AUSTIN (KXAN) – A local startup featured by KXAN last month has been working to address a nationwide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) shortage, but the process hasn’t come without its own bumps in the road.
Armbrust American, led by founder Lloyd Armbrust, has a factory in Pflugerville where it manufactures masks. The company says it makes one million masks per day.
But making those masks hasn’t been the issue — it’s been getting them out to customers.
Armbrust says the original goal of his company was to make and provide masks for healthcare and government entities, while promoting U.S. manufacturing.
For example, Armbrust American has a $3.8 million dollar contract with the state of Texas to provide masks for schoolteachers all over the state.
But by the time KXAN visited the factory last month, the company wanted to serve individuals, as well.
“I said, wouldn’t it be neat if we could get these into people’s hands here in Austin,” Armbrust recalled Tuesday.
“So we set up a website really fast, and we just made so many mistakes.”
Armbrust tells KXAN there were logistical and technical problems that led to shipping delays. That’s in addition to the large number of orders the company received for masks.
Armbrust says he set an order limit of one purchase per customer, but not on the total volume of orders received. The company received 1.6 million orders in the week after our story aired.
In a sense, Armbrust American began suffering from its own success.
“I didn’t really appreciate the amount of effort that it takes for something to arrive magically on my doorstep,” he said.
Bonnie Bryce was one of the customers who watched our story, and ordered 50 masks from the company.
“I’m 67 years old and I had heart surgery in February,” she told us over the phone Tuesday. “So my cardiologist advised me to be diligent about wearing a mask.”
After placing her order on May 20, she received a confirmation email, but nothing after that.
Many customers have found themselves in a similar situation. KXAN received a number of concerns from people, asking about the company and when they would get their masks.
Still more people reached out to Armbrust American directly. We found a number of negative reviews and posts about the delays on social media.
“I thought maybe he got overwhelmed a little bit,” said Bryce. After our interview Tuesday, Armbrust informed us that Bryce’s order was shipped, with a few extra masks thrown in.
Ultimately, millions of masks had been sitting in the factory the entire time.
The company’s automated machines can make 100 masks a minute. The delays instead came with packing, sealing and shipping.
Armbrust explained that automated machines cannot seal and pack the masks without bending them. Therefore, people have to do it.
He says it used to take 10 minutes to box up 50 masks, but the company is now able to do it in 30 seconds.
Armbrust says the original promise was to ship the masks to customers one week after they’d placed the order.
He realized quickly he wouldn’t be able to make that deadline, due to the huge demand. He says he sent a video out to customers explaining the situation late last month, but believes many people didn’t get the message.
“I think the lesson is, when you start a company, you need to make sure you have your supply chain ironed out before you go on television,” said Bryce.
“I’d say the biggest thing I learned was setting the proper expectations for people, and to really understand the entire picture,” he said.
The company is trying to catch up now. Armbrust says he is prioritizing orders for healthcare workers and people more vulnerable to COVID-19, which is caused by the coronavirus.
He added that all orders out of Texas would be shipped out this week, but also understands if people cancel their order.
Over the last couple of weeks, the only option has been to pre-order masks, while the company catches up. Those orders will go out starting July 1.