Hotcards shifts focus from printing and apparel to PPE for hospitals and other frontline workers

Since 2012, CEO John Gadd has focused on growing Hotcards as the company that will print on anything—from business cards to shirts and signs.


But when COVID-19 hit Northeast Ohio, Gadd was quick to shift gears. Since the beginning of March, Hotcards, 2400 Superior Ave. E., has focused on supplying health care institutions, frontline workers, first responders, and other essential workers with personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies. The company continues to produce its traditional products as well.


Hotcards commissioned production of KN95 masks, recently were approved by the FDA.Gadd is majority owner of Hotcards’ parent company, Become Known, which is headquartered in Cleveland and has an extensive supply chain network; offices throughout the world; and an on-the-ground presence in China, where most of the PPE is made.


“Community involvement and support have always been deeply engrained in Hotcards’ DNA,” Gadd explains. “Once we discovered we could make a tremendous impact assisting in the fight against Coronavirus on our local community—let alone the nation as a whole—we knew we had to make the pivot.”


Become Known, Hotcards, and Cleveland-based Dreison International (all part of the Become Known family of companies) have pooled their resources to procure PPE quickly and easily for their clients—both existing and new Hotcards customers—who need it most right now. “Hotcards has been sourcing promotional materials and apparel for years; Dreison is in the filtration business [providing] filters for military and agricultural equipment [businesses],” explains Gadd. “We have continuous bonds with China and do this all the time, so we’re able to do this.”


Gadd says many print and promotional companies are coming forward to help the frontline workers because they have the connections to get the supplies quickly and affordably. “If you’ve got a supply-friendly buyer, there’s no problem,” he says.


“We’re helping with alternatives—finding ethical suppliers selling stuff at reasonable prices and bringing them to the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, and other health care providers.”


And while there is a customs backlog in China, Gadd says Hotcards has been able to come through for their clients. Last week he received a shipment of 600,000 gloves, which sold out within an hour-and-a-half, he says.


Everything is going to the frontlines, Gadd says. “We totally believe we have to get this stuff to the frontline first,” he says. “It’s crazy to think of the exposure they’re getting.”

Additionally, Gadd says he has partnered with a Northeast Ohio manufacturing company that just acquired the equipment to make 150,000 N95 masks per day.

"Since we’re very deeply involved in the logo apparel and promotional products business, fashion and branded face masks are a natural synergy with our ongoing operations," he says.

However, Gadd says when the number of new coronavirus cases begins to decline, demand within the health care industry starts to go down, and businesses begin to reopen, Hotcards will be supplying more PPE and sanitation products to the general public as well as offering their regular printing services.


Face shields available through Hotcards.“I think the supply chain will be shifting soon,” he says. “Sooner or later we’ll see these widely available to the general public as infection starts to slow down.” Gadd adds they commissioned production of KN95 masks­ —which recently were approved by the FDA—gloves, and even isolation suits and hand sanitizer for everyone, at affordable prices.


Hotcards also has hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes, and other supplies available for businesses and the general public to purchase.

Gadd also says he's started to see a resurgence in their traditional print business. "our customers are starting to see the light at the end of the shut down tunnel," he says. "Our supply chain management operations are designed to be pretty much product agnostic, so we can manage almost any kind of widget or product with the same expertise as 1,000 business cards or 50,000 t-shirts."


Gadd says he and his staff have transformed into a 24-hour operation. They’ve been working with their clients during the day—filling orders and printing wayfinding signage for testing sites at the Cleveland Clinic and flyers, takeout menus, and wayfinding signs for local restaurants that have switched to carry-out and curbside delivery.


Gadd says the nights are spent on logistics. “If you know anyone who is struggling to get PPE, reach out to us,” he says.


And although Gadd did not originally envisioned Hotcards as a supplier of PEE, he says he is glad to step up and help.

“While I’m deeply grateful for the incredible effort our team has put into re-engineering ourselves practically overnight to fully support the COVID-19 fight, our job is easy compared to the doctors, nurses and first responders [who are] literally risking their lives ever day."

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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