When things get tough, business owners should lean into the power of good friends

My brother Troy and I are co-owners of Paragon Landscape, Inc., and Crown and Blade, LLC (A lawncare company) in Northeast Indiana, and like all small business owners, our worlds have been turned upside by the pandemic (read my first blog here).

That said, one of the first steps our company took to help us “pivot” into the wind and face the storm was to reach out to other business owners and ask tons of questions. Our phone was ringing, too, as other business owners reached out to us.

Here are some of the common topics we discussed, and a few of the best practices and encouragements we shared with each other.

What best practices has your company implemented to protect your people and your clients?

Only one employee per vehicle.

Have employees report their temperatures each day before coming to work.

Allow employees to opt-out if they are uncomfortable or scared.

Make safety the priority. Communicate. Care for your people.

Most of all, keep researching and sharing.

How are you holding up financially?

There is no question many businesses are struggling mightily. Imagine a river of costs sweeping around you, pushing you backward. Businesses have to swim upstream against this constant tide, first to cover the strength of their costs, then hopefully, to progress a little at the end of each year into profits. But when our revenues drastically decrease, it’s like running out of energy to swim against this current. We get swept backward no matter how hard we work. Even severe cost-cutting, years of great effort, and incremental gains can be wiped out in weeks.

One of the most pleasant surprises to come out of discussions with other business owners during the pandemic has been the discovery that many companies have established reserve funds for emergencies. It is inspiring to see forward-thinking leaders who have turned past difficulties into good practices and have built buffers to protect their employees and their companies.

However, very few companies have months of reserves to last against a constant current of costs. If this is a difficult time for you personally or as a company, we understand what that feels like. Find a way to survive. And when revenues return, let’s determine to keep our debts low and build more solid cash reserves as soon as possible.

What are you seeing in the marketplace? What are your customers saying?

We have seen a number of larger projects go on delay, while sales of services and smaller projects have been more brisk than normal. As a result, we shifted some of our workforce from construction to services.

We are relatively certain those larger projects will come back online once things open up again. Meanwhile, small and medium projects continue to sell briskly. This sense seems to be consistent with those I have spoken within the service industries.

Those in real estate say that the market is still hot, but inventory is low. Homes that make it to market seem to sell super-fast.

Those who are in retail and manufacturing are having to bear the strain of demand that can’t be satisfied because they can’t produce or deliver what they have sold. I think we all wonder, “Will those sales evaporate, or will they come back strong once the economy restarts?”

Have you experienced any vendor disruptions?

We all have a symbiotic relationship with good, reliable vendors. We take care of them by being loyal and paying promptly. They take care of us by providing reliable supplies and technical expertise. These relationships are built over decades. If they break, they are difficult to replace. We are trying to help each other through these times.

One of our largest vendors contacted us and some other landscape companies early on to see how our orders were looking. This has been an ongoing conversation. Other vendors have reached out on a regular basis to let us know of new “no contact” purchase practices, reduced hours, and other business model changes. I admire this kind of communication.

So far, only a few products are in short supply. Others are available but slow on delivery. We are having to adapt a little. I expect more adaptation in the coming months as some supply chains dry up.

Most of my business friends have not yet suffered from significant supply chain disruptions other than toilet paper shortages. However, I am not closely connected with manufacturers who rely heavily on China or other overseas vendors. I think we all feel disruptions “over the horizon” and wonder when they will land. But when they do, we will adapt. We will have to. And we will help each other.

Do you plan to use the Payroll Protection loans the government is offering through the SBA and other Federal programs?

We all need good interpreters to understand legislation. Many business owners and business associations and lawyers employed by our professional services have digested this information and have shared their findings freely with one another.

We know some businesses that are using the available programs, and some who are thinking they will need them if the shutdown goes on longer.

We looked closely at these programs, and in the end, we felt it was best not to apply. Maybe this is a mistake. We certainly will continue to watch from a distance. But we have been able to work while other companies have not, and we feel there are others who need it more than we do. Our heart goes out to the restaurants and retailers and small manufacturers who are dealing with difficulties we can only imagine.

In conclusion, good friends are important! Reach out to each other in these trying times! Let’s help each other survive and thrive.

This blog is part of an ongoing, weekly series in Input Fort Wayne, following local small business owners as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Read Trent's previous blog here.

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