At the tail end of 2019 you’d have been hard-pressed to find anyone more excited about 2020 than High Purity Systems.
Demand across the industries we serve had been surging. Everywhere we turned, customers had system modifications or expansions on tap in the hopes of increasing their production capacity.
It caused the best kind of problem: We didn’t have enough space. So, for the second time since High Purity’s founding, it was time to move someplace bigger.
In the most significant decision in company history, we invested millions in a relocation to a facility ten times the size of our previous site. As 2019 drew to a close, our team was hard at work preparing the new 30,000-square-foot space in advance of the big move.
With a new shop, new service offerings and a growing staff, 2020 — our milestone 35th year in business — was supposed to be our best year yet.
Instead, it was one of the hardest.
Harder even than those threadbare days 36 years ago when founders Carolyn and Byron Barefoot bet their futures on a business they ran from their young children’s toy room. In 1985, there was a lot less to lose.
“We were actually trying to move into our facility just as the pandemic hit,” said High Purity Systems CEO Jody Ralston. “It turned our whole world upside down.”
Most of the world’s workers hunkered down in the comfort of their Wi-Fi-connected homes. Of course, this was not an option for HPS.
While some work in progress ground to a halt, most of our ongoing projects were deemed essential. That meant our craftsmen were, too. Asking them to stay on the job in the face of such a crisis was not something we took lightly.
We took care to keep our spaces clean. We kept our social distance. We adapted to the new realities. We did the best we could, same as everyone else.
2020 ended up being a far cry from what Ralston had daydreamed about: “We had these grand visions of holding a really exciting ribbon cutting and an open house and inviting everyone to come see,” she said. “And none of that was able to happen. Our ribbon cutting with the Commonwealth of Virginia and the City of Manassas lasted 30 seconds.”
The thing is, it wasn’t postponing the celebration that bummed us out so much. It was what that celebration would have signified.
“It was supposed to be the year that really catapulted us into that next level,” Ralston said. “It was supposed to be the year we proved that we’re not just a small business anymore.”
We’d done everything the right way, and then — this. It stung.
And it still stings: The pandemic’s effects on global supply chains and logistics continue to ripple. Suppliers who once could promise their quote was good for a month or more now cannot promise a price for more than a day. And with the strained state of logistics networks, timeline certainty has gone out the window, too.
Let’s not mince words. We’re not out of the woods yet. If this pandemic is a 12-round boxing match, we’re still somewhere in the middle.
But that doesn’t mean we’re going to sit back and take the punches. It means we need to think and work harder, to flex the old muscles Carolyn and Byron first developed all those years ago.
“We learned that you’re not always afforded the time to plan. We’re making decisions without all the information. Every day, we pivot,” Ralston said. “That takes a lot of teamwork and a lot of trust.”
It takes guts, too.
It’s been a trial by fire that we believe has sharpened the skills we know we need to be the company we dare to become.
For one thing, we’re better than ever at communicating with our team and our customers.
For another, our state-of-the-art fabrication shop represents a 10x increase in our capacity compared to the end of 2019.
And finally, we’re going to keep growing our BIM/VDC services because it’s already proving its worth.
“I’m incredibly excited about our BIM/VDC department and the solutions that it will provide for our customers,” Ralston said. “It gives our customers the opportunity to involve HPS earlier in pre-planning and pre-construction phases. And that should make their process piping installation go much smoother.”
It won’t stop there.
“In the next couple of years, we’re going to be able to integrate augmented reality into more of our projects,” Ralston said. “That’s space-age stuff. That will change us, but more importantly it will change things for our customers. They’ll be able to get bigger projects finished faster and their products to market sooner.”
In the end, that’s all that really matters: Delivering quality work on our customers’ essential projects. We didn’t need victory laps and anniversary parties to keep doing what we do best.
What we needed was to buckle down. Despite what 2020 threw at us, we built out the high purity bay. We built out the carbon steel bay. The cleanroom is up and running.
And we’d love for you to see it all.
So when the time is right, expect an invitation to help us celebrate everything we hoped 2020 would be — just a little later than we had planned.
After all, we’ll still be here. We’re sure of it.