Every business has faced a challenge it has not seen before as the pandemic unfolded across the world. Many businesses shut down, some temporarily, but some permanently. It’s not only businesses that were affected, but the very systems that keep our world running. Supply chain is an essential service that physically moves goods and gets things into our hands and it was incredibly stressed during the pandemic.
Alex Aleksandrovski, before the start of the pandemic, was the founder and CEO–Wooter Apparel–a custom uniforms and apparel company for sports. During this time, Wooter Apparel collaborated with a company called GameBreaker to offer customized softshell headgear and undershield protection pads.
As sports, schools, and pretty much everything shut down, Aleksandrovski had to find a clever way to stay in business. Driven by an urge to also make a difference and give back, that led the two companies to come together to form CovCare as they pivoted their respective business models to create a start-up medical supplies and logistics company focused on solving the shortage of PPE in the United States during the onset of COVID-19.
Aleksandrovski applied the existing systems and relationships developed through Wooter Apparel and GameBreaker to start a new business providing personal protective equipment or PPE. Seeing that hospitals and healthcare workers had unnecessary challenges purchasing quality PPE, CovCare quickly became a trusted source for PPE having supplied hospitals, governments, and corporations. Compassion is rooted in the culture as CovCare has extended empathy company wide by donating face masks and PPE supplies to help protect communities across the country.
CovCare has been an active supporter in South Central Los Angeles with Women of Color International Association, Rideshare Drivers United in San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles, and Companions Journeying Together in Illinois, among other organizations. CovCare and Wooter Apparel also recently served as event sponsors for the Pro Am Basketball Tournament presented by non-profit organization, Ballin’ 4 Peace at Queens Week, where the community outreach event focused on spreading peace through sports, keeping people safe, and being compassionate to one another during trying times.
I spoke with Aleksandrovski about his journey pivoting during the pandemic and how others can find a way to make an impact and stay in business
Salib: How has compassion played a role in guiding your decision to pivot and create CovCare?
Alexandrovski: We’ve always given back, with Wooter especially, with the creation of Wooter Africa, four years ago, a 501c3 devoted to providing sports to unprivileged communities in Africa. In March, once Covid-19 turned its ugly head and sports were paused, we brainstormed the best way we can help fight the pandemic and at the same time–give back. We launched CovCare and made sure giving back was at the center of our business model: From day one, we donated 1 mask for every 10 sold.
Salib: What’s the biggest lesson you learned at Wooter and Game Breaker and how did you apply it to CovCare?
Alexandrovski: There is no such thing as an overnight success. Wooter and Gamebreaker were built over 5 years scaling our supply chain, tech and infrastructure to deliver products to the USA from overseas. With this advantage, we were easily able to use the same supply chain and logistics network to bring in PPE to the USA for CovCare. Without the last 5 years of hard work from our team, we wouldn’t be able to pivot so quickly and eventually become the leader in PPE.
Salib: What advice do you have for others who feel compelled to do something and have a business that has suffered during the pandemic?
Alexandrovski: The pandemic has made starting an online business easier than ever before. You don’t need a fancy office, or big team… You just need a simple website and a product/service that’s in demand. If your business has suffered during this pandemic, like Wooter has, take it as a learning experience and find a way to change your product/service offering. No market was hurt as bad as sports was… Wooter made 99% of revenue selling sports uniforms and apparel, and when sports were shut down, all of that money disappeared. What didn’t disappear was the supply chain and logistics network we’ve built. We were able to quickly source the product that was in demand and supply it.
Think of how you bring change to your target audience. If you operate a gym or fitness studio, how can you bring those classes online? If you own a restaurant, how can you improve your takeout and delivery options to reach more people in your city?
There are endless opportunities to improve your business and the pandemic should be a reminder that if you continue to do things the same way forever, you will fail.
Salib: How has the foundation of Wooter and GameBreaker helped accelerate the growth of CovCare and attract big names early on?
Alexandrovski: Having well-established and reputable enterprises like Wooter and GameBreaker made it easier to have trust in the market full of dishonest brokers and scammers. It definitely helped us close our first big bids with hospitals and government contracts as they were more eager to work with existing companies. We took that existing sense of trust, accompanied by fast delivery, and were able to quickly scale CovCare into the leader in the PPE industry.
Salib: What are your responsibilities as CEO of CovCare?
Alexandrovski: Manage the team and the product. Getting 40 people all working remote to pivot quickly from Wooter to CovCare was a challenge. We were also able to grow 3x to 120 people over just 6 months. The company will only go as far as your team takes you. The hardest thing to do as a CEO is find the right people that you can rely on to lead their own team or project, and be able to make their own decisions.
The second responsibility is establishing the operations + logistics, the sales + marketing and the customer support + experience behind the product. This is a never-ending cycle of constantly improving your processes, expanding your product offering, and finding new ways to generate revenue for the company. In the beginning I was heavily involved in selling masks and medical supplies and creating cost sheets, sales funnel and most developing our website. Shortly later on my #1 focus was sourcing and fulfilling our orders. Now my focus has shifted to perfecting our customer experience and exploring new ways to market CovCare.
Salib: What is in store for the future of Wooter Apparel?
Alexandrovski: We have released our fully automated self-serving custom apparel platform where customers can go and design their own uniforms themselves or by working with one of our designers. They can customize their package to include what they need and earn huge savings by bundling multiple uniforms or accessories. Finally, they can add their names, numbers, and sizes, and checkout. What usually takes days or weeks can be done in 15-20 minutes thanks to our technology.
Last but not least, we are releasing our marketplace that will bring factory-direct production to your hands. There’s no reason that someone in the USA cannot work directly with a factory in China to get the goods that they need and be 100% protected. That is what our marketplace will do. It will allow anyone to place large orders with factories overseas through a simple interface similar to Amazon. Most importantly the order will be fully secure and guaranteed by CovCare/Wooter. This allows organizations to lower their costs by working directly with the best factories in the world, and at the same time: give these factories a way to market and sell directly to the USA.