2410 U.S. 15 South, Sumter
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On an annual basis, Sumter Coatings, in Live Oak Industrial Park, produces about 800,000 gallons of paint coatings. The operation has 68 employees.
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Around Sumter Coatings manufacturing plant, there is a slogan: "Anybody can sell paint. We sell quality and service." Amid the pandemic, the company on U.S. 15 South stepped in to meet a need in the community.
Sumter Coatings President and CEO Barry Reynolds and two members of his management team sat down Friday to discuss how the midsized chemical paint manufacturer started producing hand sanitizer in the spring when there was a product shortage at the onset of the coronavirus in the U.S.
Reynolds described thinking late one night in March about the shortage of hand sanitizer in the country with the start of the virus' spread and the fact that his operation is a chemical manufacturer. The question became: "How can we get into manufacturing hand sanitizer, not on a major scale, but at least enough to support our community?"
After a few phone calls and discussion with legal counsel for the American Coatings Association, Reynolds was able to get a relatively simple FDA-approved formula. The next step for Sumter Coatings was getting a temporary exemption from the FDA to produce the hand sanitizer as long as the company produced it to the agency's exact specifications, according to Reynolds and company Vice President Randy White.
With many of the raw materials for the finished goods already on hand including plastic gallon containers, shipping cartons and in-house label printing capabilities, the company's purchasing department bought the necessary ingredients, and manufacturing began.
"It wasn't a difficult startup to get into making hand sanitizer because we had all the raw materials," Reynolds said. "Just getting the approval of the formula was the big thing."
The FDA-approved formula is about 80% denatured alcohol, or ethanol, distilled water, hydrogen peroxide and glycerol.
Sumter Coatings produced the hand sanitizer in 238-gallon containers, or totes, used regularly in its production cycles. During about eight weeks in April and May, the company produced a little more than 2,000 gallons of the sanitizer, Reynolds said, in addition to its regular coatings business.
Given the simple formula, Sumter Coatings could produce a 238-gallon batch size in one to 1.5 days, he added. The batch translated to 238 plastic 1-gallon jugs for packaging, sale and distribution.
After putting the product on the company's Facebook page, community members became interested because of hand sanitizer's short supply at the time. Shaw Air Force Base purchased the largest volume - 200 gallons. Local nursing homes, assisted living facilities and several churches also ordered jugs.
Reynolds structured it so that charitable organizations, such as the local United Way, received the sanitizer for free. Nonprofit groups basically got it at cost, and for-profit outfits were charged a reasonable price, he said.
Sumter Coatings also provided it to many of its customers across the country, especially in New York and New Jersey, where there was a big need. Each company employee also got a free gallon jug, White said.
Some people even walked in off the street to get gallon containers.
Since then, regular hand sanitizer makers have ramped up their production, and there is plenty in the U.S. supply chain. Therefore, Sumter Coatings has stopped production.
The company still has one full 238-gallon tote container of it on the production floor that could be distributed right way if demand picks back up, plant manager Kevin Sweeney said. Reynolds added his company could also start producing it again if there is a need.
"I am from Sumter, and we have a lot of ties to the Sumter community as a company," he said. "We're in the nature of giving back to the community. That's why we went down this road with the hand sanitizer. We stepped in to meet a need and provide a service for our community."
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