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Waterford marine outfitter maintaining its essentialness

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Waterford — In the past, Defender Industries' spring warehouse sale has generated as much as a fifth of the Great Neck Road marine outfitter's annual sales volume.

More than 100,000 people cruised the four-day event last year, a Defender attendance record.

In the days before this year's sale, which was scheduled to take place March 26-29, Gov. Ned Lamont issued Executive Order 7H, which directed all businesses and nonprofits in the state to implement work-from-home procedures amid the coronavirus outbreak. By 8 p.m. March 23, all nonessential businesses were required to reduce their "in-person workforce" by 100%.

The state Department of Economic and Community Development followed up Lamont's order with guidance that sought to clarify which businesses were essential.

Defender, which sells inflatable boats and all kinds of marine and boating supplies, including electronics, hardware and plumbing equipment, conducted its warehouse sale online and has continued to take online orders, offering to mail merchandise or make it available for curbside pickup. It closed its outlet store.

In a recent interview, Stephan Lance, Defender's co-owner and president, said the company qualifies as an essential business because it supplies other essential businesses, including police and fire departments. He noted that the guidance accompanying Executive Order 7H lists hardware stores, "marinas and marine repair and service" and "warehouse/distribution, shipping and fulfillment" as essential.

"Also, we're the No. 1 provider for anyone who lives on a boat," Lance said, "which is just my statement, but it makes us pretty important."

And, he added, Defender supplies multiple defense contractors.

Lance said the company told employees in early March that they didn't have to come to work if they weren't comfortable doing so or didn't feel well. They could take whatever paid leave they had coming and otherwise would continue to be paid. No one had to worry about losing their job.

Of Defender's 111 employees, about 20 elected to stay home, according to Lance.

Defender has split its warehouse operation into two shifts and spaced out desks to maintain social distancing. It's stepped up cleaning protocols, sanitizing the warehouse between shifts and at the end of the day.

Lance said the company continues to take orders, including one from a Long Island hospital that was setting up outdoor sanitizing stations and wanted "tiptoe pumps," devices that are used on boats to pump water. He said Defender shipped a donation of about 1,000 Tyvek suits — disposable coveralls that boat painters use — to Elmhurst Hospital in the New York City borough of Queens.

"We've been cleaned out of the particle masks that are worn when painting boats," Lance said. "We've gotten requests from the Department of Defense, from Marines in Okinawa who needed replacement tubes for rescue boats. We're the only stocking dealer in North America for that."

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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