Right now, businesses across the country are wondering, “Are we able to reopen? And if so, how do we keep our employees and customers safe?”
Vaccine roll-outs are starting to pick up. Stay-at-home orders are lifting. In-person learning is resuming. And restrictions on businesses are finally easing up. But, as of this writing, we’re about 3 months into vaccinations and only 13.3% of the total US population has been fully vaccinated. Health officials warn again and again that the pandemic is far from over and we must get used to the idea of a “new normal”.
With all that our small business community has been through, most of us gladly welcome all of the COVID-19 resources, tips, and insights we can get. So for this month’s SDP Client Spotlight, we sat down with CEO Neil Ticktin and President Andrea Sniderman of Tech Minded, who have spent the past year crafting their own safety solution for businesses.
Read on for valuable lessons from this power duo who have repeatedly pivoted, and how COVID-19 inspired them to enter the next phase of their business journey as co-creators of Smart Spacers®. (Psst, skip to the end for a special discount if you or someone you know could benefit from adding Smart Spacers® to your business to protect customers or employees!)
In A Pre-Covid World
Pre-COVID, Tech Minded worked as an event management company focused primarily on conferences, seminars, and expos. CEO Neil Ticktin shares,
We’ve done just about every type of event that you can possibly imagine over the past few decades.
To give you an idea of the scope of their operations, in the last 10 years through the beginning of last year, Tech Minded had hosted 160 days of events in 22 cities. They had over 400 unique speakers, 1,200 sessions of content, 1,100 sponsorships, and their attendees enjoyed over 45,000 food servings.
They’ve always focused on the in-person event experience. For example, arranging for over 100 of their attendees to test drive Tesla’s Model S when it was first released, or their guests meeting with animators and technology teams from Disney and Universal Studios before attending private, pre-release screenings of films like Wreck-It Ralph. They’d even hosted behind-the-scenes tours of local icons like the Griffith Observatory, the Space Shuttle Endeavour, and the Battleship Iowa.
And then, [with COVID-19] it was all turned off like a light switch.
When Things Didn’t “Go Back To Normal”
Back in Spring of last year, Neil recalls the general consensus that everything would be “back to normal” by November. At the time, he and Andrea were discussing how they would deliver that key experience: their guests “breaking bread” with one another. In their conversations with a number of hotels, they kept hearing the same response: “boxed lunch outside.”
It’s just not a great experience – it’s not what we’re about. So we decided to come up with a way for people to sit and have a face-to-face conversation without a mask and still stay safe.
After reviewing CDC guidelines, Neil and Andrea learned that masks were just one of a number of ways to increase safety. In fact, the CDC and NIOSH have long-established guidelines for dealing with “hazards”: the Hierarchy of Controls.
In the hierarchy, the CDC establishes how to look at protections. And in the case of COVID-19, they found “engineering controls” were at a higher level of effectiveness than PPE, aka face masks.
These “engineering controls” physically separate people from one another to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For example, through the use of acrylic or plexiglass panels. And with that, the Smart Spacers® concept was born.
A Better Way
Over the next few months, Neil and Andrea dedicated themselves to creating Smart Spacers®. They wanted the solution to be economical, easy to set up, robust, and lightweight. But they specifically set out to handle the toughest use problems including how to sit more than four people at a round table.
After all, this was something that they would ultimately want to use at their own events in the future, so the last thing they wanted was to compromise the user experience or create a solution that was a nightmare to set up or served too few people.
Additionally, it was important to them to design a product that was high-quality and made in the USA. Ultimately, it became clear that this required precision — and in the end, Neil and Andrea decided to partner with a local machine shop so well known for their quality of work and high product standards that they also make parts for the Mars rovers.
Finally, after months of dreaming and planning, they began shipping Smart Spacers® in November.
Introducing: Smart Spacers®
Today, Smart Spacers® are the “ultimate table divider” for any table. And, the only table divider that properly handles conference tables, round tables seating more than 4, and more. The best part? Health inspectors love them.
Plexiglass you can actually hear through
While most plexiglass barriers are difficult to hear through, Neil and Andrea carefully designed theirs with very thin plexiglass so as not to interfere with the guest experience. This made a huge difference as traditional plexiglass dividers cut out 40-70% more sound.
Dress it up or dress it down–it’s not going anywhere
All of the strength of the divider comes from the center rod assembly. Smart Spacers® come in both “clampless” models that you can lift up to change a tablecloth, or with heavy-duty clamps for installations that stay in place. Whether the aircraft-grade aluminum hardware at the center or the brushed nickel color table clamps, Smart Spacers® have a beautiful, elevated look.
Designed to fit your table
They fit round tables up to 72′′ and can have anywhere from 3 to 8 panels depending on the model. The rectangular version fits a 6′ table and can be connected with additional rods and panels to fit any table length seating up to 12 or more at a conference table.
Easy to clean
Once it’s time to clean, all you have to do is lift up the lightweight Smart Spacers®, pull out the old table cloth, put in a new table cloth, and voila! There’s no need to use a Q-tip to clean tiny crevices, either.
Non-damaging to conference tables
When it came to conference tables, Neil and Andrea wanted a product that not only protected people–but also the table itself. After all, traditional plexiglass systems sit right on the table surface and will scratch the table with use.
Smart Spacers®, by design, keep the plexiglass slightly off the table, enough that one can pass an ethernet or HDMI cable under a panel without a problem. For additional protection, they’ve even included padding on the hardware and clamps in all the places that the system comes in contact with the table to help avoid wear and scratches.
This month marks Tech Minded’s 10th anniversary working with SDP. Andrea shares that throughout our years together, the relationship has been incredibly easy. Although issues rarely arise, the few times she has called in with a question or concern it has been handled quickly and painlessly.
I remember one time being on a boat in the middle of vacation and couldn’t access payroll online. I called in and the SDP team helped me over the phone–and payroll happened without a hitch!
The Tech Minded team also appreciates how SDP has continued to adapt to further streamline the client experience, even throughout COVID-19. Neil adds,
Especially during the pandemic, whenever you leave a message… anywhere these days… it takes forever to hear back. When you call a business you’re almost always on hold for at least 30 minutes. But SDP is different. It’s been really refreshing to have a much speedier response and have a real human being pick up the phone.
Save On Smart Spacers®
Businesses across all industries can benefit from Smart Spacers®. And we’re excited to announce that Tech Minded is offering our readers a very special discount on their solution.
In addition, if you’ve received funding from a PPP loan or under the new American Rescue Plan Act, this funding can be used for safe working and customer conditions, including PPE and isolation barriers like Smart Spacers®.
Whether you’re a school, restaurant, law firm, government office, hotel, or business, you can learn more about Smart Spacers® and claim your discount here.
SDP Client Spotlights: Celebrating Our Clients
Every month, we highlight one of our amazing clients with the SDP Client Spotlight. Here at Southland Data Processing, we’re in the people business and strive to always put our clients first. So if you or your organization is interested in becoming our next Client Spotlight, please contact us at [email protected] and we’d love to hear your story!
Photo by Tech Minded