Over the years I have worked for a number of large organisations, some household names, and one of my biggest frustrations was always their inability to be flexible or make decisions in a timely manner. The old metaphor of them being like large ships taking an age to turn can be very true and so difficult to work with. Back then, inability to act quickly cost me some orders and the odd customer, but with good old fashioned customer service and hard work luckily this didn’t happen too often.
But I do wonder what impact this way of working will have had on some of them during this last year. Rayflex, despite being the UK’s largest manufacturer of PVC strip curtains, are still family owned and run which for me means Directors’ doors are always open. I can walk into production and discuss a bespoke design for something a little different and I can always talk to the person directly responsible for fixing an issue for a speedy resolution.
This flexibility and ability to respond quickly came into its own during the last 12 months. When lockdown was looming, it was a scary time for many businesses. Rayflex primarily sell PVC strip curtains, PVC sheet, and rubber site safety products and like most other companies, the phone seemed to stop ringing towards the end of March 2020 as the pandemic really hit. Our customers include those who supply hospitality, schools, and colleges, all those places threatened by a lockdown.
As soon as rumours of shutdowns started, we were able to respond quickly and production worked overtime on weekends and evenings to get everything already ordered made and shipped. As the country shut down, we had to furlough some of the staff and prepare a team to work from home.
But it was the quick thinking by our Director, Phillipa Taylor, along with hard work and staff flexibility that made all the difference and made sure Rayflex not only survived the pandemic, but was successful in the most challenging of years.
As a supplier of PVC, we already had several materials ideal for providing COVID screening, but Phillipa moved quickly, secured acrylic sheeting and designed a series of freestanding and hanging screens that there was suddenly a great need for. Standardising on material and design meant we could quickly offer a high quality product with not too many stocking issues. As the world demand outweighed the material we did have a few weeks with no stock but the initial speed and flexibility to act meant we had secured good stocks to keep us going after an early shortfall. It also meant we could set a fair price for the screens and not be held to ransom by those profiteering from stock shortages.
Flexibility helped yet again in designing some new products based on our traditional materials. Pop up advertising stands became pop up screens by replacing graphics with our 0.5mm PVC film which is usually used as vision panels in large warehouse curtains. This material also became hanging screens by being fitted into poster clamps and being suspended by steel wires from the ceiling. The clarity and strength of the material made it ideal for economical screens that could be used in offices, shops, hospitals, dentists and doctors surgeries, garden centres, and bakeries; you name it, we screened it! Our standard ‘butchers curtains’ became perfect dividers ensuring social distance and our warehouse divider curtains separated production lines so safe working practices could be observed.
Finally, it was the flexibility of the core team that brought all this together – from quickly learning new skills to remembering old ones, we all just knuckled down to get the job done. We did things we hadn’t done before, things that our colleagues normally did, worked different hours and for some different locations. There was definitely a bit of the ‘Blitz Spirit’ here at Rayflex and I think it has made our team all the stronger. We have all gained a few new skills we can take with us as normality returns, and I for one am very grateful. The ability to be flexible and move quickly made all the difference.