When I sit in church most Sundays, I am always amazed how the pastor can create a fresh sermon every week. Most of the time, he preaches from the Bible, so he is choosing verses in order from a particular book in the Bible. The Bible is a pretty big book so he has plenty of material to choose from. His interpretation or reflection on the verses is what is unique and what causes my amazement. The reason I contemplate the pastor’s ability to create this new material is related to my concerns about my ability to write a different article every other month, let alone come up with something fresh every week like the preacher. It is one thing to write an editorial but yet another thing to write something meaningful that people will want to read. Add the fact that our industry is very unique and small in comparison to other transportation or commercial heat transfer industries.
When I applied for the job to manage NARSA’s affairs, it never occurred to me how difficult it was going to be to create an original meaningful editorial every other month. I often tell my wife that writing this article is a lot like school. I couldn’t wait to finish school because all of the reading, and writing was a real chore. However, when you have hope and ADD (20 years ago it was ADHD), you sometimes tend to bite off more than you can chew. Suffering from a mild case of Attention Deficit Disorder, my reference of time is never accurate nor is my ability to predict the amount of effort certain tasks will require. I have been laying in bed every morning over the last couple of weeks trying to come up with an idea for an article.
I was still thinking about an idea for an article when Linda, our communications director suggested I write about the impact the coronavirus is going to have on our industry. She told me I had experience as a business owner, so why not write about what I think are the challenges operating a business with COVID-19 looming large. Luckily, I have a great staff and the key to any success I have enjoyed has been the result of great people on my team. So I am going to take Linda’s suggestion and write about what I think are some of the strategies and challenges of managing a radiator service company.
When I look back to my time as a business owner, it took me a long time to discover that the most valuable part of my business was my team. Without a great team of people who enjoy their work and environment, it is impossible to build an organization that continually satisfies customer’s expectations. Team first, then our customers. There would be no business without your team, so the first priority in any decision making should be how do we protect the team, then the customers and finally the financial health of the business.
We know that germs or viruses are transmitted by personal contact and by touching smooth and or shiny surfaces that have the virus on them from being touched by infected persons. We can acquire the virus by droplets in the air which we breathe in from those infected or by touching a surface where the virus has been deposited and then touching our faces where the virus can enter our mouth, nose or eyes. What can be done to help reduce the risk of exposure? As business owners, we don’t have control of the environment outside of work, but we can implement good practices at our businesses to reduce exposure in the workplace.
- Review recommendations from the CDC. There’s a website that is constantly updated.
- Research the best practices. There are lots of resources online that will assist you in planning.
- Based on your research and advice from health experts, set down in writing a plan to establish good house cleaning and personal hygiene habits for your team.
- Make sure you have an ample supply of the necessary items to help your people stay healthy.
- Communicate to your team members the importance of staying home if they feel ill. If half of your workforce gets sick, that is far more crippling than a couple of team members staying home as a precaution.
- Examine all aspects of your operation to be able to better develop a plan to keep your team and customers safe by reducing close contact. It is unnecessary to have outside sales people make personal visits at this time. Your customers will appreciate your company’s proactive approach on wanting to protect their health. Let your outside sales force work from home using email, social media and their phones to keep in contact with your customers.
- Set up guidelines where you can monitor the performance of those working from home. Besides outside sales staff, you may have office personnel who can work from home via a laptop by accessing the company’s computer system on-line or on the cloud.
- Consider staggering your shifts. Unfortunately, a portion of our business is labor intensive, so the majority of workers cannot work from home. Most companies start work between 7:30am to 8:00am. If you implemented staggered starting times, the work force could arrive at different times reducing the amount of people congregating in the locker room and or in the break room. Employing similar strategies, you can also stagger the breaks and lunches so your people are all not moving in the same direction at the same time. Reducing the number of people who congregate and move together will reduce exposure.
- Take the time to make and post signs reminding your team of what is required to keep everyone healthy. The more effective you are at communicating new policies and carrying them out, the more productive and happier your work force will be. Precautions and changed behavior is in the best interest of everyone. Hopefully, they will employ the same cautious behavior in their personal lives.
- Acknowledge your team’s fear of losing work days that can impact their wages. Let your people know you are interested and care about their safety but also their fears.
- Consider liberal vacation, sick day policies and or borrowing time from the company that can ease the stress your people might feel as a result of losing work.
The COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic situation is like no other in my lifetime. With the news and government bans on travel from Europe and elsewhere, most people are scared. Reassure them management is on their side. The more inventive you are with accomplishing the tasks of operating a company while maintaining a healthy workplace environment, the less of an impact the company will face.
Without a team, customer service wouldn’t be possible. This is why I think the priority should be to protect a company’s most valuable asset. After you have a plan in place for your team, now you can work on your customers.
When I look back to my time as a business owner, it took me a long time to discover that the most valuable part of my business was my team. Without a great team of people who enjoy their work and environment, it is impossible to build an organization that continually satisfies customer’s expectations. Team first, then our customers. There would be no business without your team, so the first priority in any decision making should be how do we protect the team, then the customers and finally the financial health of the business.Mark Taylor
NARSA/IDEA Executive Director
Product availability will become an issue, because so many products we sell come from China. Depending on the industry, production capacity in China varies from 50% to 90%. Travel restrictions in China have prevented some people from returning to work. Everything from raw materials to finished goods are impacted by the virus in China. Even though we are exporting more to China in an attempt to equalize the trade deficit, a huge percentage of cooling system components used in the United States are manufactured in China. I would suggest evaluating inventory levels and stocking up on those parts you know your customers are going to need.
With interest rates at an all time low it may be advantageous to use a line of credit which is usually based on prime plus. If borrowing money is cheap and future product availability is in jeopardy, now may be the time to really increase levels of popular parts.
All items that your business uses on a daily business should be evaluated considering future availability. With the price of oil dropping below $40.00 dollars a barrel, there may soon be some bargain prices on petroleum based products you use in your business. I would look for companies who deliver parts and supplies and would try to eliminate my people making trips to stores where they could be exposed to the virus. Better to have one delivery man enter your business than to go shopping where you might be exposed to hundreds of individual’s germs.
As a business owner you have a responsibility to your people and community. Do not take unnecessary risks. Cancel trips. Stay home. Avoid groups of people. Do not shake hands or touch others. Keep 6 feet of space between you and others. Carry wipes and hand sanitizer, and use them often. Changing behavior and habits is the hardest thing to do. For the welfare of you, your family, your teammates, your customers and business, embrace the changes to protect everyone and everything you care about.
As many of you know Sandy and I live in Puerto Rico. As of this writing we have several confirmed cases of COVID-19 with dozens of others pending results of tests. Our island has a population of a little over 3 million people and the governor along with her cabinet recognized the danger of the lack of action and enacted an island-wide lock down. All bars, restaurants, movie theatres, gyms, fitness centers, beaches and any other event or place that can host multiple people has been closed. Only essential businesses are open, utility companies, doctor offices, hospitals, supermarkets, gas stations and banks. These are unprecedented times in the world, and Puerto Rico realized they do not have the medical resources to fight a pandemic. The only up side to our world being impacted in such a severe way is our ability to communicate and work via the internet and social media. Can you imagine what it would be like without Netflix, Amazon Prime and the internet?
Changing behavior and habits is the hardest thing to do. For the welfare of you, your family, your teammates, your customers and business, embrace the changes to protect everyone and everything you care about.Mark Taylor
NARSA/IDEA Executive Director
Like you, the U.S. government has never had to put a plan into action for a pandemic like this one. The greatest medical minds are working to keep us healthy and safe but there is going to be a learning curve like anything else that is new. As business managers, we must share the responsibility to help keep our people, customers and businesses safe.
The NARSA Board of Directors thought the responsible action was to cancel the Spring Conference in Iowa this year. Since it is a Spring Conference, we are unable to reschedule. We were very excited about the program, so we will attempt to include some of the same at our HD Conference in September.
Please stay safe and healthy, until next time,
NARSA/IDEA Executive Director