FOUR weeks ago, Greg Gates was worried and couldn't sleep. He knew his company was about to be decimated by the coronavirus outbreak and was deeply concerned about what was to come.
Mr Gates is the managing director of Caves Beach-based Sirron Holdings Group, a collection of businesses which make, supply and service commercial glass and dish washing machines used in pubs and clubs throughout Australia.
With the hospitality sector on the verge of being shutdown last month, Mr Gates knew revenue was about to take a dramatic tumble.
But he had an idea to try and save the business and little time to waste.
"We've got a chemical plant that makes specialised detergents and cleaning agents that mostly relate to our dish-washer business," he said.
"Some time ago, we looked at a hand-sanitiser formula that didn't include alcohol.
"My wife, is a front-line [health worker] and she had complained about alcohol beating up her hands everyday. So I thought why don't we make one that performs like alcohol but is a bit nicer on your hands.
"So we had this formula sitting there that we knew would do the job, but we hadn't commercialised it. So Monday morning I got the team into the boardroom and said by the end of the week we'll be making this.
"We had no packaging, no raw material - we didn't even have a line that would give us high-speed filling."
By Wednesday, packaging and raw materials had been sourced and orders were rolling in. The following Tuesday, thousands of litres of hand santiser was being pushed out the door.
"It took us eight days to pull it together and we've been flat out ever since," Mr Gates, 56, said.
Had Mr Gates not rose from that restless Sunday night with a plan to keep the business operating, about 20 staff would have been out of work within days.
Two of them had bought houses the week prior, Mr Gates said, exemplifying the seriousness of the situation.
"We would have thrown a dust cover over the building and come back in three months," he said.
More than 30,000 litres of the product is now being made in 20 hours of production each day.
Ten extra workers had to be hired to cope with the boom. A local florist who fell out of work is even doing deliveries using her van.
Mr Gates said staff had embraced the change and done "whatever it takes" to make up for a 90 per cent drop in regular revenue.
""It overwhelms me sometimes to think what could have happened," he said.
"They appreciate having a job and know it could have gone another way.
"We've got four businesses and from one of those our national sales manager is doing customer deliveries. He doesn't care, he's saying 'I'll do whatever I've got to do'."
"I'm not going to say that we're home and hosed, but we're going well and have made great relationships."
The Zexa-labelled sanitiser is being sold to mine sites, small businesses and the general public.
Mr Gates said production could be increased and further sales achieved if government policies were relaxed. Under existing standards, only alcohol-based sanitiser can be used in health facilities.
"That positioning is old. There's non-alcohol products around that perform like it," he said.
"Our sanitiser exceeds the standard substantially when it compares to the same test the alcohol product is put through."
Together, not Alone is a partnership between Out of the Square, the Newcastle Herald and the Greater Bank. Its aim is to inspire some positivity in these difficult times and will feature a series of stories that explore kindness, innovation, creativity, celebration and mindfulness among businesses and the community.
Contact Penelope Green: firstname.lastname@example.org
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