Things looked bleak for Brooks Signs in the spring of 2020.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Brant County company was allowed to continue to manufacture signs. But because construction wasn’t classified as an essential service at that time, the company wasn’t allowed to send workers out to install the illuminated signs at businesses who ordered them, meaning Brooks Signs wouldn’t be paid.

“Rather than close our shop and lay off our employees, our team collaborated and came up with the idea to pivot our focus, leverage our fabrication skillset, and address the threat to our community,” recalls President Jason Schwandt.

The idea Brooks Signs pivoted to was manufacturing plexiglass barriers.

The Workforce Planning Board is celebrating Brooks Signs as one of the local businesses whose employees are Workforce Heroes.

The company purchased four plastic bending machines, trained their employees on them, sourced raw material, and started making the shields used in grocery stores, schools, doctor’s offices and local businesses.

“The revenue from these products was sufficient to carry us through that challenging time and resulted in us not having to lay off any of our team,” said Schwandt. “At the same time, it was reassuring to know that our products were being used in the local community to help prevent the spread of the COVID virus.”

Schwandt, who purchased the business with a partner just months before the pandemic, was impressed by the resourcefulness and adaptability of his employees.

“It was exciting to see people get behind what we were doing and see how passionate they were about working together for a common cause.”

It took a lot of practice, trial and error, for workers to get the plexiglass shields just right using machines they had never used before. With a global supply shortage, raw material was scarce and, at one point, material was even sourced on Kijiji.

Brooks Signs started off making customized plexiglass barriers, before moving to some producing several standardized designs based on customer demand. The company ran a giveaway promotion, inviting businesses to say why they could use the shields. Three businesses with the best responses were given free barriers.

“Going through this exercise gave me great confidence in the resilience, resourcefulness, and capabilities of our team here at Brooks Signs, and this experience will only make us stronger as a business,” Schwandt said.

Visit Brooks Sign’s website to learn more about the company.

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