(Photo via Shield Pals/Facebook)
Parts of the economy are starting to reopen, but it seems as though the products of the pandemic will be with us for a while now.
For one sign of this coexistence, look to The Mall in Columbia. That’s where Shield Pals, a retail store offering personal protective equipment, is opening on June 26 near Apple and Banana Republic as the mall is once again opening its doors.
Personal protective equipment is one type of item that was introduced widely in recent months, as healthcare workers needed supplies and businesses answered the call by pivoting operations for manufacturing of items like masks and face shields.
Shield Pals cofounder Chris McCormick was among them. When Hatch Exhibits, where he is a cofounder, had its events business put on hold, the Elkridge-based company stood up a manufacturing operation to supply medical workers with personal protective equipment such as face shields.
“In that process we utilized our printing equipment to make different characters and different styles that people could put onto their face shields,” McCormick said.
Along with supplying hospitals, it led to a new product: face shields with whimsical characters like a fox, a frog and a robot. The colorful designs and animal faces are meant to bring some comfort and reduce anxiety for younger patients at a time when nurses and doctors must be all dressed up in full protective equipment to stop the spread of COVID-19.
After putting up a post on a weekend about what the company was working on and setting up a store for the shields, the demand started right away, with orders coming from all 50 states.
“By Monday morning, we walked into a completely different reality,” McCormick said.
The Shield Pals retail store in the mall is the next outgrowth, bringing products that were designed for healthcare into a place where the wider public will see it. The Shield Pals store will also offer PPE and supplies from other local companies, offering a place to shop for protective equipment among mall browsing. It’ll also offer pickup for orders online.
“We knew we wanted a PPE retailer as part of our reopening plan, but I didn’t know we would find a company that would bring so much creativity to that role,” Barbara Nicklas, senior general manager of The Mall in Columbia, said in a statement.
McCormick said the company is also working to build out an educational component that will create storylines for the characters through components like books and augmented reality. That will help introduce the characters before children go in to see a doctor.
For McCormick, the move to PPE has also allowed the company to grow its team: He initially had to furlough more than 20 employees when the event exhibit business slowed, but was able to bring them back to make PPE. Now, the company is employing an additional 60 people.-30-
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