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Face shield business ‘blew up’ at InLine Motion, requests made across US and other countries

4 min read

The original plan when Lucas Hoffman and Marco Fenu started making face shields at InLine Motion was that they’d maybe make a few hundred and donate them locally.

Less than 24 hours into starting their plan, they had thousands of donations requests.

“We’ve had tens of thousands questioning about them,” Fenu said in a phone interview Thursday, April 23. He and Hoffman are co-owners of the commercial and industrial equipment supplier in Detroit Lakes. “The whole thing just kind of blew up.”

Since the first shield shipment on March 30, the products have gone to “around 30 states and three different countries,” Hoffman said.

Some were sold, and some were donated, as people can make a monetary donation and the shields will go to the donor’s requested location. Every donation is matched by InLine Motion so if someone donates $120 for 10 shields, they’ll actually receive 20 shields.

“We’d love to see more donations and more donation requests,” Hoffman said.

They’ve created a pool of donated shields that don’t have a specific destination, too. The pool is used if an organization needs more shields than what a donor paid for.

“It’s been mainly just individuals versus organizations,” Fenu said about the almost 500 shields they’ve donated. “The more the community comes together on this, the more we’re able to supply.”

Lucas Hoffman, left, and Marco Fenu opened InLine Motion together in 2016. They both "always wanted to be entrepreneurs," Fenu said, and when they had the opportunity to do it, they took it. (Tribune File Photo)

Lucas Hoffman, left, and Marco Fenu opened InLine Motion together in 2016. They both “always wanted to be entrepreneurs,” Fenu said, and when they had the opportunity to do it, they took it. (Tribune File Photo)

Family influence

Both Hoffman and Fenu have family members who work in the medical field. Hearing their first-hand accounts of the pandemic was part of the reason that the pair decided to start making the shields.

“I’m originally from Italy and you know Italy has been hit very hard by this pandemic,” Fenu said. “My mom is a doctor and they have been overwhelmed over there. The doctors and nurses are the people that are the most at risk. To this day, they are still struggling to get personal protective equipment over there.”

Fenu’s mom received one of the first shield shipments for her hospital. Hoffman’s mom isn’t working at a hot spot like Italy, but she was at an increased risk while working in as a lab tech, as “she’s on chemo,” Hoffman said. She took a leave of absence to stay safe.

Hoffman and Fenu knew through their family that most face shields weren’t comfortable. They made sure that InLine Motion’s were different by using adjustable straps and revising and testing the product multiple times. Chris Nord helped them find the right medical contacts to test the shields, Hoffman and Fenu said.

The halos that are cut for the face shields that InLine Motion is now making are cut using the material in the most effective way possible. "Our entire business is designed around being efficient at design," said Lucas Hoffman, co-owner of the business. (Submitted photo)

The halos that are cut for the face shields that InLine Motion is now making are cut using the material in the most effective way possible. “Our entire business is designed around being efficient at design,” said Lucas Hoffman, co-owner of the business. (Submitted photo)

“That was one of the bigger design challenges. To make something that was comfortable and able to be worn by different spectrums,” Fenu said.

The reusability part was easier to figure out.

“The plastic on it is easily replaceable in a few seconds” so users don’t throw the whole shield away, Hoffman said. “The waste is less.

Changing methods and materials

When Hoffman and Fenu decided to start making the shields, they knew they were a little late to the game. They looked into materials for the shields and found that those were in almost as short supply as the personal protective equipment itself.

“They (other businesses) had essentially run the entire United States out of the products we wanted to use,” Hoffman said.

They got their hands on a little bit of the product they needed to start and quickly changed to more accessible, but still safe, materials.

“We’re not fighting for the same materials that everyone else is, now that we’ve moved forward in new production efforts,” Hoffman said.

The shields are fully made in the U.S.A with the products and the machinery, too, which is something that Hoffman and Fenu are proud of. When the product is ready to be shipped, Hoffman and Fenu ship it in the most cost-effective and space-saving way. The shields are in small, easy to handle boxes with all of the parts un-assembled, but take less than a minute to put together when needed.

InLine Motion will either ship out face shields or customers can come to pick them up. One of their past customers picked up an order to bring with her to Chicago, telling co-owners Lucas Hoffman and Marco Fenu that she was going there to work at an emergency hospital. They promptly donated the shields to her instead of accepting her payment, Hoffman said. (Submitted photo)

InLine Motion will either ship out face shields or customers can come to pick them up. One of their past customers picked up an order to bring with her to Chicago, telling co-owners Lucas Hoffman and Marco Fenu that she was going there to work at an emergency hospital. They promptly donated the shields to her instead of accepting her payment, Hoffman said. (Submitted photo)

“Getting a lot of good feedback,” Nord said.”Some of the feedback I’ve been getting is that this product is above and beyond what they’ve been getting from other vendors in the past, but at a much better cost.”

The shields are about $10 each. Originally, they were in the $15 range, but the material and manufacturing changes helped lower that.

With the success of the shields and previous business, Hoffman and Fenu are making plans to expand InLine Motion. The shield making will continue though, “as long as there is a demand,” Fenu said.

Donations and information

For more information on InLine Motion, contact Lucas Hoffman and Marco Fenu:

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