during this difficult time. We’ve been able to assist schools resume operations, hospitals protect staff and patients, and businesses reopen. Lots of businesses are hurting out there, and we’re fueled by a sense of urgency to help,” LeBlanc said.

And not only has helping businesses get the products they need felt good, but it has also been extremely profitable for the company.  Zogics is currently operating at multiple times its normal sales volume, allowing the company to add to its team and hire people who were laid off elsewhere in the community.  They are still adding new positions.

One of the bigger sales of the year came from the United States Navy. Zogics has been a supplier to the Department of Defense for more than a decade, supplying  all branches of the U.S. military in locations throughout the world with a wide range of facility products, including cleaning and disinfecting solutions, hand sanitizers, antibacterial wipes, bath and body care, and more.  In August the company was awarded a $5.5 million contract from the Navy for crucial cleaning and disinfecting supplies to help combat the spread of COVID-19.

“We’ve had a longstanding relationship with the Navy, and our team did an incredible job coming up with optimal solutions to help keep the men and women serving our nation safe and healthy during these challenging times,” LeBlanc said. That sale, one of the company’s biggest to date, confirmed for LeBlanc that the need to adapt to the times was key. That is advice he has been sharing with other businesses owners large and small. Although LeBlanc knows that each business has its own unique set of circumstances, he nevertheless has been advising friends since the start of the pandemic to assume things will not go back to normal anytime soon and to adapt as quickly as possible to a new business model that works today.

“We’re in uncharted waters and many factors are out of our control,” LeBlanc said. “Don’t wait for the light at the end of the tunnel. Find ways to illuminate your current environment. Aim to create an all-weather company that works under varied conditions. If customers aren’t visiting your store, bring your store to them. If the service you provide is on hold, offer a service that people need right now. If no one is buying the product you’re selling, sell different products. Don’t hold out for conditions to change; adapt to today’s conditions.”