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June 13, 2020

Local shops’ innovations help reopening preparation

Photos/Don Del Rosso
Dustin Sweeney, a sign fabricator at Piedmont Press & Graphics in Warrenton, uses a high-tech router to cut acrylic panels for an office protection shield.
Mitchell Brown and his father Mike “overwhelmed” by demand for the protective shields their family-owned business in Opal manufactures and installs.
If we focused on solving their problems instead of what we could print or what we could make, it seems it always works out for everyone. Your trying to serve, not sell them something.
— Tony Tedeschi, Piedmont Press & Graphics president
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
Responding to the coronavirus pandemic, two Fauquier businesses have found ways to boost revenue while helping other companies and government agencies meet the challenges of reopening and protecting their front-line workers from the life-threating disease.

In March, Piedmont Press & Graphics of Warrenton began to produce “directional” and “safety” signs — eventually expanding its “reopen” and related products line to 13 items, including plastic desk and counter “sneeze” shields.

That same month, Brown’s Glass Shop at Opal produced and installed its first permanent COVID-19 protective shields.

Brown’s Glass has a $38,225 contract to make and install shields in Fauquier government buildings, according to county General Services Department Director Michael Kresse.

Like many businesses, Piedmont took a big financial hit because of the pandemic, owner and President Tony Tedeschi said.

“The slowdown came pretty fast for everybody — in the beginning of March — and then all of a sudden things came to a screeching halt,” because of the pandemic, recalled Mr. Tedeschi, 59.

Business tanked by 60 to 70 percent “overnight,” he said.

Around “this time of the year,” the business normally generates up to $200,000 a month, according to Mr. Tedeschi.

Today, it does about $100,000 per month — “probably” half that amount from “reopening” product sales, he said.

“As a business owner who’s got a payroll, the first thought is, ‘Oh my God, what do I do’?” Mr. Tedeschi said. “And the second thing is how do I take care of everybody? So looking at this, what can we do in our shop that people might need to make the situation better?”

The 14-employee business initially produced social distancing and directional stickers — some of which it gave away, he said.

To ensure the safety of his employees who deal directly with the public, Mr. Tedeschi decided to buy protective plastic barriers.

But the prices outraged him.

“We kind of felt like, ‘Wow, people are gouging’,” Mr. Tedeschi said. “‘They’re taking advantage’.”

During a classic middle-of-the-night moment in March, it occurred to him that his company might tap the market.

That morning his staff designed and cut a prototype, which convinced him that “OK, we can do this,” Mr. Tedeschi remembered.

“Part of it was we could make them fast,” he said. “We had the material and our prices were fair. People would’ve paid double what we were selling them for. But I’m just never going to do that.”

Mr. Tedeschi said he only wanted “a fair rate of return.”

As Warrenton restaurants moved toward outdoor dining and local government toward reopening, he talked with his staff about how the company could help those efforts.

“If we focused on solving their problems instead of what we could print or what we could make, it seems it always works out for everyone,” Mr. Tedeschi said. “Your trying to serve, not sell them something.”

The company’s bigger clients for the portable guards include the University of Virginia Credit Union and all of Virginia’s Caterpillar heavy equipment dealers, Mr. Tedeschi said.

Its government clients include the Town of Warrenton, which bought floor graphics, signs, “safe shields” and other items that totaled $1,607, according to town Finance and Procurement Director Stephanie Miller.

With the coronavirus’ impacts on commencement ceremonies, Piedmont Press also sold more than 1,000 graduation signs for local high school, grade school and college students, he said.

“It’s a great way to show we’re really proud of people’s work, whatever it is,” Mr. Tedeschi said of such signs. “That’s something new that I think will continue on.”

For 31 years, Brown’s Glass has sold and installed commercial, residential and automotive glass, mirrors and Plexiglas.

Before the pandemic, it “here and there” produced reception-area protective guards, said Mike Brown, 59, who co-owns the business with his son Mitchell.

But the pandemic-driven demand for the plastic barriers has the five-person company scrambling.

“We’re overwhelmed,” Mike Brown said.

“You can’t find Plexiglas,” said his wife and Office Manager Denise Brown, 54. “I tell people it’s like Lysol. You can’t find Lysol products now.”

The company expects to soon get a delivery of acrylic sheets to keep up with orders.

Within the next couple of weeks, Brown’s Glass hopes to complete the installation of more than 30 custom-made, permanent guards for Fauquier County government, which expects to reopen buildings to the public by June 24.

“I know everybody’s biting at the bit to open” county government offices, Mike Brown said. “They’re not going to open until they have the shields up.”

Mitchell Brown, 29, added: “We’re working as fast as we can to get them up as fast as we can for them.”

Local clients that bought protective guards include M&M Pizza Restaurant near Morrisville and Rappahannock Station grocery store and gas station in Remington. Others include a Warrenton dentist and pediatrics’ practice.

The shop last month installed permanent shields in Remington’s municipal building lobby that cost almost $3,000, according to town officials.

While supermarket chains, for example, have in-house crews to satisfy their protective equipment requirements, small businesses rely on shops such as theirs to get the work done, the family said.

“People call every day, every other day about Plexiglas,” Mike Brown said.

The shop even gets calls from contractors who want to buy its supply of acrylic sheets because “someone’s calling them to do a job,” Mrs. Brown said.

Though more than three months into the pandemic, the market for protective shields remains strong, according to the Browns.

“A lot of people have them up already,” Mike Brown said. “But a lot of businesses are just starting to call on it.”

Mitchell Brown added: “It’s going to keep going on and on, as long as the pandemic goes on and on.”

“As long as the virus is around,” his mother said.

Contact Don Del Rosso at Don@FauquierNow.com or 540-270-0300.
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Dennis A. Taylor · June 12, 2020 at 4:29 pm
So impressed by, and proud of the ingenuity of our local small business community! Absorbing the intensity of massive revenue losses and then keeping the faith and using smarts and, in some cases, brute force to turn the corner and find a way forward. The brilliance of the people of Fauquier continues to amaze me, what a fantastic community that takes care of each other, no matter what the circumstance. #Respect
Stacie Griffin · June 12, 2020 at 1:51 pm
So grateful to have to Brown's and Piedmont Press in our community. Even before the pandemic, I have found both families to be very supportive, creative and fair in their pricing. Thank you for all that you do to support our schools and the community.
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