by Jim Hinshaw

We are now 90 days (roughly) into a Pandemic. 3 months. So what have we learned so far? I talk to contractors all across the nation, some are still in lock-down mode, others never were. Here are some realizations from the virus that changed our lives.

First, the virus did change our lives forever. Just as 9/11 changed how we travel forever. I can remember traveling to the airport back in pre-9/11, could slide into the parking lot 30 minutes before the flight left, run to the gate, make a flight with 8 minutes to spare. Many times, I was the last one to board, and I think I only missed one flight in 20 years by being late. If you had told me that a few years later I would have to stand in line for 35 minutes, take off my shoes and coat, take out all my toiletries, and in some cases throw away perfectly good grooming products because they were the wrong size, I would not have believed you. No more last minute arrivals before the flight left, now you have to be in the gate area early and when they make last call it sometimes is 10 minutes before the flight is scheduled to leave.

So we are now a changed world. This did not just affect us here in the states, it is worldwide, a true global event. What have we learned, and how will we change our businesses for the future based on the Pandemic?

First of all, we may have learned not to take anything for granted. Simple pleasures, such as a hug or handshake, not gonna happen anytime soon. Business as usual is not that, we have to embrace a new way of doing business going forward. For those of us in the home service industry, it may be harder to get our jobs done. Many consumers today do not want you in their homes. May and I are not paranoid, but we are not sick either. So even today, when someone comes in we are looking for booties, gloves, masks, all the protective gear. Recently had some work done, the technician was good, had an iPad that he used to finish up the paperwork, but at the last moment, he gave us his stylus to sign the iPad. I did not use his, I used my own, which I carry with me at all times. I know where mine has been, not so sure about someone else’s.

Our employees will have to change some of their work habits, what they do in a home or building. No handshakes, keep your distance, ask for permission to enter and ask if they want you to wear a mask, list is long. Many of you were already wearing gloves and booties, now we all are. We now need to ask if anyone has been quarantined or is there anyone in the property that has been confirmed with the virus. Then you have a tough decision to make. Many companies are just not respond, but some are asking if anyone wants to volunteer to do work in a home where they have confirmed they have the Covid-19 virus. My feeling is that someone who is sick may need our services even more, it would really be horrible to have a home that is uncomfortable or a plumbing situation when you are not feeling good. Same is true for the other people in the home, they may not be able to leave, they need to be considered as well.

Another concept that has proven to be valuable during this crisis is how we give back to the community. We see contractors who matched gift cards to local businesses, either restaurants or salons that were locked down and suffered lowered revenue, or in some cases, no revenue at all. I have heard of a couple of restaurants in the Minneapolis area that had been in business over 60 years, and both of them are now shuttered up, no longer in business. The employees (in some cases they had been there over 30 years) are all gone, the owners who were 2nd and 3rd generation are not sure what the next step in their lives will be. The dealers who bought gift cards for restaurants and hair salons find that those businesses are really appreciative, and the employees will feel good about recommending them for work, they were the companies who stood beside them during a crisis. Other dealers let their customers know (on FB, Social Media of all kinds) that they were available to pick up essential items, they have techs who are driving all over town all day long, if the customer was not able to get out, they would go for them. Corey Hickman, owner of Comfort Matters in Minneapolis did both those things, but then he took it to a new level. He started making masks out of cloth, with an insert for a high efficiency filter that could be replaced on the inner mask. Not only did he make thousands of them, he posted the plans on how to make them at home, and even had a list of people who would sew them up for you in your local area.

Speaking of crisis, this is just one that could hit your business. We have been thru tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, severe winter storms, illnesses of all kinds, the list goes on and on. So this crisis was unique, it spread really fast around the globe, not focused in just one area, and was easily transferred from person to person. A plan for getting thru any sort of crisis is critical these days if you want to not only survive but thrive. Get a disaster plan put together, how to stay in business when normal sources of supply are shut down, how will your employees get things done when they have to work from home. A really important concept is how to keep everyone motivated and on the same page when they are all working remotely. I am the vertical market manager for HVAC of Service Nation, we have been working from home for almost 3 months and will be close to 4 months before going back into the main office in Dallas, TX. Every morning Matt Michel sends out a message on Slack (our inter-office communication system) that incorporates a positive message in video and asks us to share 2 things we are grateful for. Could be a food item, beautiful sunset, a kitchen appliance or pet, anything works. Just a way to start the day on a positive note.

My message today is simple but not easy. Get a plan put together for the next crisis. We have no idea when or where, but I can guarantee there will be another. In addition, you need to start a program on giving back to the community. Make that a priority, as my friend Corey says, best time to start giving back to the community is 5 years ago, second best is today! Thanks for listening, we will talk later.