January 30, 2023
Local News

Woodstock manufacturers see growth, make adjustments due to COVID-19 pandemic

From making jewelry to soap and sanitizer dispenser production, the outbreak impacts local economy

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A pair of Woodstock manufacturers, Flocon and Thumbies, are seeing demands for their very different products rise substantially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing the businesses to make changes to meet their customers' needs.

For Flocon, which produces fluid applicator and dispensing systems that include fine mist sprayers and lotion pumps that are used for hand sanitizer and disinfectant, the heightened global need for such cleaning products has required the company to make big switches.

Company leaders were originally planning on using a 57,000-square-foot space on its Woodstock property that was brought online last year for pilot production and research and development purposes. But that idea was scrapped by the viral outbreak and Flocon clients ordering more and more of the components used in the sanitizer and disinfectant containers.

Its sanitizer and disinfectant dispenser business is up about five-fold, Vice President Stephan Ballot said.

The company has also had to speed up the deployment of a new trigger sprayer, initially planned 2021, used to sanitize and disinfect U.S. military bases and Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals, Flocon spokesman Chris Mordi said.

"Because of COVID-19 and the demand for fine mist sprayers that dispense hand sanitizers, we had to turn the pilot plant into a fine mist sprayer manufacturing plant. It is making parts for the sprayers 19 hours a day, and we are working to expand that to 24 hours a day. That also means we’ve had to add a shift and hire workers," Mordi said in an email.

Adding staff during the pandemic has been difficult, though, Mordi said, as many fewer applicants have responded to postings with the company.

At the same time, however, other aspects of Flocon's business are down, including the production of applicators of chemicals used on aircraft, Ballot said. That business has decreased by about 95% as air travel has greatly decreased during the pandemic.

"We've gone through a significant retooling," Ballot said. "We've added new equipment. We've added quite a bit to our working capital requirements to service this."

To help smooth the Flocon transition into focusing on the booming parts of its business that go into the products needed to combat the pandemic's spread, it invested more than $1 million into facility changes carried out by McHenry County-based contractors, Ballot said.

The shift has required all hands on deck when it comes to manufacturing workers.

"We've taken staff that are in multiple different areas of the company and different functions, from office, from accounting, from marketing, and multiple other teams, and we've been working with them to help augment the manufacturing team," Ballot said.

Thumbies – a Woodstock-based producer of memorial jewelry that feature human fingerprints of a loved one who has died on them – has also experienced sales growth during the pandemic, its leaders said.

With restrictions on large gatherings due to the virus causing some families to decide against holding traditional funerals, the Thumbies memorial jewelry pieces have been a way to allow a decedent's survivors to celebrate and fondly remember the deceased, they said.

Thumbies this month started a new partnership with Bass-Mollett Publishers, which provides a range of products to funeral directors, and will expand the Woodstock-based jewelry maker's reach into six times more funeral homes than before the partnership.

"More people started to move toward a cremation celebration than a traditional funeral when the pandemic started kicking in. We were figuring out how to adapt to it. These celebrations are still important," said Wayne Read, president of Thumbies. "Thumbies, they're tangible, they're something you can touch, something you can carry with you beyond that day or week event of the funeral."

Plus, the partnership is mutually beneficial as it gives funeral industry workers another option to maintain sales with much of their business made less viable by the slowdown of funeral services during the outbreak, Read said.

"Our goal is to be a complete resource for funeral directors,” John Flowers, CEO of Bass-Mollett Publishers, said in a news release. “Working directly with the team at Thumbies will allow us to provide another important service to our partners, the directors who are helping families in their time of need, as they begin the healing process.”

Sam Lounsberry

Sam Lounsberry

Sam Lounsberry is a former Northwest Herald who covered local government, business, K-12 education and all other aspects of life in McHenry County, in particular in the communities of Woodstock, McHenry, Richmond, Spring Grove, Wonder Lake and Johnsburg.