How is your business operating under the unusual and unpredictable constraints of COVID-19?
We have maintained normal operations for the most part. We are a small company with fewer than 10 employees so meetings are not really affected. Also, none of our employees have small children at home so childcare during working hours is not a factor for us. That said, we are paying attention to the daily changes which could alter our operations. Ability to work from home is an option for some such as myself and our office manager. Project managers will have to be available at jobsites from time to time, but they can do their administrative duties from home.
How are you maintaining communication with customers?
More electronic and phone communications and less face-to-face. On our larger projects the customers have moved out of the house and we can arrange face-to-face meetings onsite as needed keeping the total number of people onsite less than 10. For those living in their houses during a remodel, particularly those with children at home, keeping onsite personnel to a maximum of 10 can become not only challenging, but also negatively impacts the construction schedule. Our clients though understand the limitations. We may begin to explore a rotating shift situation where we may have workers onsite 7 days a week staggered in a fashion that the trades with the most work on a give project work Monday-Friday and others perhaps Saturday-Wednesday and others Thursday-Monday. Perhaps this would help reduce the schedule delays; the sooner we can complete a project the sooner our customers’ lives can return to normal, or at least this new normal.
How has the current environment affected your trades?
We haven’t been too adversely affected YET. I’m not confident that will continue. We are communicating with them to keep us informed to their personal situations while we advise them of any conditions imposed on us either by regulations or customers.
Have you seen any effects on the availability of supplies and materials you need to complete jobs?
Not at this point but I anticipate starting to see that soon particularly with things like appliances, plumbing and lighting fixtures, and other products predominately supplied from Chinese manufacturers. We recognize that other products coming from both domestic and other imported sources other than China could become impacted by border tightening, decreased transport traffic, even the ability to walk-in and purchase. A painting contractor recently told me of a two-hour wait at a large paint store as they were only allowing one customer at a time.
Is your company able to comply with the CDC guidelines of 10 people or less on the job site?
It can be a challenge, but as stated above we are working to comply.
As a small business owner, what advice would you give GHBA member business owners as they grapple with surviving this turbulent time?
It is important to take a close look at your operating expenses and see where some cost-cutting measures can be made. It is also imperative that conversations with employees are forthright and happening regularly. EVERYONE including ownership may have to make sacrifices until such time as recovery is at hand. In 18 years in this business we have endured through challenging times on two previous occasions; the main difference this time around is that there is so much unknown. In the past housing downturns or oil-industry busts, we knew what to expect. This is different.
How are you maintaining internal office operations?
Actually we just moved into a new office last week. The move went well, it was only next door to our previous office. We are still “de-bugging” and unpacking but have returned to functionality. Having only four employees, we can have an all-hands on deck meeting and still be well below the 10 person max. We are conscious of the need for awareness of health conditions among our team and practice a healthy distancing from one another. We have hand sanitizer, disinfectant cleaners and wipes readily available. This allows us, for the time being, to function normally.
What assurances are you giving customers so that they have the confidence necessary to move forward with their remodel plans?
This is proving to be challenging. Some clients are delaying starting their projects until the world gets past this. It isn’t only the virus, the stock market and oil industry have taken hits which has people reconsidering any remodeling projects. On the plus side though is that interest rates are EXTREMELY low right now. We are suggesting getting through the permitting process to have that in place when they are ready to move forward. For those who are ready to move forward with caution, we discuss with them the measures we will take such as limited personnel onsite at a given time and ask them to share any thoughts they may have as to how to reduce risk. Engaging clients in that process rather than just telling them what we’ll do helps to put their mind at ease; they feel like they have a say in the process.
Are you able to look beyond COVID-19 to how it will affect your future operations?
Looking beyond COVID-19 is something I frequently do. Unfortunately I’m not sure how long it may take to get there, and the length of time it takes largely will determine how rapidly the economy recovers. If 4-8 weeks from now we are beginning to come out of the woods, I believe the recovery will be quicker than if it takes 4-6 months. I remain convinced that the eventual recovery will be robust and that our future operations will be looking at how to once again grow the company.
Could you apply anything you learned from the fallout of Hurricane Harvey to this crisis?
Great question—there are similarities to be certain. Both resulted in panic, though different in nature. One thing they may well have in common is a surge in demand for both remodeling and new home construction. As with Hurricane Harvey material availability could be somewhat limited. With Harvey it was almost entirely due to demand, whereas as with the COVID-19 virus impacting manufacturing and shipping initially, a rise in demand could compound shortages as manufacturing capabilities play catch up. The one lesson from Harvey to keep in mind is that we eventually got past the crisis. This too shall pass, we must persevere and pull together as one just as we have done in the past.