COVID CASE STUDY: Tibard rides the rollercoaster and ends up on top

19 October 2020

LCN asked textile care businesses to get in touch and tell their stories about life since the pandemic struck. John Shonfeld, executive chairman of Tibard, takes us through the Tibard experience

John Shonfeld writes:

“Since 1979, Tibard has been manufacturing and supplying uniforms to the hospitality industry. From some of the UK’s largest casual dining chains such as Frankie & Benny’s all the way to Michelin starred restaurants, whatever the venue, it was likely a Tibard uniform that staff were wearing.

“However, on 16 March all that changed. When the Government advised the public not to visit pubs or restaurants we watched our sales dry up literally overnight from 200 order dispatches a day to none. And this left us with a predicament, as we had a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Tameside, Manchester with the capacity to produce over 15,000 garments a week not being utilised at a time when the NHS needed more and more specialist clothing. We therefore got in touch with a range of our fabric suppliers to offer our services through existing touchpoints to meet the demand.

24-hour turnaround
“Within 24 hours we had transitioned from manufacturing chef clothing and aprons to scrubs and put in place hand sanitising stations and social distancing measures within our factory to best protect our amazing staff. We were able to provide scrub suits to NHS Trusts and Care Homes throughout March, April and May but due to the work of businesses such as ourselves, volunteers and imports the demand for scrubs eventually dried up. However, PPE gowns became the key shortage for the health service and we decided to work with a partner to develop our own reusable gown.

“Unlike the disposable garments previously used, this gown is made from a tougher fabric and can be thermally disinfected after use ensuring it can be worn multiple times before becoming waste. This is not only more environmentally friendly but also is of higher quality than what was being worn. We continue to manufacture these gowns to this day and our production is still oriented for this.

“While our incredible production team were hard at work manufacturing scrubs and gowns the rest of Tibard were busy researching and developing our own washable face mask. We knew that our traditional customers may be interested in extra equipment when they re-opened and we did not want the hospitality industry to turn to the overpriced rubbish seen all over social media. A mask for restaurants, cafes, pubs and other venues needed to be comfortable, adjustable, triple layered and machine washable. The Tibard face mask was created to satisfy all of these requirements at incredible value for a covering that can be used up to 50 times. Hospitality sites across the country are now proudly wearing our mask, with their logo transferred onto the side. We are a uniform company after all.

Rollercoaster ride
“These past few months have been a rollercoaster, it has forced us to diversify our offering and develop garments we had never previously imagined we would be handling. But as well as chasing the few opportunities that were available during lockdown we also wanted to go above and beyond for our existing customers who were going through an even tougher time than ourselves.

Uniform rental is one of our unique services. Simply, we buy the uniform and rent it out to hospitality businesses over a two-year contract, paid monthly with a weekly laundry cycle. Around half of our customers take advantage of this, but as they were forced to close from the 23 March they weren’t generating any income themselves. That’s why we offered a 50% reduction as standard in our monthly contract fee throughout lockdown and once our customers began reopening from 4 July we were flexible with our contracts as we know few were returning to pre-lockdown levels straight away. Our current plan is to match site openings with the contract level starting from 50% but treating every customer’s needs case by case. These are exceptional circumstances and everyone has to amend their practices to ensure everyone can carry on as before.

Stong UK presence
“Having a strong manufacturing presence in the UK has always been part of our identity. During the 70s and 80s, when so many clothiers were moving their production abroad, we took advantage of all the highly skilled staff suddenly without work. Our commitment to British manufacturing has never wavered and we see one of the few positives to come from this ordeal is that people are beginning to see and value the importance of having a strong, native manufacturing sector. When the global supply chain became pressed, businesses large and small were forced to make up the shortfall and it would be a tremendous shame if, when normality returns, we simply go back to importing the majority of our goods. From a business level, it provides our custmers with flexibility and while so many of our competitors simply had to close, we were able to do our part for the national effort and this is a source of tremendous pride for us. It is on all of us to support the right businesses and the pandemic has

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