Lucas Payne is the co-founder and President of Force Energy Group, LLC. His company Force Medical Supply is a division of Force Energy Group. Lucas has launched a campaign committed to donating 100,000 free masks. We sat down to discuss his business and the impact of the pandemic on society and business.
What is your motto, and how did it begin?
Lucas Payne: Our motto is “Responding to the call for Essential Equipment” (back in February 2020). But normally it’s “Factory Direct to End Customer” through my company Force Energy Group. Early on in my twenties, I learned how to buy direct. I wanted to start a company that utilized these skills, and I found a need that was not filled. We have worked with essential businesses and provided services like changing LEDs to solar panels. We were doing what we could do to mitigate costs and resources for our regular business and try to help as many people as possible. I was altruistic at first, but I realized the impact of inflating the costs of goods my original plan was not feasible. However, we were still committed to donating as much PPE as possible. This is where the campaign for 100, 000 masks came about.
I have been importing to places like China and other countries for over twenty years. Most people have to pay the middleman. If you can eliminate these costs, it will save your business in the end by buying direct. This is how we keep our business alive. Often, I was going to African-American business owners out of necessity and going through other middle people, and it would jack the price up. I got creative in my early twenties about learning how to buy direct. The main thing is keeping pricing down. How we got here is reactionary. We should not be relying mostly on foreign countries for critical care. We should try to bring some of the infrastructures back. After what we learned this year, we should be striving to make more masks and gloves here in the US and make it more readily available to the community.
Force Medical Supply was reactionary to the cause. PPE is here to stay because it is a necessity. We are committed to the highest quality of products for the lowest price possible. With manufacturing, we should not be relying on foreign countries for critical care. We should be making more masks and gloves, striving for more, and being pro-active. We are working on anti-microbial masks from the people that took Krocs from “Zero to Hero.” We partnered with Krocs and Safe-Face. The products are 95% washable and reusable masks. Next phase of production- What does personal protection look like? We will be more conscious of social distancing. I want to be able to be safe and push the limit on how we interact. I am pushing the envelope in ways like developing different types of shields and glasses.
What is Force Energy Group?
Lucas Payne: A Commercial Force Energy Service provides H factor, changing lighting to solar panels and parking lots for over ten years. We have been importing goods too, working with St. Sabina Church, and lighting at Woodfield Mall.
My team and I buy FDA approved products. We have made 25 million in six months. The increase in revenue came so quickly, and we have donated thousands of masks (toward our 100,000 PPE goal). So far, we have worked with the State of Maryland, the State of Massachusetts, the State of Illinois & the University of Illinois, the majority of schools in Ohio, Archdiocese Loyola, and New York State.
How are minorities affected by the pandemic and essential workers, and what has been your observation with this?
Lucas Payne: African Americans are disproportionately affected by this. There is a campaign for 100,000 masks to commit to. Our goal is to keep pricing down to a minimum. As far as distribution, we started with the test with first responders and firefighters. We ended up helping much more, for example, groups of nurses and home health care. In addition, countries like Nigeria and Malawi reached out to us for help. But our goal is to hit the neighborhoods of Chicago. We helped Chi Give Back with 30 teachers, gloves, masks, and sanitizers. We want to focus on community-based organizations. People that care for seniors in our neighborhoods need help too.
The black community has a history of distrust with the healthcare industry that goes back before the Tuskegee experiment. There is also misinformation about how serious this is. It is not about Democratic or Republican. This country has mixed messages. Trump knew about the virus, failed to communicate the situation’s seriousness, and was slow to take action. Poor urban folks in black communities are infected, just like poor rural Appalachian people. We are not done with this yet.
What is your advice?
Lucas Payne: How do you know when you have it? Is it the sniffles or the flu? If in doubt, get tested. To prevent the spread of germs and viruses, we can social distance ourselves, hand-sanitize, and wash our hands. Neglect and not eating well can put our bodies at risk for disease, and then we do not know the long-term effects of what the virus can do. I hope folks are taking this seriously. I think we are all in for a bumpy ride (especially this winter coming up). There is no vaccine. They stopped doing the trials. We are going to need to be diligent about how we approach a seeable future.
I have learned to pivot and respond. This is the difference between failing and being successful. I feel sorry for the restaurant and bar industry right now. We, as people and as a country, have to be ready for anything. Our past 20 years have been important, drawing from our credit and building those strong relationships with companies.
I did not know anything about medical supplies, but I learned early on in the year how to pivot. I drew on those relationships that I had built and kept my word. I drew from my network and past performances. People need to know they can trust you and put faith in your company.
What I learned in 6 months is about different styles of gloves. I learned how to be outside of my comfort zone during an economic downturn. What has hurt businesses is people not doing their homework, border patrol, and being a stronger businessman. Focus on doing good for people, and positive energy will come back to you. We have been able to support our business and move forward.
One obstacle I faced and overcame-
Lucas Payne: I did not expect the US to be so aggressive with tariffs in place. We had to pivot with bringing things from China. We strengthened our relationship with Mexico by not relying on bad policies put in place with China. We saw freight costs, expedited shipments coming across the ocean instead of air. We put the packages on boats, which cut down on the price of goods. I found the US was playing politics by not accepting emergency equipment. US contractors wanted to protect the vendors. We needed to pivot so that we could bring supplies from other countries.
Tell us about a story of gratitude-
Lucas Payne: One of my mentors instilled in me early on about commitment and loyalty. In 2008, he had a factory in an economic downturn, and he did not layoff anyone. I took the same approach with this crisis with my employees. I had responsibilities and challenges; there was a new way to approach the problem. In addition, I saw a video from an orphanage in Malawi. This showed me people could work, be safe, and use the supplies to protect themselves. We had acknowledgment from Father Pfleger, home health care nurses, teachers, and firefighters. It feels good to give back and to help people feel safe. We are dedicated to giving out 100,000 masks throughout the campaign and beyond, and we are here to serve the people.
For more information, go to ForceMedicalSupply.com