It’s early here. As I’m sure is the case for a lot of you, the first thing I do when I get up these days is check the news for the latest COVID-19 updates across the county and the world. Just the other morning experts predicted the death toll in the US to hit 100,000 in the very near future and that number will likely double – or more than double – before we are on the other side of this thing. 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment last week. All the while we are being asked to stay in our homes and away from our loved ones. And when you work with your hands for a living, physically creating something, times like these can be particularly difficult.
I was able to catch up with a couple of my clients last week to see how they are fairing amidst this pandemic. Both shops – in two different areas of the country – are lucky enough to have a decent backlog and projects that are considered “essential” in their respective marketplaces. However, both have had to pare down their workforce to comply with strict social distancing and sanitation requirements. Shop staff has been reduced to maintain the recommended safe distance from person to person, multiple hand-washing stations have been set up at critical locations, regular cleanings have increased in frequency, visitors have been asked to stay away, and office staff is working from home.
Despite being in a position to keep the majority of their staff employed, both owners see potential catches that were either narrowly sidestepped or not too far off in the future. One owner admitted that, if his company’s project backlog had not included upcoming hospital work, they likely wouldn’t be open. Another owner sees potential issues with suppliers and vendors both up and downstream of their manufacturing process. One of his key material suppliers has reduced their delivery schedule to one day per week and he could see that ceasing at any point, effectively halting their production. Downstream, one of their subcontractors, a stone countertop fabricator, had shut down for the time being. So, even if the millwork could be fabricated and installed, any project that involved that particular vendor wouldn’t move past that milestone, holding up other subcontractors and the building inspection process.
It goes without saying that we are navigating this crisis without a roadmap. In some respects, downtime can be a gift. A recent article shared amongst my larger professional network outlines a number of ways shops can take advantage of a slow down or closure. Other shops are committing their production capabilities to aid in the solution by manufacturing healthcare products directly related to the treatment of COVID-19. Either way, whether your doors are open or closed, it’s critical to remain positive, communicate clearly with your staff and clientele, and focus on those silver linings that we can only see when we are forced to look at our lives through a different lens.