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How this MN textile company was affected by the pandemic

Sarah Kocher St. Cloud Times USA TODAY NETWORK

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series about life and loss in Central Minnesota during the COVID- 19 pandemic. The project is inspired by the Bible verse Ecclesiastes 3:4: “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”

ST. CLOUD — 2020 was supposed to be a year of big growth for Dubow, and in some ways, it was.

The company added a warehouse for inventory in the first half of 2020, and then purchased a 24,500 square-foot production facility in October in Sauk Rapids.

Dubow is a wholesale manufacturer and textile company that does screen printing, embroidering, laser etching, applique and digital printing that has also added hard goods decoration to its lineup.

COVID-19 meant Dubow took a hit in its businessto- business (B2B) markets (for instance, embroidering the company logo onto polos for a local business). But while those orders dropped, the business-toconsumer (B2C) market took off, driven by a boom in online shopping.

Dubow can — and did — print the one-off orders of, say, a teal wine tumbler with a picture of a horse that says “Other sisters-in-law” next to a picture of a unicorn that says, “You.”

Dubow said the company has been building its profile in the consumer market for a number of years, and it really took off in late spring 2020.

President Andy Hawkins said Dubow experienced a phenomenal spring in 2020 when COVID-19 hit, and then that growth tapered off — the opposite of what happens most years.

In general, the company experienced recent dramatic growth in order numbers from fourth quarter 2018 to fourth quarter 2019. (Fourth quarter, CEO Rob Dubow said, is when the company tends to see growth that then carries over for the first three quarters of the following year). Coming into 2020, the company planned for expanded operation: more employees, more equipment, more space.

“Our orders have doubled since last year and, at this pace, we expect to double even faster in 2020,” Rob Dubow said in a press release in September 2020. “Our orders are being produced faster, our customer service went from good to great, and we’ve invested in technology that redefines what we can do for customers. We’re particularly proud of the fact

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that, despite COVID-19 challenges, we’ve been able to continue adding quality jobs for the community.”

And then came October.

“When Minnesota got hit really hard, we got hit really hard,” Dubow said.

Dubow still anticipated seeing its traditional highvolume end-of-the-year months, and staffed up accordingly. It used the latter half of the summer to purchase its new Sauk Rapids facility.

“We had felt that we had jumped the hurdle,” Dubow said of the purchase during the continuing pandemic. “We had taken every step internally, as I said, to protect our team internally from exposure, and we thought we had actually done a really good job going into the fourth quarter.”

But in October, the facility was severely impacted by COVID-19 cases and exposures, though Dubow said the company took every precaution it could to space workers out, sanitize and provide protective equipment for workers. The timing was really bad, he said.

This “absolutely limited the amount of volume we could bring on,” Dubow said.

Dubow said the company communicated with customers during the fourth-quarter about its anticipated inability to meet the volumes it anticipated it could because it didn’t have the people to do so. He said they let customers know what the company was capable of on a daily basis so those customers could redirect their business if need be.

Dubow estimated the company grew about 8% in 2020.

“Eight percent growth is a terrific growth for any company year over year,” he said.

But Dubow said the company made expenditures to match the growth it anticipated, which was significantly higher than the company’s actual growth. To counteract that?

“Work really hard,” he said.

Dubow is cautiously optimistic about the company’s continued growth in 2021. Hawkins said the B2C model is only expected to grow, and the industry is also in the thick of a “monumental” shift in the traditional retail market, that has large companies producing smaller batches of bulk orders on the front end and then using print-on-demand services, like Dubow, to backfill if they start to run short of that item.

“The benefit of that is huge to them, because now they don’t have all this sunk inventory cost,” Hawkins said.

And according to Hawkins, there’s only “a handful” of printers in the U.S. for a job like this. One of them is Dubow.

Global expansion in ecommerce continues, Dubow said, and the company is beginning to see its B2B market surge again as companies look to a post-pandemic future. That’s the future Dubow said he wants to focus on, too. You can’t plan for a pandemic, Dubow said. But you can take lessons away from the year you spent fighting through it.

“We’ve learned a lot from it,” Dubow said. “But I don’t want to reflect on the actual pandemic. I want to talk about what the future looks like. ... And I’m really looking forward to the future. I do believe that growth will happen for our company.”

Hawkins said he’s expecting to see “an unbelievable growth rate” for Dubow over the next five years.

But when Dubow does look back, he sees a team that persevered.

“We survived,” Dubow said. “That’s successful.”

Sarah Kocher is the business reporter for the St. Cloud Times. Reach her at 320-255-8799 or skocher@ Follow her on Twitter @SarahAKocher.

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