By Dave Yanko
Providing protective gear to companies aiming to add an additional layer of protection against COVID-19 was a simple pivot for Saskatoon’s Canadian Tarpaulin Manufacturers Ltd. (CTM). “We literally had all the necessary materials in stock and all the expertise and machines to manufacture and fabricate those products,’’ says Curtis Chapman, president and CEO of the company. “We were ready to jump into manufacturing these products the next day.’’
CTM’s shift to pandemic-related products came after Chapman realized companies and organizations in Saskatchewan were seeking ways to safeguard their employees from COVID-19, in addition to observing appropriate distancing and handwashing. One of the first firms to engage CTM was Saskatoon-based Nutrien Ltd., the world’s largest potash producer. Nutrien wanted to establish safety barriers separating drivers and passengers travelling in their underground mining vehicles. CTM’s solution was to manufacture clear divider curtains for their client. The Nutrien contract was a spark. “That spurred us to reach out to other agencies to see whether we could help outfit them with similar products,’’ says Chapman.
In almost no time, the company was manufacturing divider curtains for city bus drivers working in the Saskatoon, Regina and Moose Jaw transit systems, and offering similar solutions to customers at smaller organizations. One of the latter is a Saskatoon community help agency that needed to provide a physical barrier between its travelling social workers and others. “We outfitted all their vehicles with divider curtains so they could have two employees in the vehicle at once, or even clients.’’ CTM, which also distributes reusable three-layer facemasks, was in the process of outfitting Saskatoon Co-op grocery stores with divider curtains and sneeze barriers at the time of the interview for this article.
Chapman, who’s been with the company for seven years, says CTM is pleased with the new business as well as the opportunity to help Saskatchewan weather the COVID storm. “We’re having trouble keeping up with demand,’’ he says, adding requests for the company’s traditional products have been on the upswing in recent months as well. “We are grateful for the support from local companies, and are glad to be able to lend a helping hand.”
While CTM’s response to the pandemic was fast, it has a long history of seizing new opportunities and shifting away from products with flagging popularity. That winnowing process began soon after the company launched operations four decades ago with an owner and two employees serving Saskatoon and district. CTM today manufactures and/or distributes products for the construction, trucking, resource, recreation and agricultural sectors. Grain bags, secondary grain storage systems that CTM has been distributing for about six years, are one of the company’s most popular agriculture items. Other enduring products include a range of truck coverings sold to dealers, and hoarding and insulating tarps used in the construction industry. CTM employs a total of 30 people and serves markets mainly in Canada, but also in the northern United States and overseas.
Chapman expects pandemic-related products will supplement the company’s business for the next 12 to 18 months, but says it’s difficult to see or plan much further ahead than that. However, he doesn’t think the demand for specialized personal safety products will end. “I think what we’re seeing, as a society, is that these new procedures and safety measures are going to be in place regardless of what happens with COVID. I think a lot of companies and government agencies will continue to want these products, just to be safe.’’
Chapman is seeing something else occurring in society, specifically in Saskatchewan. “We’ve seen a turn toward supporting our local companies. We’ve seen a lot of our vendors and our customers struggling during this time and it seems like everybody in Saskatchewan is pulling together to support their neighbouring businesses. When possible, we try to support other western Canadian based businesses and we are seeing more and more customers doing the same.’’
“Given how easy it is for people to hop onto the web and purchase items from across the globe, the buy-local trend in this province is admirable and appreciated,” says Chapman. He believes it says something about the people of the province. “I think it’s just how Saskatchewan folks are wired, to be honest with you. It’s really a kind of feel good story that I see coming out of the purchasing decisions happening around the province. Wherever we can, we’re doing the same thing with our own procurement.’’