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Guarding the Future: Aubright Adjusts Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

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Learn how one local company shifted its production and focus to provide safety equipment for other businesses and organizations throughout the country during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

After ending 2019 strong, Aubright hit the ground running at the start of this year. The St. Cloud-based company anticipated another successful year and planned to leverage its growth from 2019.

In early January, however, the world began hearing reports about a novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, spreading rapidly around the world. By mid-March, the impacts of COVID-19 were apparent in Central Minnesota, creating uncertainty for many, including Aubright, its employees and clients.

LOCAL ROOTS

Founded in 1983 by Sandy Berling and her father, Aubright remains locally owned by Sandy and her husband, Dan. Aubright, formerly known as Goldleaf Plastics, has been a member of Stearns Electric Association since 2005 when it opened its facility in the Opportunity Drive business park off of I-94, which is served with electric service by the Cooperative.

Aubright is a sheet plastic fabricator that produces custom products for three different market segments: retail, power sports and original equipment manufacturers (OEM). Aubright manufacturers very custom products including retail fixtures, such as cosmetic cases you’d see
in a makeup store, windshields for ATVs, boats, snowmobiles and motorcycles, face shields, museum displays, machine guards, medical equipment, product packaging, food service displays and more. The company serves many clients nation-wide and has a few international consumers as well.

“Since we serve three different market segments, we are very diverse compared to our competitors,” Phil Layne, senior manager, supply chain and quality, said. “Only about 20 percent of our orders are repeat orders, which makes every day different at Aubright.”

The company’s diverse product offering proved important a few weeks ago as COVID-19 took its toll on our area.

COVID-19 RESPONSE

“Moving into 2020, all three of our market segments had strong sales and production,” Layne said. “Then, six weeks ago, we were thrown a curveball.”

“When the Governor gave the official ‘Stay at Home’ order, we faced challenging questions that we’ve never had to handle before: Are we an essential business? How can we ensure the health and safety of our employees during this pandemic?” he continued. “We are following the CDC guidelines to a T. We are on-site. We are essential. We are operating.”

Although many of its clients put orders on hold once the pandemic hit, Aubright has found a way to continue operations and provide the necessary equipment to companies throughout the country. As a sheet plastic fabricator, their products are in high demand, especially for industries that are looking to install guard protection for employees and customers alike.

If you’ve been to a local grocery store or retailer in the past few weeks, you’ve probably done business through one of these plastic guards.

Aubright is producing these types of guards right here in Central Minnesota for many consumers across the country.

“Acrylic and polycarbonate plastic, which is what we work with daily, make very good guards to install at grocery stores, banks, coffee shops, mass transit companies, hotels, and many, many other organizations,” Layne said.

“We have been inundated with requests for these guards. In fact, our industry has never before seen such high demand in such a short amount of time,” he continued. “Every day is a crazier day – stores that stayed open during the quarantine were the first to install these guards. Now though, as more and more companies prepare to re-open, several other industries seek this type of protection as well.”

Aubright continues to fulfill orders as they can, although the company predicts it might get harder to do so in the coming weeks. “At this time, there is a shortage of clear plastic. Lead times on our orders have gone from three weeks to 16 weeks,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if the plastic is very thin, which is used for items such as facemasks, or thick, like what we are using to create these guards for our clients, clear plastic just doesn’t exist right now.”

Still, Aubright remains busy, fulfilling orders as fast as it can despite the uncertain future of the economy.

UNCERTAIN FUTURE

Like many organizations in Central Minnesota, it’s hard to know what might be in store for Aubright as the world moves into the next phase of the pandemic. Company leaders are taking control of the areas they can, and hoping for the best for both their business and their client’s businesses.

“Employee safety is our number one priority during these uncertain times. When our employees are healthy and safe, everything else follows,” Layne said. “We have implemented as many health and safety practices as possible within our facilities.”

Still, uncertain times are ahead.

“Will those non-essential businesses open back up and continue operating as they used to, requiring the same products that we provided in the past? It’s hard to know what will happen when all of this comes around again,” Layne concluded.

Until then, Aubright is business as usual, doing its best to provide those coveted products for its clients and partners across the nation.

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