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Inspiring Views from the Bright SideSM

Tony van Veen

An Interview with Tony van Veen

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CEO

DIY Media Group | Pennsauken, NJ

Connect with Tony on LinkedIn

1. What are the goods/services offered by your primary business?

DIY Media Group includes several brands in the self-publishing space:

Disc Makers, our legacy brand, is a manufacturer of custom CDs, DVDs, vinyl, and USBs for independent artists, record labels, filmmakers, businesses, and institutions.

BookBaby is a book publishing platform offering high-quality printing, eBook conversion, global book distribution, and marketing services to independent authors and small publishers.

Merchly is a custom T-shirt printing company for artists and small businesses.

2. What did you launch in response to the COVD-19 pandemic?

Since we sell mostly to artists we lost most of our disc and T-shirt manufacturing demand when live concerts were shut down. Very early on in the pandemic, in mid-March, we pivoted to manufacturing protective face shields for frontline workers. With demand way down we shrunk our disc manufacturing operation from three shifts to one shift, and put all the remaining second and third shift staff, plus a substantial part of our office (sales, graphic design, marketing, accounting, customer service, HR) staff, to work assembling face shields by hand.

3. What steps did you take to develop and promote your new initiative?

There was such a crying need for PPE that all we did was put up one social media post on our Facebook page. This post has been shared almost 1,500 times, generated 500+ comments and 6,000 likes. That one organic post got us a flood of requests for PPE as we were looking toward the coming peak of the pandemic. Hospitals, health organizations, first responders, grocery stores, essential personnel everywhere started calling, emailing, and buying, and we've been unable to keep up with demand ever since.

4. What or who inspired you to undertake this effort?

Two things:

  1. Seeing on TV the desperate need for personal protective gear for nurses and doctors on the front lines of the pandemic.
  2. My wife... One night in mid-March we were watching the news about PPE shortages and she said to me "Tony, you guys make stuff, can't you make some of this?"

That created the spark to get into face shield assembly, and within a week we were in production and shipping face shields to hospitals.

5. What results have you seen so far from this initiative?

We have shipped over half a million face shields all over the country, keeping countless front line personnel safe from COVID-19, and we're still shipping more.

6. How do you define success for your project?

The most measurable stat is keeping my staff employed during the pandemic and its aftermath. That means we need to keep making and selling enough face shields to do so.

The most important, however, is keeping as many people as possible safe and protected from the dangers of the coronavirus. We'll never be able to measure how many people we have helped stay healthy, or how many lives we may have helped save, but it is incredibly gratifying to know that we have made a difference during the pandemic.

7. What are the biggest challenges for you to meet your goal?

Keeping my staff employed depends on multiple factors, including how fast demand for our core products -- discs, T-shirts, books -- comes back. That may take a while, as concerts and crowds are among the last types of activities that will be allowed as the country starts to open up again. Additionally, there are now hundreds more suppliers of PPE domestically, and the Far East supply chain has cranked up as well, so it is certainly a more competitive PPE environment today than it was in March and April.

8. How long do you anticipate continuing this effort?

As long as there's a market need. As long as we need to keep our staff employed.

9. What have you learned by undertaking this project?

I have a terrific respect and admiration for my team -- up and down the organization. Our whole company turned on a dime and everyone stepped up to help. No one complained. People switched jobs, moved to different shifts, office staff moved to assembly, standing 8 hours a day, others switched to working from home for months on end.

I learned that people will do the right thing when given the opportunity to do so. I learned people will step up in a crisis and do what it takes. I learned the human psyche is resilient. I learned that, despite what you see in the media, people are helpful, compassionate, and kind.

10. How can others learn more about your COVID-19 response efforts?

At present, you can find our face shield products and a few news clippings at www.amerishield.com