In this interview, we talked with Michael Duggal, CEO of Duggal Visual Solutions, a world renowned printing and display company which serves many of the world’s leading brands, retailers, corporations and museums. Within days of the COVID19 shutdown orders, Michael Duggal transformed his entire operation to meet the needs of first responders and help fight the COVID19 outbreak by producing desperately needed PPE. His production departments switched to making the components; he also transformed his live events venue, the Duggal Greenhouse, into a highly efficient manufacturing and assembly plant for personal protective face shields. Within 5 days of conception, the company was already in full production making parts and assembling shields. Within one week of assembly, they had already delivered 100,000 face shields and have now produced over 1.5 million to date, and are honored to be the PPE of Choice by NY healthcare workers.
“We have been going seven days a week with staff who have volunteered to still come in to work in Brooklyn, potentially risking their health to help first responders,” said Michael Duggal. “I am here with them each day and continue to draw strength and inspiration from what we accomplish together.”
How did it all begin?
The day before the full lock down for NY was announced Governor Cuomo sent out a tweet asking NY manufacturers for help in manufacturing desperately needed PPE. One of my staff saw the tweet and shared it with me. After reviewing the needed supplies we saw that the face shields utilized materials we use regularly and can be produced utilizing the CNC machinery we normally utilize for display fabrication. Duggal is one of the largest manufacturers left in NYC with our staff of 400 people and our diverse production capability from design to printing and display fabrication so we felt we could make a positive impact. By the next day we were producing drawings and prototypes, and by that Saturday we had a prototype we were happy with and I brought this to the attention of the CEO of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, David Ehrenberg, to put us in touch with the relevant government agencies. That weekend he replied saying this was fantastic and that another tenant of the Navy Yard was working on shields as well and that we should combine our efforts to produce this urgently needed PPE at high industrial volumes. In a few hours that Monday we came to an agreement with our neighbors at Bednark Studios on a partnership and a production plan. In the afternoon we were already cutting parts in both our production facilities. On Tuesday we turned the Duggal Greenhouse, our now empty event facility as all our bookings were cancelled due to COVID19, into an assembly plant that we layed out operations, purchased tables and fully sanitized for assembly starting that Wednesday. We assembled our first shields that Wednesday with a team of 160 workers. For all the Duggal staff at the Greenhouse, no one was ordered to come in, we asked staff if they would be interested in taking part and received an overwhelming response from staff who wanted to come in as essential workers to help do their part in combating COVID19. By that Saturday we had shipped 50,000 desperately needed face shields out to the City of New York for our first responders and by that Tuesday, March 31st in less than one week of operations we had shipped out over 100,000 face shields!
Was the team immediately cooperative?
Absolutely, more than cooperative, enthusiastic with amazing dedication to come voluntarily into the hottest of virus hot zones, often from much less affected areas in order to help people they do not know and fight this virus at a point when there was a lot of unknown and fear.
What were the challenges faced by you as a business owner and by the staff working?
At that time, there was a lot of fear and many people believed the act of leaving your house was taking a risk. I told my workers that I would be there each day you were at the Greenhouse with them sharing in their risk and efforts as essential workers. We did everything we could to keep everyone as safe as possible including multiple temperature checks daily, handing our protective face masks and gloves to each worker, and spacing out the assembly operations to allow for social distancing. During each day and at the end of each work day a full deep sanitization cleaning was done to the facility to help keep our teams safe. I was amazed by the commitment shown by the Duggal and Bednark teams to be part of something bigger than themselves, to help first responders who needed and deserved our help who themselves were risking their lives to serve the sick.
You featured employees of yours on social media. How was this received by them and their families?
It was a natural thing to do for me, as I was so inspired by their stories and their dedication and I have had the privilege of working with many of them for 25 years. I wanted to share a little about the people making these shields with the world to inspire others to find ways they could do their part to help. The feedback from people was overwhelming, supportive and positive because it was an amazing thing they were doing. We had creative department designers and managers, sitting next to someone from the packing department, then next to a printer operator or member of the cleaning crew. All doing the same tasks, all working together on the assembly line from all different backgrounds, ages, sex, and races joing together to fight back against COVID. In some cases some of the managers working on the assembly line were being supervised by staff more junior than them in the organization but when it came to the tasks at hand these line leaders were better suited to lead the operations but there was no ego being shown and a real spirit of togetherness, bravery and teamwork exhibited that at times brought me to tears thinking about it.
How cooperative were local authorities and business residents of the Brooklyn Navy Yard?
The Brooklyn Navy Yard and the City have been great partners and they recognized the advantages of having desperately needed PPE produced locally as we were turning it around faster, delivering high volumes every other day at first, producing shields that were of higher quality and keeping people employed and off unemployment. The symbolism was also powerful of people working together in NYC to help the city we love and live in and we were honored by the visit of the Mayor and the global press to our facilities early on to highlight our efforts and the creative way were able to transform our operation in a matter of days to do something completely different going from high quality printing and visual displays to PPE.
How did your clients react to this new arm of your business?
They were incredibly supportive and proud of our efforts, we received tons of positive social media feedback that really heartened us especially in the dark early days before we hit the peak. It is amazing how a few kind words can sometimes help keep propelling you forward when everything else in your mind and body is telling you to stop.
Were you expecting to reach 1,000,000 face shields? What’s planned? What’s next?
When we started our commitment was to make PPE until they were no longer needed. We have been blessed by tremendously positive feedback on the quality and functionality from the area hospitals and EDC and they have continued to order from us over other versions. We are incredibly proud to now have produced well over 1,000,000 face shields and over 250,000 medical aprons and we expect those numbers to double before we are done.
COVID19 is changing the way businesses operate. How are you adjusting? What can clients of the Printing and Graphics industry expect?
I think the creative and flexible nature of Duggal really helped us in that we were used to doing new designs, prototypes, and setting up production lines for our projects which are largely unique each time so the transition to something different is in our DNA. The pivot from manufacturing things like a cosmetics display to PPE was not as crazy as it would sound from the outside. Duggal has been blessed to be in a leadership position in our industry for a long time and we are continuing to advise and help our customers get ready for reopening and the “new normal”. We are designing and laying out customer locations to adjust to the new COVID19 requirements, producing social distancing floor graphics and needed window signage and displays detailing store COVID19 policies. For our forward thinking customers we have built custom hand sanitizer dispensers and plexiglass and fabric space partitions to help them reopen and adapt. All of it while maintaining a customer’s brand identity and a positive appearance that does not scare off customers but rather engages customers in a way that also keeps both their employees and their customers safer. The key for companies to survive in challenging times is flexibility but also importantly the will to do things differently and adapt to changing times.
Duggal PPE production continues towards 2 million face shields, and we have no doubt the company will continue to adapt and help serve its customers and community.