The last twelve months has been a very strange year that will be remembered for a long time. The last twelve months seem like 36 months. So much has changed; so much has happened. It is almost hard to remember what it was like in January of 2020. Do you remember the Australian wildfires? It was considered the biggest international event of 2020 at the time; now it is a footnote.
COVID changed everything. First, it attacked China and we watched in awe and fear as the government shut down cities and provinces. We sympathized with the sick and mourned with families that lost loved ones. We believed at first that the virus could be contained to region, but we were so wrong. COVID expanded beyond Wuhan and millions of people were put in lockdown throughout China.
The lockdowns were not enough to stop the spread. Next, COVID hit Europe and then many other countries including the United States. Each of us will remember forever where we were when the world stopped or at least slowed down a lot! Dominoes fell one by one! Sports, restaurants, events, weddings, businesses, states and countries all underwent some form of lockdown. New words entered our vocabularies like social distancing, quarantine and virtual. Misinformation or at least lack of information ran rampant. Some countries like China recovered more quickly but others like the United States limped through all of 2020 with staggering death and hospitalization rates.
Still, as we return from Chinese New Year there is hope. Death and hospitalization rates have dropped significantly in the past month in the United States and few cases in China are reported. Vaccinations are starting to roll out even if they are slower than desired. We can start to envision a life beyond the tightest grips of COVID, not completely free of it, but at least not as fully constrained by it.
One major disruption caused by COVID lingers and that is our ability to connect with friends and family! Please look to your right and to your left. These are your ITC friends and family. These are the people that have helped you and us weather the tumultuous events of 2020.
Our business over the past year was filled with rush, stop, slow, surge, delays, overtime, pressure, and anxiety! Lots of anxiety! We went from nearly zero shipments in February 2020 to 19 containers in January and the first week of February 2021. As the demand for our products surged, we expanded our China labor force by over 100 people. Today, we have over 360 members in the ITC family with more than 250 in China. Through diligence and commitment by the people in this room, we were able to produce a record amount of product during the last half of 2020. Further, we were able to make this product with shorter lead times and at the lowest warranty record in our history.
Our vendors were also instrumental in this production success story. They invested in material and people resources to meet the surge in demand. Even though the surge was not forecasted and every forecast we provided seemed too low, the vendors stuck with us and did everything they could to improve their processes to meet the quality and on-time requirements. We could not have done it without them.
What’s next, I don’t know! The current ITC outlook is very good. Demand in the Marine and RV market is very strong as many Americans are looking for family social distant activities. Most companies in these industries have orders extending out until November 2021. Besides office furniture, our other markets are also growing nicely. We expect 2021 to be our strongest revenue year yet. However, 2020 has taught us one lasting lesson. We do not know what will happen next. We need to prepare each day and be ready to adjust. I am just glad to figure it out with team that is resilient as you!
I do not know why it is or whether it should really be so, but I find that the holiday season in the USA and have been told the same is true for Chinese New Year, generates a certain attitude among people. Regardless of religion, culture or country, people are just a little kinder to one another and recognize more often the good in our neighbors, friends and co-workers. We also fondly remember those far away and who have been lost and there certainly has been a lot of loss this year. At the end of last Chinese New Year all we could see ahead of us was more loss in the form of life or business interruption. This abundance of loss and fear is why this Chinese New Year celebration is especially important. We both need and deserve to feel special after a year of so much anxiety.
We have responded admirably to adversity and I am proud of our team of employees and vendors. Additionally, I am inspired by a phrase uttered by recovered COVID patient in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA who said about his nurse who was the sole person with him on the pivotal night that he nearly died, “To the World we are just one person, but to one person we can be the world!”
Please remember that what you say, do and act matters in far reaching ways! Each of us can be the world to those around us! It takes just one interaction! My family is blessed to share time with you. I very much look forward to the time when I can return to China and share a meal with you. I miss you all. May you be blessed and may you be a blessing to others.