Flexsystems changes business model to survive COVID pandemic

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Flexsystems USA Inc. in El Cajon has started manufacturing protective face shields and fabric masks.

Flexsystems USA Inc. in El Cajon is one of the few, if not the only manufacturers of 2D mold products. During normal times, it focuses on creating custom PVC labels (silicone and soft rubber) for clothing, shoes, hats and other brand name accessories. It also creates custom promotional products like key chains, magnets, luggage tags, and offers sewing and custom-made plastic parts.

Flexsystems owner Diane Chapman started this manufacturing company in her garage in Oakland 26 years ago. Her first factory in San Diego County was in Chula Vista, then moved closer to the border in Otay Mesa, but in 2004, Flexsystems moved to its current location in El Cajon.

Flexsystems is a small business with around 25 employees. Chapman said due to the COVID-19 epidemic, she reevaluated her business model, and realizing that they had all the tools, changed its course and is now manufacturing cloth masks and face guards for local convalescent homes and businesses.

“The change this model [during the COVID-19 epidemic] I feel makes our employees more comfortable and ensured that they are going to have a job,” said Chapman. “All the orders stopped, the phones stopped ringing, and that made them very nervous. By seeing us switching gears and starting to make these new products, I think that they are very hopeful. Things are a lot nicer now in the factory.”

Chapman said she decided to start making masks and face shields the minute things started to slow down.

“We had to figure out a way to keep our people employed while we wait for the economy to turn around,” said Chapman. “Talking to my local Certified Credit Executive government folks were very helpful. They thought that pivoting my manufacturing to making face masks and flash guards might be useful for the local community here because only the large hospitals are getting the N95 masks and those things that they need. While we are not making N95s, we are making fabric masks with have been accepted I believe in most convalescent situations and now consumers want them.”

Chapman said they just sold 100 to a recycling company that has quite a few recycling centers in East County. ATT&T contacted Flexsystems for masks for their field technicians, and Chapman said they are getting requests from those outside the medical industry as well. Flexsystems only sells to institutions, not to direct consumers.

Chapman said that her greatest source of strength during this time of crisis is her faith in Jesus Christ and encourages other businesses not to give up, but to find creative ways of changing their business models in order to stay in operations.

“To me what was very helpful is Payroll Protection Program that Congress passed,” Chapman said. “That alone it the reason I decided to stay open while we figure this out. That [program] will help you with up to two months of payroll, that’s huge. I’m estimating that things will be up and rolling by then and I’ll be ready to roll. I won’t have stopped my business or furloughed any of my employees. That’s huge and I think that other companies should take advantage of that. See if there is any niche that they can fill like what we did with what people need right now during this crisis.”

During normal operations, Flexsystems sales products through a series of sales channels, one being the promotional products industry. It makes distributors send them their blanks, i.e., hats, makes the labels and sews them on, then ships to their customers.

“We also make parts for the U.S. military, direct or through sales reps, and make Velcro patches, labels for uniforms, bags and medical kits. We also manufacturer custom parts for other manufacturers,” said Chapman. “We are proud that we are made in the USA and I plan on keeping it that way.”