On March 26, Z-Man president Daniel Nussbaum had to make a gut-wrenching call. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread near his South Carolina plant, he had to shut down shop. “It was a really tough decision,” Nussbaum tells. “There’s been so much blood, sweat and tears that went into growing this company into a real player in the fishing lure world. It seemed weird to close the doors, turn the lights off and turn off the air conditioning.”
But that’s what he did. After 11 years at the company, Nussbaum ordered one of America’s hottest selling tackle brands to stop making fishing lures. Six weeks later, he’s back at work. Z-Man is once again fulfilling orders, and by using some ingenuity, the company has almost all of its pre-COVID employees at work safely. This week, FTR reached out to Nussbaum for some tips that other manufacturers can use to do the same.

1. Reopen One Step at a Time

According to Nussbaum, Z-Man was closed entirely for several weeks before slowly opening its warehouse with a skeleton crew of just five workers. The move allowed him to resume shipping to tackle dealers while also keeping employees in the more than 20,000 square foot warehouse safely distanced.

2. Require Face Masks

All Z-Man employees are required to wear face masks at the warehouse and the plant. No exceptions. “That seems to be something that can really make a difference,” adds Nussbaum. “It’s easy to spread people out in the warehouse, but the plant is more concentrated. Even though our machines are more than six feet apart, we are requiring everyone to wear a mask.”

3. Create Barriers

Z-Man employees have created a makeshift system of plexiglass screens that are attached to PVC pipes. The pipes mount to work tables near machines, and allow for employees to pass lures and parts between one another at a workstation. Combined with masks, Nussbaum says the barriers hopefully create an effective block against respiratory droplets—a key cause of COVID-19 spread.

4. Clean Frequently

Z-Man’s work stations are cleaned every two hours using a bleach solution. Once per day, a professional cleaning crew also enters the building and sanitizes it.

5. Work in Shifts

Z-Man employs about 60 people at its plant and warehouse. Prior to COVID-19, everyone came together to work at once. Now, teams are split into shifts. According to Nussbaum, at any given time, Z-Man now has about a dozen people in its warehouse and about 10 people in its plant. The total square footage of both? About 37,500. Each shift is staggered by 30 minutes to discourage socializing between rotations. Using this method, Z-Man has been able to retain almost all of its pre-COVID-19 workforce.

6. Limit Common Areas

Common areas like break rooms are now restricted to just two employees at a time. To make this transition easier, Z-Man has encouraged employees to take breaks outside or in their vehicles. For the first time, they are also allowing employees to eat and drink at their work stations.

7. Create Drop-Off Points

Many tackle manufacturers rely on at-home workers to package and bag products, and Z-Man is no exception. Nussbaum says his company employs about 50 contractors who bag products like worms and other soft plastics from their homes. That’s nothing new, but in order to limit contact with staff at the plant, Z-Man has created pickup and drop-off points for at-home workers to gather and distribute supplies.

8. Meet Remotely

The company’s management team is holding its weekly marketing, sales and accounting meetings using Microsoft Teams. This allows office employees to work from home while still maintaining synergy. Z-Man is even conducting line review meetings via Zoom, a move that keeps employees away from travel while still connected to their dealers.

9. Create Office Space

You don’t need extra pieces of flair to create more room for office workers. Nussbaum says Z-Man’s office spaces have been rearranged to provide extra distance for employees that do need to come into their typical workstations. Some of that has involved getting creative—their research and development team, for instance, now shares office space with a production planner.

10. Follow CDC Guidelines

Like many states, South Carolina has not issued mandatory regulations on manufacturers. Nussbaum believes that most, if not all, of Z-Man’s safety precautions are voluntary. “These are CDC recommendations that we are trying to follow,” he says. “At the end of the day, when we closed down it was a decision about the safety of our employees and what was best for public health. There was so much unknown at the time, and it just felt like the right thing to do. In our area now, we know how it’s affecting people. The numbers are pretty low and remaining stable. We feel like we can move forward safely right now, or we wouldn’t be open.”