Interview by portal with Tomasz Szypuła, President of PTAK Warsaw Expo. You manage the largest trade fair and congress centre in Poland and this part of Europe. You have organised international trade fairs, which were regularly visited by tens of thousands of visitors from Poland and abroad. When the epidemic was declared, the expo halls were empty. How did you manage to survive this difficult time?
Tomasz Szypuła: March 2020, the first confirmed COVID-19 case in our country. Poland is holding its breath in anticipation of the consequences. The government is announcing a lockdown. During this time, we are postponing the planned fair of the spring season and stopping our standard activities. The situation forces us to save the business and take all possible measures to do so. We are a private company, if we do not make money ourselves, nobody will give us money. The idea of buying lines producing disposable masks comes up. The expo halls are empty, and yet they are more than perfect space for production. Without knowing how to run a production line we take a risk. The beginnings were not easy, there was a lack of specialists who could calibrate the machines quickly, we were looking for suppliers of materials that would meet our quality expectations, we trained people – but we succeeded. By the force of stubbornness and hard work we reached the place where we are now. Well, what was this road like, after all, the European leader in the production of disposable medical masks does not become overnight.
Tomasz Szypuła: That is true. We have set ourselves a clear goal. We want to build a Polish factory producing disposable medical masks, which would be made from the best materials and could replace masks imported from outside the EU and make our country independent of their import. What is important is that at that time, there was a shortage of masks in pharmacies, and it was a basic commodity, because it was impossible to leave home without a mask. This gave us motivation. We started production from several fully automated production lines. The first effects, in terms of the number of medical masks produced, were not satisfactory for us. We modernised the production park and in time we bought more machines. We learnt this business from scratch. After these few hard months we are in a place we did not even dream of. Maybe it is because we did not have time for these dreams. How would you describe the place where you are now and what is the role of the market leader in the production of medical masks?
Tomasz Szypuła: At the moment we have a park of 40 fully automated machines working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We are able to produce up to 4 million disposable medical masks in one day. We produce 3-ply masks with extremely high efficiency of BFE bacteria filtration 99%. Our product has documentation confirming compliance with the European standard. The documentation has been issued on the basis of multiple tests carried out by the Central Institute for Labour Protection – National Research Institute. During these few months of operation, we have delivered over 200 million disposable medical masks to the domestic market and abroad. The main recipients of our products are health care facilities, chain shops, among others LIDL, LOT Polish Airlines, Polish Mining Group, Polish Post Office, RUCH S.A. and over 600 wholesalers and companies operating in the EU. At the beginning of the COVID -19 pandemic we actively cooperated with the Industrial Development Agency (ARP) as part of the national mask sewing programme #PolskieSzwalnie. At the beginning of the second wave of the pandemic, we donated a significant number of disposable masks to Polish medical and educational institutions and many local governments. Our production is now crucial for the availability of disposable medical masks in Poland. As you can see, the role of a leader is associated with great responsibility, we are constantly responding to all needs, both social ones and those addressed to us by our business partners. What can we then wish you at this difficult time?
Tomasz Szypuła: I think that now all industries have the same wish to return to “normality”. We know that this normality will always be different, and the mask type restrictions will accompany us for a very long time to come. In this regard, we would like to be able to maintain regular production and continue to support Polish and European society and guarantee the general availability of medical masks, which is also of great importance in terms of their low retail prices. At the beginning of the pandemic, disposable masks, as a scarce commodity, reached horrendous prices, and are now available in shops at around 11-12 cents apiece. We also want to return to our core business, i.e. organising fairs, as soon as possible. After all, we are the largest trade fair centre in this part of Europe, we have organised several dozen trade fairs a year, and in 2019 our events were visited by over a million people. Even during the pandemic, in the months August-October 2020, we successfully conducted 3 large events, maintaining an above-standard level of sanitary safety, and the masks we produced were distributed free of charge to all those entering the fair.