SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is causing many businesses to dramatically alter their operations.
For more than 30 years, Straight Down has produced high-end golf apparel, worn by some of the biggest names in the sport.
However, the San Luis Obipso-based company is now producing something much different than shirts, hats and jackets.
"Three weeks ago everybody was going about their business, and now masks might be a new way of life for the next few months," said owner Mike Rowley.
As the health crisis intensified recently, Rowley came up with the idea to produce the much-needed medical gear.
"I called Alan [Alan Iftiniuk, French Hospital Medical Center President and CEO], he's been a great partner and friend, and I asked, do you need any masks?" said Rowley. "He said we can take all the masks you can get."
Soon afterwards, Rowley checked to see if his manufacturer in China could help out.
"We made a call to them to see if they can make us masks, and they were able to," said Rowley. "So we're able to get to the county hopefully 72,000 masks here in the next week, and 30,000 gowns."
The personal protective equipment (PPE) is in high demand and short supply around the country, so it's a big win for San Luis Obispo County, which will receive all of the gear.
"It’s going for a good cause. The first responders are the ones that really need it," said Rowley. "Everybody wants to do whatever they can here. We have a great community and there’s so many people doing so many great things."
Coordinating the effort has been a big task for the company, which has had to reduce staffing during the last few weeks.
"I knew nothing about masks or gowns 10 days ago and now I feel like I’m an expert," said Rowley. "We’re working four and five in the morning on the phone and FaceTiming the factories and then we work again at 11 or 12 at night because of the time difference so and then working doing our normal job during the day."
Even as the masks and gowns roll off the assembly line, thousands of miles away, Rowley said getting them here is proving to be challenging.
"The biggest problem is not the masks actually," said Rowley. "It’s the shipping of the masks. With FedEx and all that commercial airlines going down, there’s not enough planes, to bring the medical supplies out, so we've been limited to how many boxes we can ship every day."
Even as Straight Down endures the financial downturn and juggles the new operation, Rowley is optimistic about the future
"It’s pretty painful right now, to be honest," said Rowley. "April is one of our busiest months of the year. The Masters has been canceled and a lot of the green grass courses are closed, and if they are open, the pro shops aren't open, but we're going to get through this. We've been through 9/11. We've been through 2008, the financial crisis, and we have a great team here and we’re going to get through it all."
As for the community, Rowley has simple, yet important advice for everyone.
"Be safe," said Rowley. "Wash your hands."