Think finding an eight-pack of toilet paper was hard during the height of coronavirus panic shopping?
“Try finding 200 to 300 cases a week,” said Carlos Peña, whose family owns Kleen Supply Co., 2428 Church St. in Galveston’s downtown.
Kleen supplies all four University of Texas Medical Branch campuses — Galveston, League City, Clear Lake area and Angleton, along with all the related buildings — with cleaning and janitorial supplies. Those supplies include paper products, cleaning products, plastic bags, cleaning chemicals, germicidals, disinfectants and hand soaps, to name a few.
When COVID-19 struck, Kleen Supply’s business demand surged and finding cleaning products and supplies was a challenge.
“The supply chain was disrupted on so many levels,” Peña said.
But established contacts gave Peña an edge, he said. Kleen supplies the medical branch through end-users Sodexo, which specializes in food and facilities management, and Marsden, a commercial cleaning provider. Both are medical branch contractors.
Because Kleen Supply had an established reputation, its suppliers knew the island company wasn’t trying to scam or profit by buying merchandise in bulk and price gouging consumers, as some predatory people were accused of doing in March at the height of panic shopping.
Kleen Supply not only was able to fulfill its normal orders but meet higher demand, Peña said.
“As you can imagine, it has been a real challenge this past month as all the UTMB hospitals have ramped up in anticipation of the surge in COVID-19 patients,” he said. “What has been hundreds of cases of product delivered to each hospital weekly has turned into two to three times that many every week. I’m also proud to say that we have also sent supplies to hospitals in the Austin and greater San Antonio area.”
Although there have been many disruptions to the supply chain, there haven’t been any backorders for cleaning supplies for the medical branch, Peña said. Along with established contacts, forward thinking also saved the day, he said.
Kleen, which also supplies some school districts and other businesses, foresaw supply problems and in early March doubled and tripled orders to keep hospitals going, he said.
For the medical branch account alone, the company is receiving two to three freight trucks full of product weekly, said Peña, who has hired more employees to unload the merchandise and prepare it for clients.
Kleen Supply also found itself suddenly popular among the general consuming public, Peña said.
Before the pandemic, about half a dozen people walked into the storefront to buy products on any given day, he said. That number rose to about 40 daily as locals sought sanitizers or Clorox wipes. For the safety of customers and employees, Peña finally locked the doors and stopped allowing walk-in business, he said.
“I never thought, as a businessman, I would have to say that or do that,” he said.
Peña is proud he’s a local business able to supply the medical branch in a crisis, he said. Kleen has been supplying the medical branch for about 25 years, he said.
Peña’s father founded the company in 1971 in the garage of their house, and Peña joined him in 1979 after graduating from college and teaching three years at Galveston Independent School District, he said. The company will celebrate its 50-year anniversary in 2021.
“As UTMB has grown, we have grown too, and for that, we are thankful,” he said.