Rowing apparel company keeps its crew engaged to protect front-line professionals

Rowing apparel company keeps its crew engaged to protect front-line professionals

From athletes to surgeons, Boathouse provides essential gear.

  • Name: John Strotbeck
  • Title: CEO
  • Company: Boathouse Row Sports
  • Region: Philadelphia, PA
  • Industry: Manufacturing
  • Vistage Chair: William Anderson

Philadelphia-based Boathouse Row Sports was founded 30-plus years ago to create performance apparel for elite rowers. The company has pivoted over the years to manufacture gear for virtually all sports. But school closures and major league cancellations in the wake of COVID-19 brought spring sports - and much of Boathouse's business - to a grinding halt.

The Challenge: Founder John Strotbeck needed a plan to keep his company at least 50% operational through the summer. He knew Boathouse was skilled and agile enough to meet the challenges of seasons and trends. Why not use that agility to meet the needs of an increasingly overtaxed health care workforce while keeping his company afloat?

Leadership Solution: Discussions with friends in nursing in New York and New Jersey led to a brilliant, efficient solution: Repurpose surgical wraps (sitting unused since the demand for non-emergency surgeries had declined) to make medical-grade masks for front-line doctors and nurses. In short order, Strotbeck's company had the surgical wraps to make 150,000 masks and has already delivered 30,000.

Boathouse has also partnered with fellow apparel company Jockey to produce Tier 3 isolation gowns. "We went into production with the goal of producing 40,000 to 50,000 surgical gowns in a week," Strotbeck says.

Boathouse is also repurposing its own inventory to produce non-medical-grade cloth masks, which are in high demand outside of the medical profession. These practical solutions have kept much of the Boathouse workforce on the job and safe -- due to appropriate distancing and sanitation measures as well as gloves and (of course) masks.

Strotbeck acknowledges his company's ability to survive is down to the remarkable agility and determination of the human spirit.

"I've been doing this for 30 years. I'm not going to give it up to a microscopic virus."

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