Since the Covid-19 pandemic took root in 2020, Bona Fide Masks has provided national distribution of masks direct from manufacturers Powecom, DemeTECH, Chengde and Harley. In addition to distributing N95 and KN95 masks from manufacturers, Bona Fide Masks also offers ordinary 3-ply masks, Covid-19 antigen self-tests from On/Go and Powecom and Harley masks suitable for children.
The Mount Vernon-based Bona Fide Masks was originally a division of Ball Chain Manufacturing Co., a manufacturer of ball chains since 1938, before becoming its own standalone company after experiencing continued growth. This success can be attributed in large part to the decades Ball Chain Manufacturing spent building its supply chain, which proved to be immensely useful when it expanded into the mask distribution business.
The move toward masks first began when Westchester County Association President and CEO Michael Romita approached Bill Taubner, the company’s president after the start of the pandemic to see if Ball Chain Manufacturing could produce masks at its factory.
“My initial reaction was ‘No,’ simply because I knew that our machinery here couldn’t start putting out masks,” Taubner said.
However, after some convincing from his wife — who related to Taubner the PPE shortages doctors and nurses were experiencing — he decided to look into the matter.
“I started doing some research and reaching out to some of my contacts overseas,” Taubner said. “That’s how the whole thing started.”
Though it was a seemingly unlikely transition for the ball chain manufacturer, Taubner and his team took the plunge, leveraging Ball Chain Manufacturing’s decades of supply chain experience and relationships with various manufacturers and delivery services like FedEx and UPS to create a distribution pipeline for masks. The move paid off, not only allowing the company to stay afloat during the early stretch of the pandemic but also by making Bona Fide Masks successful enough that it now ships a few million masks a month, with more than 100 million shipped since its inception.
From the outset, the company sought to introduce a sense of order and trust to what was, and often still is, a challenging landscape.
“I’ve never seen a marketplace that’s been so confusing prior to being involved with the mask industry,” said Taubner. “It’s been the wild, wild west.”
Much of this “wild west” environment is the result of a large presence of counterfeit masks in the marketplace. According to Taubner, “The general consumer has to be very careful about where they’re purchasing it from and who they’re purchasing it from.”
Another challenge for customers seeking to purchase authentic masks is what seems to be a lack of thorough vetting among sellers who may offer legitimate masks but conduct little to no vetting of their own.
“Many times, their initial vetting is basically receiving just proof that they might be purchasing from a manufacturer,” Taubner said.
Bona Fide Masks distinguishes itself from such sellers by maintaining close relationships with manufacturers, which allows it to offer masks direct from the source.
“We never deal with any intermediaries, third parties or agents, and we handle all the logistics coming over here,” Taubner said. “Our customers, they really look to us simply because of our trusted supply chain.”
To further vet masks, Bona Fide Masks performs on-site testing. The company has purchased the 100X Automated Filter Tester from Air Techniques International, a nearly $100,000 machine used by NIOSH and the CDC, with the intention of providing supplemental testing to the masks, which have already undergone testing by their respective manufacturers and by third parties.
The machine tests the penetration levels of the masks the company receives and distributes. It douses N95 and KN95 masks in a saline solution in order to ensure the masks live up to their name and can filter out 95% or more of airborne particles.
“Usually, the masks are testing anywhere between 96 and a half to 98 and a half percent,” said Chief Operations Officer James Grandefeld. “Ninety-five is sort of like the threshold, but we’re going for always-greater-than-95.”
With the Covid-19 pandemic being more accurately described as an endemic, Bona Fide Masks is likely to keep business going for the foreseeable future. While Covid’s continued presence is a reality, the company is at least able to lessen the burden with its distribution and eliminate dubious online resellers from the marketplace.
“There’s a little less confusion in the marketplace right now,” Taubner said. “All the opportunists have sort of moved away.”
Presently, Taubner and his team have moved toward expanding the family-owned business, having already opened a warehouse in Canada and plan on expanding into Europe.
“It’s been a great team effort, and we’re so proud of what we’ve accomplished here and really happy to be able to have helped so many people during this time,” Taubner stated.
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