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The Washington Times: Maryland ping pong firm now sells face masks in pandemic

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– The Washington Times – Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Ping pong equipment and personal protective equipment may share the same initials, but they remain vastly different forms of PPE.

Still, a Rockville distributor of table tennis supplies now is procuring and shipping millions of face masks to aid in the fight against the coronavirus.

Richard Lee, owner of the JOOLA table tennis supply company, says his sister — Dr. Vivian Lee — approached him several weeks ago about using his global procurement contacts to order face masks. She and her colleagues, like other health care workers around the country, were running low on personal protective equipment, he says.

Since that conversation with his sister, Mr. Lee has sold more than 3 million masks to health care providers and the general public across the country.

“We’re definitely bringing them in at a lower margin,” he said of the face masks. “[We are] covering our costs to get as much out to the general public as possible.”

A set of 200 masks sells for $129, and a set of 400 sells for $239.

Mr. Lee’s team quickly launched the sister company JOOLA Medical, found two Chinese factories to work with and immediately placed an order of 600,000 face masks to be shipped to the United States.

The first order, although more expensive, was flown to the U.S. to fill an immediate need. A subsequent order was placed to be delivered by boat, which can take a month to deliver, to save money on transportation and build up the supply.

The supply chain for the table tennis equipment and the face masks have been completely disrupted, Mr. Lee said. Costs for raw materials, factories and shipping have all gone up.

At the start of the pandemic, Mr. Lee said factories in China shut down, making it impossible for JOOLA to fill ping pong orders from its bigger customers, like Walmart and Amazon, resulting in a loss of cash flow.

Demand for ping pong equipment started to increase because people were spending more time at home, and JOOLA quickly sold out of its stock in two weeks. Because of the disruption in the supply chain, it can take up to two months to fill orders.

Mr. Lee had to furlough five of his more than 100 employees in March, and the cash flow from the mask business made it so he didn’t have to lay off any others, he said.

Meanwhile, a Chantilly dental equipment manufacturer is using its 3D printer to craft face shields for health care workers in the region.

Virginia’s coronavirus halt on non-emergency medical and dental procedures slowed business at dental supply company YM Dental, so its managers decided to put its 3D printer to use to make face shields for local hospitals.

“It drastically slowed our businesses, we work with dentists not only in the local area, we have clients across the U.S. and outside the country too,” said Lisa Speros, office manager at YM Dental. “Once the outbreak started it forced our clients to shut down and we no longer generated sales.”

YM Dental furloughed all but seven of its 60 employees to fill orders for clients who were treating only emergency dental patients.

Ms. Speros said she came across news articles about the shortages of PPE and knew her company’s 3D printer could help the situation.

Since the beginning of April, YM Dental has spent about $2,000 on resin to make about 250 face shields. Of those, 150 were donated to Inova Fairfax Hospital.

“We are doing this as our small act of kindness,” Ms. Speros said. “We are giving back to our community basically. I just want to emphasize working with local businesses is very important because that’s where your friends, your neighbors work and work for.”