Reflections on 2020 from Mike Korchmar
2020… what a year, right? As the end of 2020 draws down and our standard factory closures for the holiday take place, I am provided a brief respite from day-to-day emails. The end of the year is a welcomed time to reflect on where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going.
At the onset of 2020, as news of COVID-19 began to spread, we were of course apprehensive about what the year would bring. After all, 2019 was truly a banner year at Korchmar. Like the rest of the world, we never predicted that we’d experience a global pandemic.
Throughout this challenging year, there were times when we found it easy to get frustrated and to start adopting a “glass half empty” versus “glass half full” perspective. The year entailed countless nights with lost sleep, worrying about the health of our family and team members, as well as the future of our business. Situations like this lead even the most stoic business professionals to look for the tissue box. Fortunately, or rather unfortunately, hard times don’t come as a surprise when you’re 103 years-old. This challenge coupled with the blessing of being able to run the business with my father’s continued involvement and my family’s endless support meant that I knew we would charge forward. “This too shall pass,” I told myself. When the times started getting tough, we did the only thing we know how to do: get tougher. With our breadth of historical experience to guide us, I remained confident through the challenges. I truly believe that we will come out on the other side well-positioned to continue to serve our customers while also remaining a great place of employment. It’s times like this where the loyalty of our family, team, and customers is most evident. What more could one ask for? With that said, a pandemic such as we are facing now is undoubtedly unprecedented territory and has presented challenges unlike any seen before.
As a manufacturer of handcrafted bags and luggage, we faced the challenge of mandated closures, and we had to determine how to ensure the safety of our team when we re-opened. Early in the pandemic we aligned on a strategy that was consistent with our core principles; the health and safety of our team is paramount. After closing our doors for over a full month we were nervous, but also eager, to resume operations. We did so only with the team’s full support, and with in-person attendance always being voluntary. Masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, additional cleaning protocols, staggered breaks and lunches, and taking everyone’s temperature each morning were just some of things we attribute to seeing less than 1% of our team contract the virus and, importantly, not experiencing a spread of the virus within our facilities. We are most happy that all members of the Korchmar team who faced the virus have fully recovered and have been able to return to work. Most noteworthy is the team’s effort to keep one another safe during business operations; after all, it takes a village, and individual responsibility is critical to our mutual success in fighting the virus.
Shortly after news of the pandemic spread and the impact on travel and customary life was understood, we knew that our customers would still want great product but that their needs would be different. To the design table we went. The situation presented us an opportunity to look at product offerings that were already on our wish list but which, under normal circumstances, were not as high a priority. We knew our customers would be on the road less and working from home more. Many of the items I had sampled once or twice, more so because I personally had an affinity for the product, now made sense to put on the development docket. Fun tassel keychains, dining room accessories, office wastebaskets, desk pads, log carriers, and tool rolls are just a few things that I knew our customers would appreciate now more than ever. The team performed flawlessly in helping get these items to market in record time for the holidays, and sales prove them well-received. I assure our customers that more great product offerings are to come, and I remain excited about some of the items we now have in development for 2021.
In hindsight, I view 2020 as a year that inspired a great deal of reflection, both personally and professionally. We’ve all been forced to reevaluate priorities, perspectives, and values. The resilience and staying power of our communities, teams, family, and customers helps balance some of the challenges we’ve seen throughout the year. It’s this same resilience that allows me to look forward to 2021 with optimism. I am hopeful that the vaccines that are beginning to be distributed will be life-saving turning points in the fight against this virus.
I didn’t think I could have a greater appreciation for our family, our team, and our customers, but this year has shown me a new dimension. To each of you, I want to take this opportunity to say a very special and sincere thank you!