Fear has been a key motivating factor for Andrew Moretti since the pandemic took hold. “This is my family here and I’ll do whatever it takes to keep them all working,” says the alumnus of St. Michael’s College School (SMCS), Class of 2004.
The 50 employees Moretti oversees as President of RFP (Request for Product) Design Group Inc., were top of mind when COVID-19 suddenly appeared with brutal force in mid-March. The instant threat posed to the livelihoods, families, and futures of his employees --- struck him deeply.
“Our team is made up of skilled craftsmen, and they are so important to what we do every day that we had to make a decision in terms of how can we keep everyone working,” he says. “That is so important because it is a team mentality over here.”
The Mississauga, Ontario-based company designs, manufactures, and installs custom furniture and furnishings --- fulfilling orders for one, 10,000, or more.
Clients range from individuals to bars, hotels, restaurants, and corporations including Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), Google, Facebook, and Deloitte.
“We were off to our best year yet and best month yet in the month of March, and in two days almost all of our projects were put on pause,” he recounts.
Faced with the reality that his company’s three main competitors had already laid off their entire workforce, Moretti remained anxious, but with a steely resolve to find different solutions --- with the clock seemingly ticking at warp speed.
“The first major factor that set us off to investigate ‘can we help’ is understanding what was required,” he says referring to the pandemic response.
“Once we started understanding that we have a reliance on supply chain from overseas and second that we are actually able to provide these solutions, that’s when we said, let’s use our production equipment and our technology, and most importantly, our people.”
Within 24 hours --- as many businesses small and large unravelled --- Moretti and his team confirmed specifications, sourced materials, pinpointed additional machinery requirements and crafted a plan to completely transform their 50,000 square-foot furniture production facility into one that makes protective face masks.
“You have to consider every component of the risk you are going to take,” says the young leader who founded his company in 2012. “We’re risking capital to save jobs. The capital investment is all nominal if it’s going to provide a quality of life to your team. And that to me was the most important part.”
Then came the ‘real work’.
“We trained our team to learn how to sew and that was the most labour-heavy part,” says Moretti recalling the many steps, protocols, and procedures that had to be established and completed before mask production could fully commence.
“We took our current team who may not be working on sewing machines --- they may be doing upholstery or other parts --- and we immediately trained them to get sewing. Then we invested in an entirely new production line and that was built.” An investment of more than $50,000 to complete the conversion.
Before the newly-trained employees could begin putting the freshly-installed machines to work, one more major component had to be addressed.
“That was probably the hardest part of everything. It wasn’t the machines, it wasn’t the material, it wasn’t the pattern, it was getting our health and safety up. And that was probably the most daunting task.”
Hygiene, hand-washing, and physical distancing measures in the workspace, lunchroom, on the line, and across the facility were established and communicated.
“To get into a manufacturing mindset in a matter of days is extremely challenging,” says Moretti, who is also an expectant father awaiting his first child.
“They have assessments every 30 minutes,” he adds referring to the quality checks administered for each finished product.
Within a few short days, RFP Design Group Inc. became Canada Mask Supply, producing 10,000 masks per day in its initial runs.
The masks are made for essential service workers, consumers, and used in various industries, outside of health care.
“The response (from staff) was as Canadian as it could be, which was, we are so proud to be able to help,” says Moretti. “They were eager for the challenge. They wanted to learn these new skills. They took it with such pride and because of that, it made the transition smoother.”
Within days, the facility doubled its output to 20,000 masks. That necessitated the creation of new jobs and the hiring of 35 additional staff.
Moretti says the company has more than 40 signed contracts with companies around the world, with enough material in stock to produce more than two million masks.
“It feels really good knowing that you’re making an impact and our whole team feels that way,” he says. “I mean they’re smiling, they’re excited. They’re working a ton, they’re getting a lot of hours. We’re running six days a week. I’d run seven if I could.”
He says the production goal is pegged at 150,000 to 250,000 masks per week.
“The more we make, the more we can supply Canadians. We are running double shifts.”
FAITH IN FAMILY
Above all else for the young leader is his most important goal. “We saved all 40 of our staff, we saved all 40. We saved all the managers, all the office staff,” he says.
“It is all coming together quite nicely, but the most important part is the orders we get to keep our staff working,” Moretti continues. “It is so critical for everyone to understand --- from end-users to corporations that we need the pool of money to stay within Canada. We need the money in our economy because we need to work, we need to shop, and we need to buy local, buy Canadian, and break this reliance on supply chain.”
Admittedly a little tired running 19-hour days, still fearful of what each day may bring, Moretti is mostly energized, exceedingly grateful, and deeply committed.
“Leaders don’t lead from the back, they lead from the front. I’m here in the morning, I’m here in the evening. And I’m so proud of our team.”