GameChangers

Pivot Plays

By Angel Harmon 
Last updated on December 15th, 2020 02:04 pm

The Collaborative: Women-Owned with Affordable Workplace Solutions

In our fall issue, we’re telling the stories of those business owners who faced the pandemic and resolutely determined to succeed by transforming or pivoting their businesses. Throughout the U.S and Canada, these businesses charted new ways of adapting by introducing new services and products that benefit them, their customers, and the world.

Today, we’re introducing you to The Collab­orative: Workplace Readiness Solutions, an affiliate-based company that provides “one-stop shop” solutions for organ­izations seeking to reconvene business as normal.

Sharon Reynolds, CEO and founder of DevMar Products and Joan LaGrasse, CEO of Imagen, come from different cultural backgrounds and business environments. But their shared interests in helping employers to mitigate risks amid the pandemic, and to provide safer environments for the workforce drove them to join forces with a shared vision and one common goal — providing a suite of solu­tions so everyone can return to work and school, knowing all has been done to make their workplace safe. “When this pandemic hit, we talked about how we can be a posi­tive force. How can we come together to create solutions that are bigger than the two of us.” shares LaGrasse, adding that the two decided to pivot together, rather than individu­ally, by forming a totally new company. 

Subsequently, the longtime sister-friends and Nashville residents created The Collab­orative: Workplace Readiness Solutions, an affiliate-based company that provides “one-stop shop” solutions for organ­izations seeking to reconvene business as normal. Although the global community is still grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, businesses are reopening and it’s critical for organizations to prioritize the safety of their employees while ensuring that they have the best resources and strate­gies to navigate the process. 

“We said, ‘We need a new com­pany that will focus on today’s business problems.’ This time, it’s the pandemic. But we’ll be set up. So that next time there’s a big problem, we can move right into that space and come up with solutions to help our clients,” LaGrasse adds.

Joan LaGrasse in blue jacket headshot
Joan LaGrasse, CEO of Imagen

The Collaborative addresses issues arising from the pan­demic and regulatory respons­es of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other agencies, thus protect­ing not only the employees but also their employers.

ADDRESSING THE ISSUE, THEN PIVOTING 

Due to the pandemic, Reyn­olds and LaGrasse saw their business activity severely impacted, but immediately reached out to provide sup­port to the other, if needed. Imagen designs and builds exhibits, so the resources to create products that sup­port workplaces were already in place. 

“I have a great carpentry shop,” LaGrasse explains. “So, I said, ‘We can make barriers.’ I also have the print shop to make signs that say, ‘Only so many per elevator,’ or whatev­er signs people might need in their business as they try to implement social distanc-ing policies.” 

Imagen is a full-service exhibit house where creative people come together to tell stories visually using structures, graph­ics, and technolo­gy. The company’s work can be found touring the coun­try as a traveling exhibition, on the conference trade show floor, in mu­seums and visitor centers, and inside corporate buildings as branded art. 

Reynolds’ company distributes environ­mentally conscience janitorial and sani­tary supplies, green cleaning solutions and develops pathogen reme­diation products, so delivering a solution to eradicate path­ogens and provide surface protection would come easily. As an essential business dur­ing the pandemic, DevMar was not as impacted and becoming even more part of the solution was a natural fit for the company. “People clean and disinfect, but in the wake of a pandemic, that’s no longer adequate. You have to take the next step after you disinfect,” Reynolds says. “We have a product called ADAPT ASB 24/7, an antimicrobial surface barrier and bacteria defense that continues to kill microbes and pathogens on surfaces 24/7.” 

As they began working on a plan, they recognized that the severity and dynamics of the pandemic required more than barriers, signs, and viral defense products,” LaGrasse notes. “Of course, there was the obvious solution of provid­ing personal protective equip­ment (PPE) to ensure healthy workplaces. But there were other concerns, as well, includ­ing accommodating remote work employees. 

To find solutions for these un­answered questions, Reynolds and LaGrasse began search­ing and sourcing contacts. Because both are certified women’s business enterprises (WBEs), it was important for them to source solely with other WBEs. 

“We looked around and found seven talented dynamic and highly skilled WBEs, each of whom had something to con­tribute to assist our clients.” 

Reynolds and LaGrasse work collaboratively with affiliate WBEs bringing in clients, pro­viding non-duplicated servic­es, and referring each other’s businesses to The Collabora­tive, with no additional charge for the referrals. They build customized plans, offering each of the affiliates’ individu­al services. The best part is all services are paid by the client under one invoice. This way, the client doesn’t have to con tend with seven referrals, sev­en vetting processes, or seven separate invoices. 

“And we’re going to keep expanding that as long as the customer says, ‘Do you have? And what about this?’ And we’ll say, ‘We will find that person… we’ll find that woman-owned business to add value to our consortium,” adds Reynolds. 

BONDING AND PROTECTING A COMMUNITY 

Once they solidified an infra­structure with their corporate clients, they began transition­ing into school systems. With strained budgets to provide PPE and no help from the state or federal government, children are at risk daily. 

“It’s a real problem. So, we’re trying to gain the support of the corporations within the communities where they’re headquartered,” Reynolds says. “We’ve approached sev­eral corporations to ask them if they would be willing to help the school system. We give a donation from The Collabo­rative to the schools or to the entity of the corpora­tion’s choice when a corporation purchases PPE from us. It’s all about com­munity.” 

“We reach out to our corporate friends and say, ‘Put us in touch with your foundation. We’re not looking for money. We’re looking to help. How can we make this happen?’” LaGrasse adds. “And if you buy any supplies from us, we’re go­ing to donate part of it back to the schools anyway. But if you don’t, that’s OK, too. Just make a donation. Let’s see what we can do to help your local schools where your children are, the children of your em­ployees…that’s important.” 

In addition to overseeing DevMar Products and launch­ing The Collaborative, Reyn­olds is also founder and CEO of DevMar Manufacturing, a company established to manu­facture its specialty products; DevMar Global Healthcare Solutions, a company in the business of distributing com­mercially safe human donor breast-milk to at-risk infants in the NICU and Bryla J Couture Clothiers, a designer clothing company that donates a por­tion of its proceeds to charity. 

Sharon Reynolds in green suit at desk
Sharon Reynolds, CEO of DevMar Products Photo by Dokk Savage

VALUE IN LESSONS LEARNED 

“What I can say is be so ever ready,” says Reynolds. “It sounds biblical, but it’s about preparedness and readiness.”

She adds that the pandemic has taught business owners to keep a surplus of cash for emergencies, and to only pur­chase the core basics of what is needed during challenging times. 

“I feel like we’ve been engaged in the PPE pivot business for the last two years, because we have worked tirelessly seven days a week…sometimes until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning,” Reynolds says. “And we know who to trust and who not to trust for our clients. However, we are creating ways to be a sustainable solution for our clients beyond the pandemic, coupled with our regular busi­ness models.” 

There have been great mo­ments as well as some down­turns, but it’s all a part of the growth process. From vetting the best manufacturers to building relationships with clients, Reynolds and LaGrasse were able to successfully build a concrete infrastructure com­mitted to helping others and bring other WBEs along in a short period of time. 

To learn more about The Col­laborative, visit www.collabo­ratewbe.com.