Nova Scotia

Window maker's new motto is 'shields up' as it enters barrier business at light speed

When a building supply store called for help to reopen, a Nova Scotia window manufacturer took just 48 hours to design, create and ship tempered glass barriers. It has since created 300 more for bars, restaurants and other businesses in need.

Kohltech in Debert, N.S., moves quickly to build tempered glass shields for businesses

An employee at the Kohltech plant in Debert, N.S., assembles a tempered glass shield. (CBC)

When COVID-19 forced Brian Bower to scale back his Timbermart building supply business in Yarmouth, N.S., in March, he desperately wanted to find a way to bring customers back into his store safely.

But keeping a two-metre separation between them and staff was going to be a challenge, especially around the contractors desk and checkout counter.

With Plexiglas in short supply and in high demand, Bower turned to a long-time supplier, Kevin Pelley, for help. Pelley is the CEO of Kohltech, a well-established Nova Scotia window and door manufacturer that employs 300 people.

"I said, 'Look Kev, we've got this situation and we need some help. Do you have anything?'" Bower said. "He said, 'Well, we don't, but we will certainly see what we can come up.'"

Just 48 hours later, Bower received a shipment of tempered glass shields from the Debert, N.S.-based company.

"They sent down a couple of prototypes and we put them on the counter and they've been working ever since," said Bower.

A number of tempered glass shields have been installed at the Timbermart in Yarmouth, N.S. (Submitted by Brian Bowers)

Pelley described it as a "fly by the seat of your pants" design and manufacture process with one simple goal — getting a product out the door as quickly as possible.

"It's been very heartwarming to see some of the places that we've supplied these shields to get open and get up and running," said Pelley.

He initially thought his company could build face shields for health-care and other front-line workers. But that would have meant having to retool the plant, which makes 800 windows and doors a day, and buy supplies the company didn't normally stock.

He wanted to help during the pandemic, but in a way that would mesh with the company's existing door and casement window manufacturing process.

The tempered glass shields were the answer.

"We've built above 300 and we're looking at probably doing 100 a week, and we'll see if that grows," said Pelley, proudly showing off a slimmed down version of the shield at the company's Debert headquarters. "The end goal here is to help local businesses that have suffered the most through this COVID situation.

"So we see this as an opportunity to keep our people busy here, keep our great team employed, but also help our local businesses here get back open."

The Kohltech plant employs about 300 people. (CBC)

Just down the road from the plant, in Truro, that same shield is set up in front of the cash at Fletcher's Restaurant.

Owner David Tam was one of the first to purchase one from Kohltech. He had ordered a Plexiglas barrier from a company in Ontario.

"My wife works at Kohltech and she mentioned that they were working on a prototype, and I was unable to get my order in from Ontario because of the supply and demand issue," said Tam.

He cancelled the order and bought the locally made glass shield instead.

"I'm really happy with it," he said. "Didn't really have to do much. Fit in perfect with the decor and it's easy to clean."

Fletcher's Restaurant in Truro, N.S., plans to buy five more shields from Kohltech. (CBC)

Tam plans to order five more to better isolate customers who use the booths at his restaurant.

Bower is also looking to buy others to replace the prototypes he has installed.

"These have been working fine but I have a funny feeling that COVID is going to be, the restrictions are going to be around for quite a while," he said. "So as I said to the boys, 'Why don't we do this up correct, nice and beautify it a bit.'"

Although still a tiny part of the Kohltech business, the company has put its shields front and centre on its website. The production line is currently small, but Pelley hopes as demand increases he can ramp up production.

"It's about five people making these shields," he said. "We're integrating into our regular production but we see it as five initially, and then we'll grow to 10, maybe 15 or 20.

"Shields up. That's our new motto here. Shields up."