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Five Ways You Should Respond This Week to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Hammond Lumber built sneeze guards for its showrooms

Developments stemming from the coronavirus are coming at you so fast that it's vital to focus on immediate needs and challenges. Here are five things that I recommend you do this week to get through this stage of the pandemic.

1. Add One More Stay-Safe Practice to Your Arsenal

The Centers for Disease Control's COVID-19 guidelines are a good start, but they aren't LBM-specific. So, consider going beyond hand-washing and sanitation by embracing ideas from Ruth Kellick-Grubbs or this California dealer. For instance: Create zones within your facilities that employees can stay in for the whole shift. Have one manager work remotely. Put tape on the floors to make six-foot distances. Create sneeze guards between you and customers (as Hammond Lumber did in the photo above). Stop asking for electronic signatures. Consider shutting down the coffee machine. And more.

2. Monitor Your State and Local Governments' Stay-Home Orders

The rules regarding what you can do and whether your customers can operate these days not only vary dramatically from state to state, they can change markedly within a jurisdiction. New York and Washington State both changed their minds about whether to permit construction. Officials in Mississippi and Massachusetts are have squabbles about whether local or statewide orders should prevail. What's legal in Texas depends in good part on whether you're near Interstate 35. And we have yet to hear from about a dozen states that, as of press time, haven't issued any order at all. I'm keeping track of the situation in every state and many localities, but you also would do well to pay attention to the National Lumber & Building Material Dealers Association as well as your regional LBM groups.


3. Read Up on the Fiscal Stimulus Provisions Before You Cut Staff

As we wrote last week, consultants will tell you that cash is king during a recession. That's one reason why Webb Analytics created a Stress Tester spreadsheet to help you determine what'll happen to your profit margins if sales were to fall 20%, 33%, or 50% over a given period. During the Great Recession, many dealers responded by laying off staff as quickly as possible. But before you make any such move this time, take a close look at the $2.2 trillion stimulus bill enacted last week. The National Association of Home Builders has a great summary. The package includes $349 billion worth of Small Business Administration loans that can be used to cover payroll and certain healthcare benefits as well as for mortgage, lease, rent, and utilities. The loan program contains sweeteners if you avoid reducing staff. Businesses of any size can get an employee retention credit equal to half each employee's qualified wages if quarterly sales drop at least 50% from the year-earlier quarter.

Do it Best's Color Bar

4. Promote DIY Business if You Can, Starting with Paint

Anecdotal information from numerous sources point to a decline--often a sharp one--in new construction and pro remodeling business through June and perhaps longer. The one place where business might increase a bit is in the do-it-yourself market. It stands to reason that people confined to home, sometimes with less work to do, are going to look around their houses and decide this is the right time for sprucing up. If you have retail customers, this is your opportunity to get some of that business. Where to start? According to the Home Innovation Research Labs' 2019 survey of consumers, 20% of the more than 100,000 households polled had purchased interior paint or wallpaper. Roughly 14% bought plumbing fixtures or ceramic tile for walls, and 13% purchased door knobs, locksets, or other door latches.

5. Practice Videoconference Sales and Staff Meetings

Face-to-face sales calls will resume once the pandemic ends, but it's quite likely that some customers will discover there are times when videoconferencing is a more efficient way to do business. Likewise, your K+B sales team might find during this outbreak that they can maximize their time by scheduling videoconferences with multiple customers rather than have to travel to each prospect's home. And if telework becomes more natural, then videoconferencing will be one way to keep them in the loop even when they're working miles from the office. But it takes time to master some of videoconferencing's basics. Take backgrounds: If you're working from a part of the house that you don't want customers to see Shutterstock has great advice on how to change the background with a screen shot. And if you are OK with showing your room, it helps to adjust your computer so it doesn't show you plastered against the ceiling. I've found my 3-volume set of Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past makes a great podium to raise my laptop to eye level. And seeing it there reminds me that, one day, I really ought to read the book.

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