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Edmonton-based business ready to help Albertans for the looming second wave of COVID-19

Edmonton-based Ennis Fabrics made a pandemic pivot this past March that has left the family-owned business ready for the looming second wave of COVID-19.
0929 Ennis Fabrics
Kirk Reiniger displays two PPE products - a face shield and a disposable face mask - that Ennis Fabrics has been selling during COVID-19. Photo/Gary Poignant

Edmonton-based Ennis Fabrics made a pandemic pivot this past March that has left the family-owned business ready for the looming second wave of COVID-19.

"We are in a healthy inventory position now," Kirk Reiniger, vice president of sales and marketing, adding, ''The orders are not coming in as fast as they were in the spring."

And while Ennis Fabrics continues to move a variety of medical-related material around the globe, the product clearly at the top of their list are small blue disposable masks.

 "We bought 10 million of them from China," said Reiniger, stating boxes of masks were shipped via five different charter flights to Ennis distribution centres in North America.

"We needed to get them here right away," said Reiniger, adding, "we have four million masks left. Check out our website if anybody wants some. We sell in boxes of 50."

  While the current business climate is relatively calm for Ennis Fabrics now, it was a different story when the pandemic arrived in Alberta more than six months ago.

"When COVID hit we had no idea what was going to happen," said Reiniger, adding their traditional business was negatively affected when the provincial lockdown went into effect.

"We needed to pivot. While our regular business- residential, restaurants and hotels -  was slowing down, we made the decision to take capital and help out the medical community," said Reiniger, saying the company brain trust - led by president Jim Ennis - met daily over a two-week period in late March and early April.

 "It was clear there was going to be a massive shortfall of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment.) We took the risk to step up," said Reiniger. "The medical community was our primary focus.”

"We were trying to understand our customer needs. We had the resources and the sourcing capabilities to help so we took aggressive action," said Reiniger, adding more than half of Ennis’s business was PPE-related until late spring.

“We had to engage in concert with our partners - supplies at one end and manufacturers at the other."

 He said they were in consultation with Alberta Health Services to ensure everything moved by Ennis was safe to use.

"The big thing was making sure we were getting the right quality product to ensure it passed medical standards." he said.

  Ennis also shipped 300,000 yards of raw material from Taiwan to North American centres to be used to make reusable and disposable medical gowns. For example, a furniture maker in Ontario was one firm that switched direction and has been making medical gowns.

Ennis has also partnered with another Edmonton-based company, Cowan Graphics, to help build tens of thousands of plastic face shields for front-line workers.

"We've provided the elastic for the shields," said Reiniger. (Cowan Graphics ( employees made the face shields.)

Ennis also provides everything from shoe covers to mattress covers to tents and temporary structures.

Ennis Fabrics, launched by founder James Ennis in the family garage in Sherwood Park in 1972, now deals with companies in 40 countries and offers more than 9,000 products through four distribution centres in Toronto, Vancouver, Indianapolis and Ningbo, China.

There are total of 175 employees at the four distribution centres today.

"The total (number of employees) dropped off right after the pandemic hit, but everyone is back and we're now hiring," said Reiniger.

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