Oktober Design LLC proves the aphorism of being in the right place at the right time when it comes to finding success in business.
The Grand Rapids-based company manufactures a line of machines that allows beverage companies to seal cans with their liquid creations. While the company has enjoyed breakout success since its debut can seamer hit the market in 2016, the last few weeks since the coronavirus outbreak hit and forced many breweries to close their taprooms has been a boon for business as customers shifted to a to-go model out of necessity.
CEO Dennis Grumm said in the early days as states started to impose restrictions on in-person dining for bars and restaurants and issued stay-at-home orders, Oktober’s sales were up “unexpectedly” by as much as six times normal. Sales have continued at an elevated pace, maintaining at a level around four times the company’s normal operations.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen. I figured breweries were going to close up shop for a while and we were just going to go into hibernation,” Grumm said, noting that during the first day of Michigan’s stay-at-home order, he worked from home when “all of a sudden my phone blew up … and our sales just went crazy.”
“I was like, ‘Oh shit, I’ve got to get back to the shop and figure this out,’” he said.
The company devised a plan that allowed most employees to work from home and build the can seamer machines in their garages or basements. Oktober used its two cargo vans to “ferry parts back and forth to people’s houses” as well as spaced out its production facility to comply with social distancing guidelines. The company also staggered shifts at its facility to limit contact even further.
Oktober also offers cans in bulk, and promptly sold out of them in the first week of the stay-at-home order. The company now has a “steady flow” of cans coming in, and worked to solve some of the supply chain issues it had for parts for its can seamers, Grumm said.
“It’s just been a wild few weeks,” he said.
Based on the continued elevated sales volumes, Grumm thinks most companies are preparing for extended social distancing restrictions and customers being slow to return to bars and restaurants even after shelter-in-place orders are lifted.
“I have a feeling that it’s going to be this takeout trend for a while. As stuff starts turning back on and people start going out again, I think it’s going to be slow (in returning to normal),” Grumm said.
He credits his “super awesome” staff for rolling with the new operating environment and helping Oktober’s customers eke out whatever business they can by selling canned beverages to-go, curbside or via home delivery.
“Those first few days, we had a lot of the local places coming in and they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, we need these cans, we need these (can seamers) just to keep our doors open.’ It’s the only option they have left,” Grumm said. “We’re just trying to help them keep their doors open as much as we can.”
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