Running a small business is tough enough in good times, but when the economy slows down, it becomes even more challenging. When you throw into the mix that the company is a commercial flooring contractor, you really have your hands full!
Our Fuse members have had to deal with safety issues for their installation teams, as well as office employees carefully navigating CDC guidelines. They have had to deal with job delays, rapidly shortened schedules to meet deadlines, and not as many projects to bid. They have had to handle absenteeism because of employees coming in contact with COVID-positive people.
Through it all, our members remain very optimistic. The general feeling is that business could be a lot worse, so we are thankful for the work that is out there.
It appears that we will be in this for the long haul, so the healthier our businesses are, the more likely we are to survive and grow. At Fuse we have been holding bi-weekly Zoom meetings with our members to talk about best practices during these uncertain times. The camaraderie we have developed has been great and the members have made a lot of new connections. The sharing of ideas is the hallmark of a team working together. We have asked repeatedly if the members want to discontinue the calls and we always get a resounding “no.” We have covered topics such as:
- How to handle a jobsite COVID case.
- Cleaning and disinfecting as an add to your business.
- Shipment delays from manufacturers due to absenteeism.
- How to deal with manufacturer’s reps and customers coming into the office.
- How to keep at-home employees engages and connected with the company and each other.
- How to pivot and find new customers when your current customer base is not busy.
- How to call on new and existing customers.
- Dealing with the challenges of customers demanding unrealistic schedules.
- Handling Claims.
- Experiences with new products and suppliers, especially products developed in response to the pandemic.
Through it all, Fuse has continued to grow. We have added five new members this year, with more in the pipeline, which we think is due to the desire of independent companies wanting to be part of an organization where they can learn from other members and be connected to what is happening in the industry.
We see younger people coming into management positions in companies with a desire to grow and improve and they are great additions to our network. We know our members will always thrive no matter what the economic environment if they produce a stellar customer experience.
In times like this it is important to remember how important being a good partner is. We have to be excellent customers to our suppliers and enhance their businesses. Not only are we working together as an organization but also with our suppliers. Their support of us has been simply amazing.
An interesting footnote to 2020 is that it appears that our businesses are not off percentage wise as much as some of our manufacturer partners. We believe there are two things that are impacting the numbers: 1) backlogs and 2) polished concrete. We have experienced job delays from earlier in the year that are just now coming on line and in many of these cases we had already purchased the materials. Even though we are showing increased sales as a result of billings for these jobs, the manufacturer is not shipping any more material. With regard to polished concrete, home delivery has taken over for brick and mortar retail. These types of companies require a lot of warehouse space for inventory and logistics and all of these projects are polished concrete. Polished concrete has become a vital part of our overall business. In fact, we think it represents about 15% of total commercial square footage.
With many of our customers (architects, designers and end users) hunkered down at home and “Zoomed out” we are trying to find new ways to connect. Some of our members have actually done flooring mockups in driveways and tried to connect through social media and email. Disruptive platforms like Material Bank are sometimes making it harder for the rep to connect with the designer, but this one thing we know to be true: Fuse members can provide takeoffs and budgeting specific to a job to ensure that the specifier is putting a package together for their customer that is within budget. Presenting the Fuse CEU on moisture is also an effective way to connect with customers.
Now that it looks like COVID-19 is going to be with us for a while, we made the difficult decision to postpone our annual meeting that normally takes place in March to the following year. Fuse will not hold a live meeting in 2021 but will move to a virtual meeting instead. Depending on how we are coping with the pandemic next year, we could conceivably do some regional meetings. Members have commented that if we do regional meetings, then they would be more likely to bring additional employees as they will be close enough to drive and avoid the expense of airfare.
For those of us who have been in the industry for a few years, we survived the recession of 2008-09 and we are confident we can survive the pandemic. By sticking together and sharing best practices from our peers the wealth of knowledge that is available in our network will help us to succeed.