Real Issues. Real Answers. The coronavirus crisis

Coronavirus
iStock.com/Bondart

On March 13, President Trump declared the Coronavirus pandemic a national emergency. Two days later, a reader asked us how other LBM pros are handling this shutdown. We emailed readers, asking them to share what they’re doing. Over a four-week period, the situation evolved rapidly, reshaping the reality of our day-to-day lives. During that time, nearly 1,000 LBM pros weighed in with how their company has responded to the situation. This unprecedented response to a Real Issues survey hammers home the fact that our industry pulls together during tough times. Read on to learn how fellow readers have responded to the coronavirus crisis.

Question: How would you advise this dealer?

“The coronavirus is now an official national emergency, and we are working to prepare for any scenarios which would require staff quarantines, location closures, or address a severe outbreak in our community. Have any other dealers experienced any of these scenarios yet? We’d appreciate suggestions on what to do, and what not to do.”

Responses:

Note: Since the situation changed significantly in a very short period of time, and varied greatly by state, the responses from LBM dealers and specialty dealers/distributors are broken out by date.

- Sponsor -

March 15-21

“Since we have a full line hardware store as well, we are on the essential list to stay open as long as possible. As an owner that is conflicting, for health reasons that may not be the best but for business and keeping our team paid in the short term that works well for us. If we have to close, we do not have the financial depth to absorb the losses for very long and keep our team compensated. Our fear is once someone on our team has a positive diagnosis, what are we supposed to do? I do not have the answer for this. I have been reaching out to other stores like ours in our situation and many are in the same boat as us. They really don’t know how to handle it.”

“I’d say that if this dealer hasn’t already made contingency plans then he/she is already way behind. We’re adjusting our sick leave policy in the short term to support our team (and motivate ill or exposed team members to stay away from work), team members who are able to work off-site are already doing so, more online sales promotion (buy online/pick up in store), and covering anticipated cash needs (drawing from our line of credit) are but a few steps we’ve taken.”

“We are cleaning like crazy, and distancing everyone a minimum of six feet. We have removed the pens from our sales counter and replaced with pencils they can throw away. Sending people home has not been discussed. Get rid of your coffee pots!”

“We are encouraging phone and email orders and cleaning surfaces (counters, door handles) with disinfectants. We also have delayed resuming regular hours (staying on winter hours for a bit longer). Other than that, we are currently ‘business as usual’.”

“Yes. We have been receiving emails daily of shutdowns, and I’m sure there is more coming with a total shutdown not out of the question for most of the country if things do not start improving soon.”

“We are located in the Monterey Bay Area in California’s central coast, and we just got the official word that our county is to be on lockdown for the next two weeks. We are a small custom door shop with six employees. All but two are over 50. I’ve spent most of today configuring, updating, downloading and tutoring my ‘oldsters.’ Tomorrow will be the debugging day. I know I’ll spend most of the rest of the week working on sending links and PDFs, telling people to adjust their webcam and how to link apps and the cool things that can be done via text. Unlike many industries that have been floating with the current of technology, our industry is a clunky old log that is only dragged away from our familiar banks of catalogs and price books when we are forced by an unstoppable wave of change. This just happened, so I need to send an email blast to let customers know that we are on skeleton crew but will still be giving quotes, and no contact ‘Will Call’ will be available, but the showroom is closed.”

“Make sure extra cleaning takes place with desks, door handles, counters. If possible, some should work from home. Biggest key is not to panic or let fear breed fear. We will all get through this and will be stronger and more prepared for the next time.”

“Follow all directions from the CDC, the White House, and your state government. The only way to bring this coronavirus under control is to minimize personal contact. Although the measures are severe, halting the spread should be paramount in all

of our everyday schedules. It’s true, business will suffer, but our businesses (and all of us) will suffer even more severe consequences if this virus continues unchecked. As signs read on roads under construction, ‘Temporary inconvenience, permanent improvement.’ What we’re doing, by following instructions, has the potential to ward off a terrible recession. The longer the virus continues to spread, the longer these consequences will last, and affect all of our futures.”

“Not yet, mainly because we are a rural area.”

“We’re limiting our service to deliveries only.”

“We have to have this attitude: People First. Whether internal or external customers, we need to put the needs of others ahead of our own. Using this guiding light will help you maneuver through these waters. Remember, this is temporary. Whatever you do today will carry consequences ahead for a long time.”

“Take a common-sense approach and follow CDC guidelines. If you have staff who can work from home, have them work from home.”

“It’s a joke.”

“Our customers are calling to cancel orders. Customers are afraid. For jobs that were already set up for installation that our customers do not want to change, we have equipped our installers with gloves (very hard to work with), shoe booties and disposable jumpers to wear to do window installations. We are also trying to convince our customers who want to proceed with installation to reconsider and postpone for a couple  of weeks. We’ll have to see how this week is going to be.”

As president of the company, I am urging employees to be cautious and be smart about hygiene. Obviously, we cannot have everyone working from home. But it’s my opinion there are some very knee-jerk reactions to this situation and I am trying to convey confidence and common-sense. I do have faith our hospital system is much, much better than Europe’s and choose to believe we will not be following the same fate as Spain and Italy, as many have suggested. I also believe in American ingenuity and that thousands of very bright people are working on solutions. And they will prevail.”

“Allowing employees with previous health issues to work from home when possible is a good idea. Staggering start times and breaks and lunches is prudent in production situations where possible. Do not panic. Be thoughtful, prayerful and compassionate. Be sure air filtration systems are working at their best. Provide clean work areas and antibacterial soap. Do not allow someone that is ill to come to work in an enclosed environment. Pay them to stay home, then find a way to have them contribute from home. We need to be sure they can continue to pay their bills and provide for their families.”

“First: Don’t panic! Second: Go to the CDC or WHO website and follow the recommended procedures that are posted for businesses to prepare and respond to a national emergency of this type. It is no different than the last influenza virus that struck our country back in 2017. The procedures are strikingly similar. The real question should be why, since this virus was known before the Christmas holidays, was it not revealed until after the holiday shopping season? Also, is it coincidental that the virus is most lethal to an aged baby-boom generation that is preparing to retire in the next few years? Real questions, real answers that need to be addressed.”

“I think it’s mostly political. More people died from the flu than will ever die from this. This is more to destroy economy and get Trump out than anything.”

“Don’t let the morning conversations start with and dwell upon the negatives of what is going on. As we have slow times use the time to contact customers to reassure them that you’re there, you’re taking precautions, and ask if there’s anything that you can help them with. If people want to vent just listen. Just keep a positive attitude and keep moving ahead. This will pass, probably faster than what we anticipate!”

“Cut employee and store hours where applicable, limit deliveries, sanitize regularly. Apologize profusely.”

“First priority: protect the health and safety of your staff and their families. Control operating costs, being mindful of employee needs and customer requirements to fulfill contracts. Ramp up communications with customers and vendors to best manage expectations.”

“I think it is a very real possibility that all non-essential businesses will be shut down in order to stop the spread of COVID-19 and there needs to be some sort of system in place to deal with how hourly employees are going still receive pay.”

“Our headquarters has one-third of the office working from home at any given time. We’ve canceled all travel, all visitor appointments, all face-to-face employee meetings. We added another staff person just to wipe down surfaces all day every day. On the plus side, we are getting very good at Zoom and Skype meetings. Stores: clean, clean, clean all surfaces and equipment all day long. It is very, very busy, as if customers expect shortages. E-commerce is new for us, and that is very busy as well. All employees are guaranteed paid time, whether hourly or salaried, to take care of health, as employees are our greatest asset. Do not lose employees over a few bucks.”

“We had an employee whose wife came into contact with someone who had tested positive. The CDC told her to self-quarantine, and out of caution, we had him start working from home for the time being.”

“Closure of public schools, and childcare has become an issue for some employees. This should not affect workplace rules at this time. Employees who come to work will get paid, and those who do not, will not. Certainly, they may use any available vacation time or other paid leave time if they have some available and desire to do so. Employees who have legitimate issues with childcare due to kids being let out of school for COVID-19 should not worry about losing their job for missing work. We do, however, expect them to make efforts to make other arrangements whenever possible. Right now, normal working/compensation rules apply to all associates. We are constantly monitoring the situation and will keep all employees addressed if anything changes or if more information is made available.”

“Business as usual. If an employee isn’t feeling well, they shouldn’t be at work at anytime, being flu season or COVID-19!”

“We have not been mandated to shut down and have not had an employee quarantined (yet) but we have taken some early steps to be proactive— those are:
1. implemented more frequent and thorough cleaning and sanitization procedures, especially for surfaces that experience frequent customer contact such as countertops, credit card keypads, door handles, etc.
2. offered additional time and flexibility with regard to employee sick days to assure them that they can stay home if they are worried about their health, and to sustain their income if they are quarantined.
3.  taken steps to minimize visitor traffic to our contractor customer service counter, by encouraging advance email/ phone orders for yard pickup, and encouraging customers with credit accounts to bypass the counter and proceed directly to the yard where they can get loaded and give order details to the yard attendant.
4.  provided options for employees to work from home, especially employees whose work is primarily providing customer service via email and phone.”

“Our revenue in March has been unaffected thus far. The public anxiety and governmental response has significantly changed our operational posture. All administrative staff are teleworking. Approx. 75% of our sales force is teleworking. We have planned for an additional two weeks of paid administrative leave for any employee impacted, should one of our facilities be quarantined or shut down by the government. The two weeks administrative leave is also available for any team member that contracts the virus and is isolated or is quarantined when a member of their household is infected. We are cleaning every facility 3x daily including bathrooms and office door handles. We are cleaning public facing devices like credit card terminals, printers, front door handles, phones and computer keyboards at sales counters hourly with disinfectant.”

March 22-April 4

“Follow CDC guidelines for hygiene, social distancing and the like along with local guidelines regarding business closings, shelter in place, etc. Stay abreast of whether your business is affected by any required measures and follow them. Setup employees who can work remotely and limit customers to call in or emailed/online orders only for curbside pickup or delivery. Above all, communicate with your people and put their safety first.”

“We have not reached this level of quarantine. We are fully opened and working with any staff members that are scared to come to work. We have hand sanitizer at every POS and practicing common sense. Our customers count on us to be open.”

“We have roped off our showroom to an 8’x10′ area inside our door and we get everything for customers. Reduced hours for employees to 40 hours while staying open for our customers. Wipe down areas four times a day.”

“We’ve taken steps to serve the public by phone call orders, texting and emails only for ordering products and the same with our contractors.”

“As a small company with 12 employees, if one were to test positive, we would be forced to close, resulting in no paychecks beyond accrued vacation and sick leave. Knowing this, employees practice social distancing quite well.”

“We are located in a small rural area, in the Florida Panhandle. We are planning on staying open unless the government tells us otherwise. We are using extra precautions for the safety of our employees and customers. Our doors are still open, but we encourage our customers to call ahead for curbside service if they are sick or would rather not come in the store.”

“We are communicating to all of our clients and associates. And quite frankly they have all been very understanding. They see all the closures of places to eat, fitness centers, malls, etc. Just communicating to everyone up front. We recently donated all of our dust masks to the hospital, and a client came in looking for some because he had donated everything he had too. But he understood.”

“Remain calm, double-down on cleaning procedures, such as counters, phones, door handles, restrooms, carts, forklift and truck steering wheels and controls. If anyone feels sick send them home. Any out of state travel requires an automatic two-week self-quarantine. This includes all family and friends.”

“We have not experienced it yet. We are open and will remain so until ordered otherwise. I do think the worst is yet to come. All employees were notified that if they were uncomfortable at work (exposed to the public), they were free to stay home. Any sick time, vacation, etc. they have earned would be available.”

“Fortunately, our ERP system is cloud-based, which makes it fairly simple to work remotely. A large share of our office staff is now working from home. We are encouraging customers to call their orders in, allow us to pick them, and all we need to do is deliver (preferred) or load them and go.”

“We have several action plans in place. We have not had a confirmed case yet, but we have had a handful tested. We are sending them home immediately and awaiting test results. In the event that one comes back positive we will immediately close the area the employee has affected. In the case of cross contamination, we will close any areas affected. At this point we have almost all of our support and sales staff working remotely, which is about 60 employees. Our production staff (about 190 total) is still working as long as they want to work. If they choose to not work, there is no penalty. We are not under any orders to shelter or stay at home at this point.”

“We are not handling cash sales. Pickup orders are phoned in and the rest is via our delivery trucks. We approve associates who wish to self-quarantine and allow anyone who can work remotely to do so.”

“We are in a community of 5,000, with two other hardware stores in town. As of this morning, one is doing curbside business and the other store is still open. We have decided for the protection of all our employees to close our store and do only curbside business, including bringing any building materials to the customer outside our gates. We are a store with good employees and cannot take the chance of them or ourselves of getting the virus.”

“We have staff still working, and some working from home. Schedules are being moved back and adjusted on a daily basis as we communicate with customers, but the overall impact seems to change daily and will have an impact on ability to keep things up and open. We have maintained so far, but think that will change as everything seems to be coming to a stop for most aspects of business.”

“Good or bad, have a plan and share it with employees so that they can also have some idea what is coming. Try not to scare them but give them as much information as you have.”

“We have closed our showroom to the public and have deemed it our ‘safe area’ for high-risk employees to work from. They are spaced throughout the building to maintain social distancing. Our lumber counter has a barrier at six feet away, and we are encouraging ordering over the phone, offering pre-paid curbside pickup, and also encouraging will-call orders to minimize the need for a customer to leave their car. We also are strongly recommending credit use rather than an exchange of money. It may seem a bit of an overreaction, but our employees especially appreciate the concern.”

April 5-17

“Be responsible and follow guidelines put in place by state and municipalities. Social distancing. Personal protective equipment. Face masks. Equip staff to work from home. Learn how to video conference. Protect your staff. Risk is everywhere. Prioritize employees’ health and morale.”

“Do the best you can to keep your customers from having to touch anything. Keep your employees 6′ away from one another. Try to give your customers a sense of normalcy, and service them to the best of your ability. How you respond to conflict will tell them a lot more about you than how you act when times are good. Take this time to service your community and those in need, and make sure to thank your employees each and every day!”

“As an essential business, we are following all the COVID-19 protocols as set by the CDC, federal and state governments. We have provided additional PPE, adjusted the way we deliver materials and handling of paperwork. This is an ever-changing situation so we must be able to adapt on the fly.”

“Closed, better to be safe. What good is money when you’re dead?”

“Open up the economy. Vulnerable stay home. Increase beds for the sick. Work to boost immunity. Be smart about hygiene and coughing on each other. Some of us will get the virus and most will get over it. Duh! The genie is not going back in the bottle. It will keep coming back. The human organism encounters epidemics over and over and over, it is as normal as death. What a pitiful bunch of wimps we have become. The only thing new is the 24-hour news cycle trying to get Trump out of office.”

“Apply for SBA loans and reduce overhead immediately.”

“Take it seriously.”

“Our lumberyard in northeast Iowa has not experienced any of these yet. We have seen an increase in our walk-in business due to people being home with kids, off work, and wanting to do home projects since they are home. We are
1. Posted on Facebook that we would be starting this.
2. Started having customers call ahead, either from home or their car in our parking lot, so we could get their order ready, then putting their order at Curbside Pickup Location.
3. Had a local sign company make us a few professional-looking signs for the parking lot and for directions to our Curbside Pickup Location.
4. Created and emailed a professional letter to our vendors that our office would be closed until further notice and to let drivers know that we would not be expecting our staff to sign delivery tickets and that our bathrooms would not be available to them.
5. Personally called or texted about 20 contractors who work out of our yard, so they’d know our plans. Walk-in by appointment only so if their customers wanted to set up an appointment they could. Also, that our workshop would be for employee use only.
6. Continuing free delivery.
7. On 4/6/20, we started locking the front door as customers would walk right past the signs. This has helped very much.”

“If you are just doing this now, you’re too late. There is information galore…read, explore, and adopt what works best for where you are located and fits your situation.”

“Have not experienced this. In the event of a community outbreak, we plan to minimize staff to as low of a level as possible while staying in business and obviously continue extreme cleanliness which we are currently employing.”

“There is no precaution that is too drastic. First hold a meeting with all staff to inform them of the situation and decide on a possible rotation of staff in order to stay operating in case of an infected staff member. File the necessary paperwork for the PPP program in order to maintain the 8-week period of wages allowed immediately. Implement a plan for safety for both your staff and your customer in order to keep your business going. Pray every day.”

“We are in one of the hot spots. We removed 50% of our staff and have them working remotely. We have remaining staff spaced at least 6′ apart within the store. We are only taking orders over the phone and helping one or two customers in the yard at a time, while asking customers to stay in their trucks. No customers are allowed in the store. We also set up isolation areas throughout the store, meaning team members use defined break areas, bathrooms and entrance doors. This way if someone comes up positive, we can narrow the group of potentially affected people as well as narrow the area that has to be professionally cleaned. So far, we haven’t had any issues at the store itself. Customers are understanding for the most part. Some are grumpy but we just apologize and do our best to get them out quickly.”

“We have not experienced anything yet. We have had 7-8 employees tested out of 300 but all have come back negative. We have plans to shut down partially or fully if needed. We are disinfecting three times a day. We have a professional company on stand-by if we need to have an area professionally disinfected.”

“Have your own task force at different intervals of the day cleaning counters, knobs, bathrooms, etc. Make your back offices and any bathrooms unavailable to the public. Anyone with a compromised immune system, heart issue, etc. must be allowed to work from home, if able, with pay. Warehouse guys need gloves at all times. Hand sanitizer in all trucks. Put up screening at counters. Glass or Plexiglas. We have put sanitizer stations at all entrances to have the public use before entering. Limit your outside sales force from visiting their contractors. Let the contractor measure, fetch and be accountable for their business at this time. This might be a good time to rethink how you let your contractor base do business. Stay safe!”

“We all are experiencing that currently. We are taking it one day at a time, staying informed and taking action. The best we can do is continue to clean, continue to push a message of ‘social distancing’ and work hard. Getting too worked up on potential ‘what-ifs’ distracts us from our effectiveness today in being there for our customers, and for our staff.”

“Quarantines are a distinct possibility. You need to isolate anyone who is symptomatic, once a positive test comes back, I would suggest shutting down the yard for a period of two weeks since last contact with the individual. Each employee should be called prior to the return to work date and asked for a physical update. Anyone symptomatic needs to continue to isolate at home and get tested. When closed hopefully you have other yards that can serve those customers that need material. Also, take advantage of any and all government programs.”

“It has not been severe in our area. Our contractor business has been uninterrupted, on our retail side we only allow 10 customers in at a time. Our customers have been very supportive, and we have not seen a decline in sales.”

“No massive outbreaks—but concerned that it could take down a whole department.”

“Businesses need to communicate with their customers and the public about what they are doing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among their workforce and their customers. We all have an obligation and role to play in that as a business, including following guidelines and orders as issued by our federal, state and local authorities. Your trade or industry association may have information on their websites that you can refer to. This situation requires a very game-on and coordinated effort to manage people and businesses. Also, governmental agencies have established information and guidelines for businesses and workers that are extremely helpful and factual and those are a valuable source of information to refer to make decisions. The CDC has published many such resources.”

“Follow CDC guidelines and keep your people safe, your customers safe and suppliers’ people safe as well. We remain open with gloves and masks for all internal people and are serving customers and making deliveries unless the jobsite is shutdown by local authorities, which has been rare so far.”

“We have locked the stores down. Not open to the public for our customers and employees’ safety. We are taking orders by text, phone or email. We are conducting business by setting small orders outside the entry doors for customer pickup and we are delivering to open jobsites with no person-to-person contact. We are constantly monitoring our employees, as some of the spouses are involved with other companies that may have a higher risk of exposure. We have our safe distance for everyone at 6′ for all concerned. Our sales drafting staff is off-site creating sales with computer usage online from home.”

“We are still open on an appointment only basis, and not visiting or working in any occupied homes at this time. Our computer guy is working on fixing it where we can work remotely from home. Just praying for this to end soon!”

“Follow the law!”

Responses from wholesale distributors / manufacturers / service providers

March 15-21

“Use your best judgment based on the available official resources. No one has done this before, so no one else has the right answers. It’s like we’re all new parents and won’t know which answers were correct for a long time.”

“Err on the side of caution. The quicker this pandemic is under control, the sooner we can resume our daily lives and work schedules.”

March 22 – April 4

“The COVID19 crisis is a very fluid situation of course changing daily and regionally. We are in an area which just had its first fatality due to the virus, so our alerts are escalating. We have customers who have remained open and are now offering free delivery, phone-in, and drive-thru service. We don’t currently have any customers requiring staff quarantines.”

“We’ve gone to a ‘park & call’ method of receiving and loading material. All drivers are to stay in their trucks and call the shipping office upon arrival. We will load the trucks and bring them their paperwork. After our employees have finished loading, they may get out of their truck and secure the load. For inbound loads the method is much the same with the exception of the driver being allowed to uncover/strap their load. We’ve stopped all sales travel.”

“Talk to your customers. Find out what they have coming to make sure you have the materials they will need. Since they are often outside and can spread out, they may well be able to keep working. They can keep working only if they have materials to work with. If you can get ahead of it, you may be able to prep orders ahead of time to minimize or eliminate direct contact for your employees’ and your customers’ safety. Any planning you and your customers can do now will only help down the road.”

April 5-17

“Offer on-line ordering, hands-free pick-up and/or delivery. Be sure your website communicates what changes you’ve made to services. Communicate frequently with your customers. Set-up customer service in work-from-home situations so they can be responsive to customer needs. Take proper safety precautions for all staff.”

“Do not panic, use your social media for communication to all your customers immediately. Give them some guidelines but also leave yourself an out by saying these are new and evolving guidelines and we will keep you posted. Be the leader for your customers and employees and stay open as best you can but cut hours to help on staffing and stress. Do not stress yourself and employees out but realize this is going to be a few months before the real threat is past. Be firm on safety and sanitizing but continue it always. Care about your community and find ways you can help.”

“Clearly communicate the company commitment to fully comply with best practices as suggested by state health departments and CDC. Make certain all employees understand how to accomplish the requirements and that non-compliance will not be tolerated. Provide adequate facilities and supplies for personal sanitation. Establish a germaphobe culture in regard to hand washing and social distancing. This should be reinforced from the top down.”

 

Stay Updated

Get our email newsletter with LBM industry trends, data, new products, and best practices.