DAVE LIEBER / JAN 29
Behind the Mask
In three days, life in a new Fort Worth mask company shifted from no business to complete sellout
THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS
Co-owners sold more than a quarter-million N95 masks. They slept in the factory to ship orders 24/7. In a matter of days they sold a quarter-million N95 masks across the nation.
Last week, The Watchdog told you the story of United States Mask Co. of Fort Worth: “Two guys start a D-FW mask factory but can’t catch a break. Forget made in Texas. China always wins.” Two men pumped their life savings into building from scratch a factory that makes certified N95 masks, the kind you want but can’t find easily online because scammers have made it difficult. Until a few days ago, United States Mask Co. had very few customers and struggled to compete with companies in China. The local company was even disqualified from bidding on an order of 100,000 masks from the government in Tarrant County, its home county. After The Watchdog report, the company was flooded with support. United States Mask sold more than a quarter-million N95 masks. The company owners beefed up production, hired more workers and temporarily stopped taking orders so they can catch up. Coincidentally, in the same week, President Joe Biden signed an executive order prodding the government to buy American and reduce waivers for overseas products. Here, I ask co-owners John Bielamowicz and David Baillargeon what their week was like.
Watchdog: How has your life changed since The Watchdog shared your story?
David: We have been inundated with emails and phone calls from people and businesses wanting to offer help and support. We were not prepared for the onslaught of orders and have been working around the clock to get these orders packaged and shipped. John actually brought his Airstream to the factory, and I’m sleeping on the office sofa. I’ve gotten 15 hours of sleep in the last three days. We’ve moved our families into the factory to help. We’re not leaving until all these orders are shipped out.
John: This struck a nerve. It’s an underdog story.
Watchdog: How many did you sell?
John: We sold everything! More than a quarter-million. Two weeks ago, we were standing in line outside the UPS store. Now the midsize-business people at UPS told us we might have gotten too big for them.
Watchdog: Your online store was only 3 days old, and then it handled such a high volume of sales almost immediately. What happened when you ran out?
John: We started taking pre-orders. We were wrestling with it. Our hole was getting deeper. And every second that we kept taking orders, we committed ourselves to a bigger mountain to climb.
Watchdog: Are you still taking orders?
John: We had to stop accepting orders. We wrestled so hard with when to shut it off. Our inbox was melting with support for American-made products. We love those. But what I wasn’t ready for were messages that said, “My mom has cancer” and what having an N95 meant to them. The outpouring from not just Dallas, not just Texas, but this whole country of ours is something I couldn’t have even imagined.
Watchdog: What about that second shift of workers?
David: It’s in the works.
John: This week, we hired 11 people and more to come. We’re increasing production capacity in a big way.
Watchdog: Aside from the quick turnaround in your fate, what surprised you?
David: There were a lot of calls from people just thanking us for what we are doing. I’ve had calls from cancer patients, schools for the disabled and nursing homes — all of whom needed but couldn’t get this type of protection. Businesses called to offer their services free of charge because they genuinely want to see United States Mask succeed. I even had calls from people offering to volunteer their time to help us in whatever way they could.
Watchdog: Your first year was painful because you couldn’t convince institutions that American-made medical protection equipment was a national security issue. The problem is your masks cost more than Chinese-made masks.
John: It’s just good to know that despite the countless reasons the past 12 months gave us to maybe doubt humanity, there’s still so much goodness in this world.
David: I am just so grateful to be in a position to help and am proud of the fact that we are doing it here for Americans on American soil. I think that’s the way it is supposed to be.
John: All the people who say, “Americans don’t actually care about buying American” are wrong. Americans might not care about who makes the 25-cent toy or where bouncy balls come from. But Americans care where important things like N95 masks come from. America, we heard you. Be patient with us. This is a team thing. We’re going to be there for you. We’re doing this.
Dave Lieber, The Watchdog investigative columnist. Dave has written a hard-hitting newspaper column in Dallas/Fort Worth since 1993. His work appears twice a week. His goal is to save readers time, money and aggravation. In 2019, Dave won top prize in America's largest column-writing contest. The contest judge called his winning entries “models of suspenseful storytelling and public service."
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