News May 11, 2020, by Ian Adams Collingwood Connection
When it comes to masks, the president of Irwin Toy isn’t playing around.
George Irwin, who calls Collingwood home, has found an almost overnight sideline for the 90-plus-year-old Canadian toy company, producing three-ply surgical masks.
While the masks are currently being made at a factory in China that normally produces the company’s toys, Irwin sees a future in bringing manufacturing to Collingwood.
“I think there is a very viable opportunity to manufacture here in Collingwood, and really make Collingwood a pretty interesting place for the (personal protective equipment) product,” he said.
Earlier this year, he received an email from a business colleague who described how he had retooled one of his toy factories to make masks. It was in the initial stages of the coronavirus pandemic, and the colleague had landed a contract to supply the Hong Kong government.
Irwin recalled telling his wife, Brenda, “I think he just hit the jackpot.”
At the end of March, Irwin received an email from a supplier who had capacity at one of his plants, and asked Irwin if he needed masks.
Irwin got on the phone with Collingwood General & Marine Hospital president Norah Holder, who immediately gave him an order for 40,000.
She also provided contacts to other hospitals in the region — and a new business line was created.
“By the end of the day we had sold 440,000,” he said, adding by mid-May, sales numbers should be in the order of six million, with contracts across North America, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean.
“This has become a very viable business,” he said. “We’ve been in business selling masks for a little more than a month, and I see us continuing this business — as well as our toy business.
“I think this is going to be an integral part of our portfolio of products that we manufacture and sell in North America.”
Almost immediately, Irwin said he saw a supply chain issue between the factories in China and where the masks were headed, that the masks weren’t reaching their intended customers fast enough.
That’s why he is now looking to set up manufacturing in the area — and expects to announce firm plans in the coming days.
“We’re not naive, we know when this is over that people will continue to buy masks from outside of Canada, but we’re going to be supplying masks from Canada so that we have an alternative source if this ever happens again,” Irwin said. “That’s important for Canada.”