Clean break from normal business lends hand to COVID-19 workers

Managing Director Greg Gates

It was business as usual just a month ago for Lake Macquarie company Sirron Group, churning out commercial dishwashers and cleaning products at its premises in Caves Beach.

But all that changed with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company has become one of a growing number of local businesses rapidly adapting, evolving and retooling to save jobs and contribute much-needed health supplies.

“We were watching what was happening to hospitality in other parts of the world – it would mean our revenue would stop when the virus impacted Australia,” Sirron Managing Director Greg Gates said.

Realising the growing need for – and critical shortage of – hand sanitiser, the company quickly changed direction.

“We had a small mixing and filling plant that we made other chemicals in at first, and then we dismantled one of the dishwasher production lines and turned into a multi-filling production line,” Mr Gates said.

Loading pallets of sanitiser onto trucks

With NSW Government assistance sourcing packaging and materials, the Caves Beach site is now operating 20 hours a day, churning out about 1500 litres of hand sanitiser every hour.

That’s more than enough to fill an average backyard pool every two days, but demand still far outstrips supply.

“It’s more than we can handle,” Mr Gates said.

“More people are using hand sanitiser than ever before and they’re using it so regularly.”

“We have focused on local households and business first in the Hunter, Lake Macquarie and Central Coast areas, and are shipping across Australia every day.”

That local demand has had flow-on benefits for other businesses doing it tough during the current lock-downs.

Lake Mac florist Kate Woodley, whose primary work via her business Two Wild Hands evaporated almost overnight, is now using her flower van to deliver Sirron’s hand sanitiser to local buyers.

Lake Macquarie Mayor Kay Fraser said it was fantastic seeing local business join collaborating and supporting each other.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has placed unprecedented pressure on so many businesses across our City,” Cr Fraser said.

“Seeing them work together to get through such a challenging period is truly wonderful.”

Sirron’s 30 staff members, many of whom are trained in welding and other trades, have shifted their focus to producing hand sanitiser, saving their jobs in the process.

Sirron workers have had to reskill, filling and labelling sanitiser bottles

Seeing that adaptability – both externally and within his own team – has been heartening for Mr Gates, whose wife is a nurse on the frontline of the pandemic.

 “I get a first-hand story of what is going on for those frontline people, and I’ve taken getting hand sanitiser to where people need it seriously,” he says.

“The team really gets that they are making a difference.”

Not only that – demand for the new product has been so great that Mr Gates has had to put on 10 new staff.

Peter Francis, CEO of Dantia – Lake Macquarie City’s Economic Development Company – said it was great to see local business innovate and adapt.

“Keeping as many members of our community employed throughout these challenging times is critical to the social and economic health of Lake Macquarie,” he said.

“Lake Macquarie has a solid history of manufacturing and innovation and we will continue to put a spotlight on local businesses assisting with the COVID-19 health response.”

“They provide invaluable contribution to keeping businesses open and people in jobs.”

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