Shielding Our Future: Tony van Veen pivots his company Disc Makers towards providing PPE

Mike Lawson • • September 2, 2020

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When the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve and 2020 began, Disc Makers CEO Tony van Veen had no idea he’d be starting another company this year. But life moves fast – especially in a chaotic year like this one – and right around mid-March, van Veen made a decision that would not only change his own life, but millions of others’ lives.

After years of producing books, CDs, vinyl albums, and merchandise for musicians around the world with his company Disc Makers, van Veen and his wife had an epiphany while watching the news – they realized they were in a great position to manufacture much needed PPE to help with the ongoing shortage of items like face shields.

“It was like the light bulb went off,” van Veen tells SBO.

The benefits were twofold: not only would this new endeavor help keep Americans healthy and hinder the spread of COVID-19, but it would also keep Disc Makers workers employed, even when Disc Makers orders were down significantly.

That evening, van Veen sent out an email to his operations employees and a few managers, asking if manufacturing face shields would be doable for Disc Makers. Two days later he had a working prototype, and within a week, face shields were in production.

Orders started pouring in immediately.

“We were getting orders for 30,000, 40,000, 50,000 face shields from hospitals,” van Veen recalls. “Our core business was down by more than 50 percent. This was an opportunity to not just do something good, but also do some good for the business. It allowed us to keep everybody employed. And our staff was amazing. I mean, I had people from every department shifting to making face shields. At one point in time, I had 100 people making face shields from graphic designers, sales reps, printers, packaging staff, my CFO, people from human resources and marketing. Everybody pulled shifts on the lines, so to speak, in face shield manufacturing to help get the product out. So far we haven’t laid off a single person.”

In fact, van Veen even hired over 50 temp workers at one point to help keep up with the high amount of orders they were receiving. At this point, van Veen’s staff can produce up to 60,000 face shields a day.

As the weeks went by and orders continued to pile up, van Veen and his team decided to start a new company called AmeriShield, dedicated solely to providing PPE. AmeriShield is the sister company of Disc Makers, and the two entities still operate out of the same New Jersey factory, but their separation allows both to streamline their brand and establish AmeriShield as a company that’s here to stay.

“We thought, there’s an opportunity here beyond the next few weeks or months for us to offer face shields to the marketplace – whether it’s medical, or food service, or sanitary, or emergency personnel, or, what we’re seeing now, schools,” van Veen explains.

When SBO spoke to van Veen in July, he said AmeriShield was probably “closing in on about a million [face shields].” Certainly, that number has only grown as the fall approaches. Van Veen also says that roughly 60 percent of the folks buying face shields work in healthcare, but a category that’s rapidly growing is schools and school districts.

“The bucket that is getting bigger really quickly at this point in time is schools. We are faced with a lot of questions every day,” he adds. “‘Do you sell these for teachers? Do you sell them to schools? Do you sell them to school districts?’ Because there’s obviously a lot of pressure from the federal government that schools have to open. And teachers are really nervous.”

He adds: “It’s mostly at this point in time individual teachers and schools and school districts buying for teachers. We’re seeing some conversations about buying them for students. But at this point in time, it depends on how supported the teachers feel by their school districts. We have teachers who are buying them individually for themselves. But we do sell them to schools, and we sold 10,000 yesterday to two school districts and large school districts. Believe it or not, that was pretty much all for teachers, for custodial staff, for administrative staff, et cetera.”

The benefits of face shields over face masks are numerous, van Veen explains, but he recommends wearing both simultaneously for the best possible protection. When working in the factory, he enforces that his own staff wear both when working as well. On top of covering a person’s eyes – which masks cannot cover – van Veer says face shields allow for better communication because words aren’t being muffled by cloth.

“My mother is severely hearing impaired. When I wear a mask, she cannot understand a word that I’m saying to her,” he adds. “When I wear a face shield without the mask, she can lip read and I’m still protected, and to an extent, she is protected as well because if I’m wearing just the face shield, and I cough or sneeze, those droplets don’t spray out on to her, they hit the shield and they just go down mostly.”

Face shields are also easier to use and wear correctly – a huge plus when dealing with fidgety small children. The shields don’t shift around on your face, which helps prevent the user from adjusting it constantly and therefore touching their face and spreading more germs. Users can easily wash and reuse the shields with peroxide, bleach, ammonia, or Lysol wipes and soapy water. Perhaps most importantly, folks who have trouble breathing benefit from the shield being in front of their mouth instead of over their mouth.

AmeriShield currently offers four different models of face shields, all of which are catered to different environments (like hospitals and food service) and professions (like teaching, healthcare, and retail). Their newest addition to their product lineup is the CX Jr. model, made specifically for children ages 4 through 10.

“Particularly for little kids, to wear masks correctly is a challenge,” van Veer says. “We think face shields have an opportunity to certainly play a protective role for smaller kids.”

To help make face shields a little more fun and a touch less tedious, AmeriShield has also started to custom branding. “Instead of the printed band across the top, we will put the school name or school district’s name or company name or what have you, whatever companies want to do there with branding we’re starting to do that. Because we’re a printer, we can do these kind of [things] customized,” he explains.

Most importantly, for educational staff everywhere, AmeriShield is offering the options for optimal safety they need. “It’s good for teachers to know that there’s protection out there,” van Veen says.

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