Have a conversation with the Yates family, and you’ll leave with a new mantra: The family that tackles COVID-19 together, stays together. This South Loop-based African American family is doing its part when it comes to moving toward coronavirus solutions.
Dr. William Yates, founder and owner of Yates Enterprises, sells temperature detectors to companies and organizations. His wife, Dr. Isaure Yates, is a medical director for Advocate Health Care and a geriatric hospitalist working with older adults on the South Side. And two of their four children (Lloyd, 23, and Tilford, 29) are making masks and mask accessories as part of their high fashion and leisure wear clothing lines, respectively. It’s all hands on deck for the Yates family during this pandemic.
“Before, in the kind of everyday situations of life, there were a lot of things that held us back from what we wanted to do, whether that’s create, start something or be a part of something bigger, and I think now is the perfect time to really dive in headfirst to make it happen,” Lloyd Yates, a 2018 Northwestern graduate, said. “I think now is one of the best times to really make a difference. My two cents: Just go do it.”
For Lloyd, doing it means starting a tie business before graduating, then growing that business to become Tylmen, a company that sells combination pocket squares/face masks for adults, children and pets among other accessories. (It was recently featured in GQ. According to Lloyd, for every item sold, a tree is planted in Kenya via One Tree Planted to combat global warming.)
For Tilford, doing it means creating clothing for Ben x Til with his best friend. Their latest design goes on sale this week: a ball cap with buttons affixed to the side above the ears that are used to attach face masks to prevent discomfort from straps on one’s ears. (Hoodies with buttons will soon follow, Tilford said.) Ben x Til is giving away a free face mask with every order; Tilford said the company donates 10% of its monthly sales to the World Wildlife Fund.
“I don’t think anyone could have anticipated this situation, but the good thing about my dad and our family is that we’re always able to react on our feet really quickly,” said the graduate of Chicago-Kent College of Law at the Illinois Institute of Technology and legal counsel for Yates Enterprises.
Because elevated temperature is one sign of COVID-19, Yates Enterprises offers a line of protection products ranging in price from $150 to $30,000 and includes walk-through, wall-mounted and handheld temperature detectors for workplaces and public spaces in preparation for when businesses reopen. Launched in May 2018, Yates Enterprises pivoted from selling metal detectors to temperature scanners. William Yates said he has sold temperature detection equipment to food processing plants, banks and nonprofits, both locally and nationally.
“When business is allowed to resume, it will be in a form we are not accustomed to,” William Yates said. “What will the new normal look like? It must include fast, efficient safeguards to protect people. People are paranoid; they’re just not going to come back out just because you’re open. We’re providing assurance for customers, employers and employees that you’re doing the most you can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
Carl Mazzone, president of Bloomingdale-based Mazzone Pasta, bought a pair of thermal scanners for his 24 employees in April, as well as a separate scanner for visitors. A search for personal protective equipment found Yates Enterprises, Mazzone said, and the company ended up buying: a touchless scanner for employees to use as they enter the building before their shifts, a handheld device the shift supervisor holds for rechecks—, and a temperature detector with facial recognition at the main entrance for visitors.
Employees approach the the initial scanner one at a time, placing their forehead or wrist a couple of inches from the sensor. If their temperature is normal, they are free to pass. If an alarm sounds, the employee is screened again with the handheld infrared forehead thermometer by the supervisor. So far, no COVID-19 cases have been reported at the year-old company, Mazzone said.
“We knew we had to improve our operations to make sure our employees were protected, safe and had peace of mind coming and going into the facility,” he said. When asked about the cost for small businesses like his during these tough economic times, Mazzone said this type of equipment is money well spent. He said employees use the scanners regularly, including when returning from break or lunch.
“It’s more than affordable considering what can happen to your business if you don’t have safeguards in place,” he said. “Without our employees, we don’t have a business — they’re everything for us to keep business going. So, what do we need to do to have their confidence, their peace of mind that we’re doing everything we can for them to come into work and be in a safe environment?”
William Yates said his family’s secret sauce is to employ generosity and entrepreneurship while finding simple solutions for common problems.
“We take a common problem, come up with a simple solution. It’s pretty much the same with everything we do,” he said. “I’m always telling them (his children) it’s the simple things that make the big difference.”