A leading brazing, heat-treating, and finishing facility in the Aerospace and Aviation industry, Thermal-Vac Technology, an essential business, quickly adjusted to COVID-19 safety measures. With all work done in-house, Heather implemented multiple measures to keep her employees safe: mandatory face masks, staggered shifts, daily cleanings, and more. On top of adjusting company operations, Heather talks about her adjustment to digital interactions with employees and customers, and her adjustment to working-from-home. Learn all this and more in this episode of Back to Business: COVID-19 & You.
Your customers have questions and concerns about your business that only you have the answers to. Heather sent out a mass email once a week to Thermal-Vac’s network. These weekly updates outlined safety measures, reliable COVID-19 resources, and any company related updates. At a time like this, Thermal-Vac’s dedication to communication is much needed.
Customers may have questions about hours of operation or safety concerns, and it’s time-saving to update them from the start. RAPS’s article mentions that poor communication can affect your company’s reputation and frequency of business. But, maintaining consistent communication with your network can establish trust and credibility, and can help your network grow.
On top of establishing clear communication with your customers, consistency is also important. Heather’s weekly emails helped the company stay at the front of their customer’s minds.
Consistency should be implemented in all aspects, not just communication. VENVEO writes that consistency as a whole can help companies appear dependable and trustworthy. Now more than ever, companies want their customers to remember them. Coronavirus is the time that companies should be establishing consistent communication, safety measures, and more.
During this time, businesses have adjusted and changed their process. As a result, reliance on technology has increased in order to maintain productivity and adapt. Heather talks about Thermal-Vac’s adjustment to working from home, and their reliance on Zoom to maintain communication.
If you haven’t already, investing in digital technology and platforms is the best way to grow your mid-size business during the pandemic. Like we’ve mentioned before, the rebound from COVID-19 will be digital. Companies should make the switch now to optimize digital and digital marketing tools to adapt to changing customer needs. Pivoting to meet customers where they’re at can help your business thrive in the midst of this new normal.
Thermal-Vac has been in business for over 30 years providing brazing, heat-treating, and finishing treatments in the aerospace and aviation industries. Originally starting as HR Manager, Heather has been with the company over 17 years, and is now the CEO of the company.
Quick disclaimer: these transcripts are auto-generated. They are best used in addition to the Podcast audio not instead of. We cannot guarantee 100% accuracy.
James Fratzke: [00:00:02] Hi, I'm James Fratzke, and this is Back to Business: COVID-19 & You, you powered by Fratzke Media.
James Fratzke: [00:00:15] All right. Welcome back to the podcast. On today's episode, I'm interviewing Heather Falcone, the CEO of Thermal-Vac. Now, Thermal-Vac is in the aerospace space. I made that joke while I was talking to Heather as well. I'm going to let her tell you a little bit more about what Thermal-Vac does. She has a great analogy that's going to help setup our conversation. And then we get into some good detail about how Thermal-Vac reacted as a B2B business. And what are some of the things that they're thinking about from a safety standpoint with their employees? And then we'll talk about at the end, what are some things moving forward in this new normal? As we were joking, you know, we all have our COVID-19 bingo card and some of the buzz words we use that we talk a little bit about the new normal. So without further ado, let's get into it. Enjoy my interview with Heather. I certainly enjoyed it. I think you will, too.
James Fratzke: [00:01:07] All right. I want to welcome Heather Falcone, the CEO of Thermal-Vac to the podcast. How are you doing today?
Heather Falcone: [00:01:14] Welcome to you. Thanks, everybody, for listening. And thank you for having me, obviously. This is so much fun always to get together and talk. You know what everybody's doing. See how we can all grow from this?
James Fratzke: [00:01:26] Yeah, absolutely. And to your point, whatever one's doing right now and how we can grow from it specifically, obviously we're talking about the COVID-19 pandemic and you're in a very interesting space in the aerospace space. I don't know how else to describe it. And it's very particular. And I've had different people try to describe exactly what you guys do with the vacuum and everything. But could you just set the scene a little bit to give us a little bit of perspective of what Thermal-Vac does that might help kind of set the scene for what we talk about a little later?
Heather Falcone: [00:01:59] Yeah, it's fun because if you talk to sixty two people at our company, they're going to give you a sixty two different answers, which is what makes it more fun. The best way to describe what we do is through an analogy. So ever growing up in it, how bright. Right. And everybody knows pretty much what the processes of baking cookies. So we are not a bakery. We are not actually making cookies. We take other people's cookies and we bake them for them, except it's metal and it's stuff that goes literally into space. So we have big vacuum furnaces and, you know, floor to ceiling, bigger, taller than you and I put together. And we take different materials and we put them inside of this vacuum furnace. We take all of the atmosphere out, which helps to be clean. And we process parts, primarily metal parts. But we can process other stuff, too. We don't make any product. We're kind of like a dry cleaner. You give us dirty shirts, we give it back clean shirts. We do the same thing, but with customers parts.
James Fratzke: [00:03:00] Well, you just made it so easy for me to understand that. Thank you so much.
Heather Falcone: [00:03:07] There's a whole different technical explanation. It just doesn't hurt unless you got like a mechanical engineering degree.
James Fratzke: [00:03:14] And I don't and I won't pretend to say, well, we'll pause there. So. So it sounds like your business really could be classified under that kind of essential business category that we hear so much about. So tell me a little bit about as things started to change in March and the stay at home or started to go in place. How did your business react to that?
Heather Falcone: [00:03:38] It was panic and I think everybody went through a lot of panic at the beginning. What was the March 13th is when stuff started really kind of going south. So Orange County was coming out with different stuff in L.A. and the governor was saying different stuff than the counties were. So when we first started getting orders for what looked like orders, we actually thought that we needed to shut down is in stages. It looked like, no, everybody goes home, we're not working at all. Shut it down one day. And we sent our team home and said, hey, we need to take just kind of a really hard look at this. Bring the executive team together, get in a room and say, hey, what does this mean to us and our customers? So it's kind of a first reaction that we had. And that was our only day of closure was just that one day.
James Fratzke: [00:04:30] Right. And I actually got the email from Thermal-Vac. I'm on the email list. And nice. And to your point, you you very clearly laid out, hey, this is why we took these steps.
James Fratzke: [00:04:44] This is how we're categorizing ourself, because we understand that we're an essential part of your essential business. And so we're in that supply chain. And here's what moving forward looks like. How important was that communication in that quick communication out to your customers through a channel like e-mail marketing that can be sent clearly and efficiently? How important was that?
Heather Falcone: [00:05:06] And that was part of our decision process because the lists that we have include suppliers like you guys would be customers, team members, pretty much any visitor. They all have different categories. And I said to myself, hey, there's a lot of people out there that may not even have access to the information we have access to.
Heather Falcone: [00:05:24] So we're just going to send it to everybody. Right. You got an email that wasn't helpful. You can always trash it. So that's kind of what we said we were going to do. Also, we knew that we were going to start getting phone calls and we didn't want our customers worrying about hey are you open. Hey, are you open? So we said, OK, we're going to set up a once a week. And we're gonna blast it out. And that was pretty critical, it stop a lot of the major questions, basically the ones that are just calls to say, hey, are you open? Because, yes, we are open. And we sent the e-mails to say, yes, we're here. We can still help you. It was also helpful for our team members because it handed out information like the CDC website. And you can go to get more information, reliable information. And keeping that cadence creates a trust level creates a continuity so that they're not feeling like they're in a vacuum.
James Fratzke: [00:06:19] Pardon the pun.
Heather Falcone: [00:06:22] I am bothered pardoning it because it comes up so much. Keeping that close enough to where they didn't feel like they got an inbox from me every day.
Heather Falcone: [00:06:32] But maybe just enough to be like, oh right. They're still there. They're around. Cool.
James Fratzke: [00:06:36] I feel it right now. Tell me a little bit about some of the precautions or some of the things that you implemented in the the factory to make sure that your team members not only were safe, but also felt safe. I mean, those two things are synonymous, but a little bit different.
Heather Falcone: [00:06:56] Yeah. The biggest thing that we started out is we went to Home Depot and we bought everything that they had. And luckily, we reacted fast enough that we were still able to get things like disinfecting wipes and bleach and spray bottles and plastic coverings and things that now I mean, you've got to get on the VIP list to get a little tiny thing a Clorox wipes. So that's the first thing that we did. We ran out. We ransacked Home Depot, two different Home Depots. You get enough stuff to where people felt like, OK, we've got some stuff to keep ourselves safe. We were one of the earliest adopters of face coverings. We went to face coverings before it was required. We just thought it was a good idea. And since we do not have a remote workforce, we are 100 percent in-house. Our people needed to maintain the social distancing but had that extra barrier. So we've been in masks close to two months now. Right. And then the social distancing, we staggered shifts immediately. So we cut our workforce into bite sized chunks. So we're a 24/7 operation with sixty five people. And we staggered it to where none of those people really have to hang out with each other anymore, which took some logistics and some flexibility for our team has been amazingly flexible and adaptive to these changes. Also, we implemented scheduled cleanings and sanitization. We brought in a supplier to clean every single day. In fact, all surfaces every day. And then before our shift start and after the shifts and all of our floor team members stop and they have dedicated areas. They are responsible for sanitizing, emptying trash, changing gloves, et cetera. Right. And what we put in place.
James Fratzke: [00:08:56] Yeah. I mean, those all sound like great precautions in in. So it sounds like an interesting kind of picking your brain. It kind of sounds like you guys reacted very quickly.
James Fratzke: [00:09:09] You put in staggered shifts. You put in all of these health measures. And it it almost sounds like you tell me if I'm hearing this wrong, but it allowed you to maybe stay at 100 percent capacity or have you seen any kind of impact to the business as far as what you've been able to do in output and those types of things?
Heather Falcone: [00:09:31] So we can only control what's within our control. So in COVID, a lot of things we can't control. And that's, I think, what's causing the most stress with people as humans. Humans like control. They like boxes. Like things that have rules and predictability. Nothing's covered is predictable. So what we found is the tangent that we couldn't manage was the people. People are scared. People are stressed. People don't have schools to send their children to. People don't have child care.
Heather Falcone: [00:10:06] So we found that the only issue that we had to mitigate was the effect on our team members. And it did take us a little while to iron all that out. And some part, team members did not feel comfortable returning to work and we had to make sure that they felt good about that decision. People are not slaves to their job. People were not slaves to their employer, they're not indentured servants. And no way did we want our team feeling like they were forced to show up here every day.
Heather Falcone: [00:10:32] And that takes about three weeks to iron out, to be totally honest, to make sure that the people that could work from home, which is very few, were then able to work from home. The people that were in higher risk categories, we allowed them to take voluntary leave, people with child care issues. We made arrangements for alternate shifts and that was the biggest impact. It did reduce our capacity a little bit because we had quite a few people that are out trying to deal with child care issues or making arrangements where they felt safe to come to work. Other than that, no we've been doing overtime and trying to make our make the best of things right.
James Fratzke: [00:11:14] Yes. How are your customers kind of reacting? Have you heard anything as far as. Is their demand less or what? What is the impact down the supply chain?
Heather Falcone: [00:11:30] The industries that we serve, aerospace and defense and the commercial market and medical. So it's kind of a little bit of everything in each industry sector, has it reacted differently? The commercial sector is very dependent on oil prices and gas pricing, which obviously not so great. Even now it's rebounding. But thirty dollars, not great. So they saw the most immediate drop in need for their products. And we're still realizing some of that slowdown. Aerospace and defense are gangbusters. We still have to defend our country. We still have to send people to space. We've got the manned mission coming up on the twenty seven. That's first time we're putting a guy back in the space station on our machinery instead of borrowing. So they're still find the customer reaction was worrying about are our suppliers closing, trying to make them feel reassured. And like we've got it under control and that it's stable and we're not going to have any issues. That's the campaign that we had to make sure that we did on a regular basis with them. Right.
James Fratzke: [00:12:47] All right, I want to take a quick break and pass it over to our Head of Client Strategy here at Fratzke Media, Lisa. Lisa, take it away.
Lisa Fratzke: [00:12:55] Thank you, James.
Lisa Fratzke: [00:12:56] I'm really excited to talk to this audience today because we've been talking to a lot of our clients at Fratzke Media and truly believe that now more than ever, it's important for mid-sized businesses to connect with their customers online. I think we've all seen that COVID-19 has had widespread impacts on companies, our employees and our economy. We fundamentally believe at Fratzke Media that the rebound will be digital. If you don't know where to start and you want to make digital your competitive edge, we can help. Visit Fatzkemedia.com to schedule your free consultation. Our digital marketing experts specialize in helping midsize businesses like you leapfrog the competition. We look forward to talking to you soon.
James Fratzke: [00:13:38] Thanks, Lisa. All right. Let's get back into it.
James Fratzke: [00:13:42] Now, one of the interesting things, and again, you're in a unique business. It's a B2B business. It's very niche. I don't think I'm offending you by saying that. But one of the things that we're noticing kind of been in other industries is folks that had kind of invested in different technologies and things before COVID, where they're able to do more of an online experience with their customers of different sites that have really been OK, not great, but have kind of coasted into this and at least had a way to communicate. Have you noticed any of those type of digital innovations kind of popping up in your industry or things that that you're kind of being forced into that maybe before COVID It was something you were thinking about doing. But now post COVID, it is like, OK, if this is how it's going to be, you need to start attacking some of these things.
Heather Falcone: [00:14:39] It's a double edged sword because, yes, we should be prepared to be on the edge of technology. But I'll tell you what. That once you get on that edge, it's really sharp. All right. So our business does business with people. So even B2B, it's very much dependent on personal relationships. So that was really difficult. We were on a pretty routine schedule of in-person visits with a lot of our customers. And now they aren't even allowed allowed to talk to us in some cases now where they're furloughed. So bringing in I've never been in on a camera as much as in this eight week period because, I mean, who knew? Who knew? Moving a lot of our conversations to video conference was very difficult for us because we felt like it just isn't. I can't reach out, you know. Right. I can't shake your hand. I can't. There's nothing. All of that humanness goes away when you have a screen in front of you and you're not wearing any pants.
James Fratzke: [00:15:47] I want to I want the listeners to know I am wearing pants right now. I'm for keeping score at home.
Heather Falcone: [00:15:57] I put on earrings.
James Fratzke: [00:15:58] So thank you. I appreciate it.
Heather Falcone: [00:16:00] It's all about the accessorizing. I read like three Zoom articles.
Heather Falcone: [00:16:06] You know, when you're looking at trying to buy a Web cam, you can't get one. They're going on eBay for, you know, six hundred bucks and you're looking to buy one of those cute little Instagram influence. They're bright light things that makes your eyes look all beautiful. Like anime character can't get them right. I don't even know how to explain how transformational unwillingly transformational this time period has been. I am digging it. I love being able to access our customers, those who are up for it. Some of them video is not their thing. That's cool. Right. We've done some trunk lunches. You know, we just pull up that bag and we'll buy him lunch and wave at them from six feet away. That's you know, that's been a thing. I'm pretty excited to keep going forward with the video stuff because you get a lot more access in real time, especially for our customers that aren't as local. You know, they're not a 10 minute drive away. They're a two hour drive. Right. That's going to be easier going forward, I think.
James Fratzke: [00:17:13] Yeah, no, that's a really good point. The barrier to entry to just get that face time again.
James Fratzke: [00:17:18] Part of my point now, but take take it at face time that we're in two different places right now, albeit both in Orange County. But, you know, we were able to make this happen. We didn't have to think about drivetime logistics, matching up schedules and everything else. We just were able to find 30 minutes and go. I think that's definitely one that will stick. And we'll find out. A lot of folks that I'm talking to are saying, hey, after this, my family is going to expect me to be home more often, just naturally, because now they're used to it. And I don't know that I want to do any business travel like, you know, I just want to reserve travel for family. I'm not interested in going anywhere anymore. It really has been eye opening in that way.
Heather Falcone: [00:18:01] And I think it's going to take a long time to get back to any semblance of what we were before the business travel. I don't think it's going to return for quite some time. Even the leisure travel. So I think we're looking at kind of a I hate the cliche, not even to say, not to say otherwise at the mark a square off on my COVID bingo sheet.
James Fratzke: [00:18:22] Now, I'm curious.
Heather Falcone: [00:18:23] New normal.
James Fratzke: [00:18:25] New normal. OK. There you go.
Heather Falcone: [00:18:29] There's no such thing as new normal. We don't even know what it's going to look like. It's still completely out nebulous in space somewhere, but it may be different. I think that the work life balance thing, shocker for everyone and they're like, oh, man, we still get work done. And I'm not here with a cup of coffee on my desk. You know, doing the face time thing with my boss. I think that was an eye opening and awakening for businesses to understand that people are inherently good and they want to be productive. They don't want to sit at home and do nothing. They want to contribute. And enabling them to in a meaningful way is going to be a big part of going forward.
James Fratzke: [00:19:08] Right. Yeah. Absolutely. Let me kind of shift perspectives a little bit here. Talking about moving forward and I'll check the box off on the new normal as well on my bingo sheet. And to your point, what is, what even is new normal. Right. You know what? What do you think moving forward looks like at Thermal-Vac? But in the broader sense of the business community, like what does it mean to move forward?
Heather Falcone: [00:19:39] First of all, I think we need to all acknowledge that humans need to be with their families.
Heather Falcone: [00:19:46] We have gotten into an always on mode because everybody is accessible by email or text or video chat or whatever.
Heather Falcone: [00:19:55] Having the ability for a human being to not be on for work purposes is something that we're going to have to face. And it's something that's going to be very key for engagement and happiness going forward when you have a whole person showing up to work. You have to treat the whole person. So we're seeing this blending of the workday into the home day going together. That's going to have to be addressed. Moving forward. It's not sustainable. Increases stress. It increases burnout. We need to acknowledge that and give some people some tools to create strong boundaries and then support those boundaries to make sure they're like, yeah. You can stop answering email after 5:00. That's OK. You don't always have to do. Give your thumbs a break. That's gonna be something big. Another thing that's going to be big is understanding what a sanitary and safe workplace looks like going forward. Even after the stay at home, safer and homes are lifted. We're still going to be dealing with a virus that kills people. I'm not even going to go into statistics or any of that. The fact is there's a virus that kills people. So we're going to have to be aware of that coming into a normal flu season. Now, we've got a complication that's going to affect the workforce. So coming into that situation, we have to be more thoughtful on our resource planning. But you know what I mean? Like, humans are resources.
James Fratzke: [00:21:25] Yes. Yes, I understand.
Heather Falcone: [00:21:29] But resource planning to make sure that, you know, if people need to take a couple days off because they get the flu, they're not COVID. They just got the flu. You have six other people that might be influenced by that. It's gonna take a lot more careful planning in advance and having backups to your backup. And I think a lot of even smaller businesses have never had to deal with that before. Smaller businesses are more entrepreneurial. They're more fly by the seat of their pants. Less planning, less oversight. They know all their people. They're family. They've been with them since the beginning. Those guys are going to be having to deal with is my business going to get shut down? Am I to go back to staying at home? What are my PPP funds looking like? You know, a lot of that requires a lot of very advanced planning. And we've got to make sure that we have the resources available for those guys to learn essentially on a very steep learning curve so that they can stay profitable. We don't want to lose a bunch of small businesses like this, and we've already killed a bunch of them. We need to save the rest that are left. And that's gonna be a big part of moving forward is making sure we've got tools, resources, webinars, experts, people that are keeping up with all this that they can implement in a reasonable size way for these family and smaller businesses.
James Fratzke: [00:22:55] Right. Right. No, I absolutely agree with that. I think I will kind of round third and head home on on this one. I'm really curious. Starts to get your perspective on this outside of being the CEO thermal back. What are some of the habits that you've actually been really happy about? You mentioned kind of the video thing and embracing that. But what are some those new habits that you've been building up because of the limitations that you've had from what used to be normal to what's now the new normal?
Heather Falcone: [00:23:29] A lot of people are having a borderline spiritual awakening, right? Sure you experienced this as well, but some of us in smaller businesses have a real problem not working. So loss of sense of self, loss of sense of well-being and achievement. If you don't if you're not in the office everyday, who are you? Going through that process of understanding that working from home is working. Working from home is productive. And you're contributing, developing a sense of self outside of sitting at your desk chair and interfacing in that traditional way. That was one of the best habits that I started developing. It was one of the most difficult because I'm a very face to face person. I don't like calling people on the phone. I like sitting in front of you getting more of a work life balance. I don't take vacations. I don't stop working. It's a 24/7 thing. So being at home with my husband of 14 years and my two kids, it was like learning all over again.
James Fratzke: [00:24:37] Who are you people?
Heather Falcone: [00:24:39] Well, I think I cramp their style if I'm being honest.
Heather Falcone: [00:24:42] They're like, Mom, are you. Are you going back to work? Oh, they're ready. They're ready. So learning to be at home and learning to balance the work and the life. I thought it's just been it's been such a pleasure, such a joy. I really grateful for all of that opportunity to be with them.
James Fratzke: [00:25:02] Yeah. Yeah, I love that. I mean, for me, again, a couple of habits that I've really embraced. One is I walk a lot more and depending on where you fall on the scale, that might be taboo. I don't know. But I keep myself a distance when I'm walking, so.
Heather Falcone: [00:25:20] I'm not judging you.
James Fratzke: [00:25:23] Don't judge my walk life. No. I've been walking a lot more and. And all kidding aside, this haircut has really been eye opening because, you know, I go every six weeks to get a haircut. This sucks. Not too bad. So, you know.
Heather Falcone: [00:25:36] I'm digging it.
James Fratzke: [00:25:38] Thank you. Appreciate that. Well, with that, I want to give you the last word. Heather, is there anything else you want to share before we go? It could be about Thermal-Vac could be about anything.
Heather Falcone: [00:25:49] I just want to offer to anybody, if you're feeling like you're stuck, if you don't know who to talk to. If you need someone to bounce an idea off of, reach out to your network, reach out to me. I'll take a call, email, Slack, whatever text. We'll do a Zoom. Now we know how to do that. I don't sit in isolation. Don't sit wondering, hey, is there something that you can do currently or better go ahead and reach out and ask. We're all in this together and we're experiencing very similar things. And the amount of care and generosity that has come out during this time, it restores faith in humanity and it helps everyone realize there is no alone. We are all together in this. So I would encourage anybody that needs it. Reach out. Reach out, because somebody is going to know something somewhere.
James Fratzke: [00:26:50] All right, Heather, I really appreciate your time today. Thank you so much. Thank you. Take care. I had a lot of fun talking to Heather, and there were so many great takeaways that I'd like to pull out into my three points for today's episode. As you know, if you've been listening to Back to Business: COVID-19 & You at the end of each episode, I'd like to go back and pull out three strategies from a digital marketing perspective that came out of our conversation that you can take into your business. Number one is clear communication through channels like email marketing. Listen to what Heather said about just getting a communication out to everyone, not just customers, but suppliers, vendors and everybody in between, letting them know what are the safety precautions that Thermal-Vac is taking. Number two, consistency over time. And again, this is back to the email concept that Heather was talking about. She thought it was important. And I tend to agree that there was an email coming out from Thermal-Vac at least once a week answering the questions that needed to be answered. Are we open? Can you order something? Absolutely. And number three in this kind of came out of the tail end of our conversation. But what are some of those technology innovations that could fundamentally change the way you do business in this B2B business? That is Thermal-Vac. Zoom has been such a huge innovation. It's allowed them to stay connected with their customers. Now, if we're thinking about this from a digital marketing perspective, it might be e-commerce. It might be launching a website that is mobile-first optimized, that gives your customers very clear information about what your company does and making sure that it's SEO optimized so that people that might not be aware of your company can find you through organic search. You know, it's something like 90 plus percent. People go to search engines first when looking for a new product or service, and that's both from a B2C business to consumer and a B2B business to business perspective. Don't tell yourself the lie that a B2B company doesn't need to have a strong online presence. It's just not the truth. In today's world, especially as we were joking on the interview in this new normal with that, I really appreciate your time today. And I hope that you enjoyed my interview with Heather. Until next time this had been Back to Business. I'll talk to you real soon.
James Fratzke: [00:29:23] Everyone, one last thing before you leave. Make sure you go to whatever platform you're listening to, the Back to Business podcast on and leave us a positive review. Every rating and review really helps us grow the show and make sure you share it with people in your professional network so we can help other people like you and your midsize business get back to business.