Bob Confer built his business on pool products and he built them in North Tonawanda. From pool ladders to hot tub cabinets, Confer Products made it all, but with COVID-19 stepping in to steal summer's spotlight, Confer had to rethink his assemblies usefulness during the pandemic.
Confer reopened Monday, May 4, down 126 employees, from 165 to 36, with a new mission: Make essential items and get his employees back to work.
"Right now we're a shell of our former selves," Confer said. "We're going to add a few more (employees) next week ... to focus on essential products. ... Right now we're making dock systems that are used by the Navy and Coast Guard, and then we're going to be making cases that contain self-contained breathing apparatus that are used by firefighters and also used in the coronavirus. We're also going to be making some construction products and, oddly enough, we'll be making spa products, because ... other states have considered spas and hot tubs to be essential products, because of their medical value.""
What was projected to be a great season was cut off by the shutdown, but in addition to making essential products, Confer said, he will be sharing his restart process to other companies for the betterment of everyone getting out of the shutdown and beginning to reopen the economy.
"We want other companies to succeed, and we want to give them some of our control documents," he said. "We want to give them insight on how to get ready for when they're able to open. There's going to be a lot of questions that employers are going to have. Sometimes the government makes it seem a little too frightening, or maybe the government isn't helpful enough, because they don't have the resources available."
The company will be participating in a program called Restart Niagara Working Group with the Niagara County government. On his own, Confer said, he'll be supplying documents keyed especially for businesses that may be a little frightened to reopen.
"I'll be producing a document that lists what we've done, why we've done it and what employers should look for," he said. "That document will be available for any interested business that reaches out to me."
In the meantime, Confer Products will be running in a socially-distant and safe manner. Confer said, some changes have been made to the workstations and break areas so people "aren't on top of each other,"and all employees are required to wear gloves, which was always the case for his company, as well as, masks. Before employees are even let in the building, there is a health screen, in the effort to slow the spread of coronavirus.
One of the things Confer Products has done, which Confer himself recommends, is to repurpose one employee to be the COVID-19 administrator, who will create protocols and follow up on them to ensure the safety of everyone in the building.
"We want to see the entire community flourish," Confer said. "Because we want to see that American dream come back to life."