Keeping employees and customers safe and incorporating more remote work and virtual opportunities have become table stakes for dealers during the COVID-19 crisis. But to buckle up for what may be an unpredictable and possibly long ride, many are doing more and planning for the what ifs.
“If somebody gets sick or starts showing evidence of being ill, everybody on that crew has to be told to go into quarantine,” says Rick Salter, owner of Las Vegas-based Custom Home Window & Door. “Now tell me, who unloads the trucks? How do we keep customers paying if they see the product isn’t being unloaded?”
In addition to concerns about delays in deliveries, window and door dealers face several other challenges stemming from the effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic, including a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for installers, possible supply chain disruptions, and being subject to various federal, state, and county emergency restrictions on construction.
“You just roll with the punches,” says Scott Thurber, president of Associated Building Supply in California. “We actually had a really good month last month (March) and our forecast looks strong this month, but there's going to be a bubble that's going to hit at some point. We've had a couple of orders where people wanted to park them for a while and just wait and see how this thing plays out. We're not going to lose the business, but we're not going to get the business in the month that we thought we were going to get it.”
Thurber says his business is doing everything it can to “continue business as usual,” and that includes letting employees work remotely. Salespeople are available via phone or email, the company’s social media accounts are being updated, and projects are moving forward as much as they can. The main thing, Thurber says, is that the staff is safe and healthy.
“Our focus is no longer on the bottom line,” he says. “It's on the employee. I think companies with strong cash reserves are going to be fine. We’re optimistic that this is going to pass soon.”
Salter says protecting the employees of Custom Home Window & Door is paramount to him, as well.
“I have cleaning people who come in virtually every night,” says Salter. “We're wiping everything down each day. We've limited most of the employees from coming into the office.”
Given the uncertainty surrounding the post-pandemic economy, building deeper bonds with business partners is important.
“I think a big part of getting through this is having good relationships with your vendors. You have to work together,” Thurber says. “So many parts, components, and tentacles of the selling process are impacted that aren't directly related to sales. Having strong relationships with our vendors has helped immensely.”
Salter says he’s never seen a situation like this and neither has his father, who’s in his nineties and has been in the window and door industry all his life.
“Keep the lines of communication open. I think that's important. I think everybody needs to be honest with each other,” Salter says. “Manufacturers need to be honest with us, dealers need to be honest with them, and we all need to work on this team effort. That's how you get through these challenges. If we continue working on it together, we'll get through it.”