The hotel business pivoting to supply 15 million with PPE

The hotel business pivoting to supply 15 million with PPE
Pandemic Innovators — For the past 10 years, Laurence Nair-Price has run a business dealing in hotel furnishings. But after witnessing the government's calamitous failings around COVID-19, the entrepreneur decided to take matters into his own hands, reinventing his company to supply millions with PPE.

At the height of lockdown, abysmal planning from the government left the UK with a calamitous lack of PPE. From squandering over sourcing, shipping and equipping its frontline services, to the acquisition of unsafe masks procured for the NHS, Whitehall fell at virtually every hurdle. 

But thankfully for the councils, care homes and other places in desperate need of affordable and safe protective equipment, there were other avenues to turn down. Among those providing a life raft were Laurence Nair-Price – a 36-year-old entrepreneur from Yorkshire – who for the past 10 years has run a business supplying hotel furnishings.

Nair-Price saw an opportunity to utilise the supply chain already in use by his global business, and to combat the prevalence of PPE fraud. He founded One Pound Mask earlier this year, and so far, his business has supplied 15 million people with PPE. “Being in our position was almost a perfect situation to solve some of the issues that we’re facing in the UK,” he says. 

Several months down the line, Nair-Price is gaining new contracts and acquiring PPE for small and big organisations alike. In the latest from our Pandemic Innovators series, we spoke to Nair-Price about how he effectively switched up his business to source and supply PPE for the frontline. 

When this all started, and you realised there was going to be a massive impact on your business, what was going through your mind?

For those first two weeks, there was nothing on my mind apart from the core business and how we would cope with this, so there wasn’t really a focus on PPE at the time. 

Then I thought, well I can see there are PPE issues and if I can do it properly… We only deal with 4 or 5-star hotels so everything we produce has to be really good quality and it’s our credibility on the line at the end of the day, so it’s a risk. 

We’re also doing something that’s completely new to us and we want to make sure we tick all the boxes and get our certifications because, at the end of the day, that could make us go bust as well. I wouldn’t want to put my name to the PPE if it didn’t feel like we had got all those assurances. 

We’re providing a service that’s needed right now. So that gave me a lot of energy and motivation to get more product lists and get information about lead times and prices and start to push it out. So it wasn’t overnight, but it did drop at some point that we could help people.

We set about sourcing and getting all the right accreditation and working out freight costs and logistics and we’re now helping care homes, we’re helping charities, and receive big orders from councils. 

Did you have any issues getting products from China, with factories being closed?

A lot of the factories reopened quickly after the lockdown there, so that hasn’t been the most challenging thing. The most challenging thing has been finding a good factory that has been making these types of products for a long time, and that also has the capacity, because there’s a worldwide demand for PPE from China

How long does it take to make the masks, and how has it been getting them into the country?

It’s usually five to seven days production for 50,000 masks. Luckily I think customs in the UK are being very quick to prioritise stuff especially if it’s PPE

How smooth is the process of acquiring PPE, and why is it proving such a challenge for the government? 

Supplies are getting into the NHS but it’s messy, it’s just really messy. The government, and obviously part of this has been publicised, are working directly with Chinese factories to bring stuff in – that’s something that they weren’t doing before – but it’s a massive logistical challenge for them, and I feel their pain. 

Have you enjoyed doing this for however long it’s been now, and where do you think it’ll go in the future?

There are tough days, I remember speaking to care homes who at the time had no support and they’re literally using phrases like: “we feel like we’ve been left to the wayside” – they have to a certain extent. Some of these care homes had really really low budgets, then you have a spike… 

For now, we’re looking at potentially donating more PPE to homeless charities, as well as care homes, to try to include everyone. 

I see PPE being around for at least a good 6 months, depending on the second wave, so it’s completely integrated into our business now. My front room is full of PPE, literally stacked to the ceilings, you can’t get into the room! 

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Find out more about One Pound Mask on their official website.

See more of Theo McInnes’s work on his official website. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

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