Planning with Optimism
There's room for hope while doing business amid a pandemic.
I think we can all agree that 2020 has been one for the ages. [See Marty McGhie’s September column for a similar opening line]. Who could have predicted any of this coming down the pipeline? It’s been a rollercoaster for us all, and has made conducting business more challenging than ever. I tell my staff that every day over the past seven months has been like Groundhog Day. To write about optimism is a breath of fresh air. As a business owner, I have a bad habit of being a pessimist. I tend to focus on everything that could go wrong first, before moving onto the positives. But this year has surprisingly left me full of hope.
In March, most of us were scrambling to see if we were even labeled as essential workers. We were lucky that our industry provided some quick information explaining who was allowed to stay open and who was deemed non-essential. That month was a learning experience on how to conduct our business. Our doors were closed to the public and only our employees were allowed in our facility. All vehicles were dropped off outside and keys put into a clear box. We wore plastic gloves and facial coverings when we pulled vehicles in and out every single day.
Once our new process was set, we noticed the phones weren’t ringing like they used to and our walk-in business declined by 75 percent. Our incoming phone calls decreased by 75 percent for the first three to four weeks of March, but we were able to maintain our momentum. Our staff saw many construction companies, boat manufacturers, landscapers, service industry clients, and any businesses dealing with remodeling or home improvement features were staying busy. This led to new business for us. It was a blessing, and we continued to take care of those clients from March through May.
In June, we received our Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) money. It allowed a safety net in case we had any setbacks. I want to be transparent; we did have to lay off three employees during that time for four weeks. It was a tough decision to make, but we wanted to ensure our company was going forward and not backward. The PPP loan allowed us to bring back our full staff and continue to conduct business as if nothing ever happened. This was what the PPP money was intended for. We were lucky to receive that financial help during these tough times.
After the first three months of the pandemic had passed, our production, communication, and focus on each job was improving. Closing our doors to the public actually allowed us to spend time on our standard clients, which made us more productive. We were able to schedule sales calls and vehicle inspections, and it showcased what we usually call time wasters. We all have these potential customers, but sometimes they can help pay the bills – even if they are $50 jobs. This year we can use every dime that comes through our front doors.
We also took the time to ask our clients if they noticed a change in our communication and if they were okay with our new system. To our surprise, most of our clients had adapted the same or similar procedures. Once these were in place and our staff was back in full action, we started to book up for two to three weeks in advance, which was another blessing.
Ups and Downs
After the first three months of the pandemic, most of the country had entered the fatigue stage and we started to see our business plateau. The phone calls and drop-ins started to pick back up to almost normal, but we were still down about 30 percent in new business. The end of June and beginning of July really started to slow down for us, and we began to see some clients pull their spending back a little. It was almost as if March had started all over again, which was a big surprise. It was Groundhog Day Part Two. Our staff didn’t know if July 4th weekend was the reason for the slow down or if the entire mood of the country had started to decline. We weren’t in panic mode yet, but after three weeks of being slower than ever the phones started to ring again, we were gaining new customers, and we went back to being two weeks out on projects in less than a month. Once again, our clients who were still considered essential businesses were coming back with more projects and wraps.
The month of August was great for us. We hope this momentum will continue throughout the rest of the year. I’m not here to brag or discuss the amount of work we’ve had, but to give you an idea of the ups and downs over the past seven months and how we’ve adapted. If you would’ve told me back in March we would still be open and conducting business after the economy was shut down I wouldn’t have believed you. I’m more of a pessimist, which, at times, can be negative and positive. The year of 2020 has really taught me that I’m not in control as much as I think I am. I can only deal with what’s in front of me and attack each day with a new goal and positivity.
As I write this in the beginning of September, I still can’t believe it’s already been seven months of having to change course and adapt new procedures in order to stay in business. We should all be prepared to plan with optimism moving forward. I’m not an economist nor do I have a financial degree, but I truly feel once this pandemic starts to fade away we will go back to a new normal. Although it’s hard to really say if the old normal is gone forever.
We’ve been communicating with our clients now more than ever to see how the pandemic has been affecting their businesses and to find out what we can do to better serve them. Surprisingly, most of our friends, existing clients, and new clients are having record years. Most of the service industry has been extremely busy. Not only have they increased revenue, they’re purchasing more vehicles to wrap and hiring even more people. I realize that different parts of the country are affected more than others, and a fair amount of companies have even gone out of business for good. My hope and optimism is that once we get back to our standard lives, this economy will bounce back quicker than we expect. Be prepared to adjust your workflow and production to accommodate the increase of business. I believe personal and business travel will ramp up quickly, and companies will be spending more money to advertise any way they can. When the economy gets slow, the smart companies with cash flow will start to advertise even more. I used the word “fatigue” earlier, but people and businesses are ready to get back to normal, even if they have been fortunate during this rough year.
I recommend finding those in our industry who have been affected by all of this. We wish no ill will on anyone, but maybe your competition can’t handle the work they used to, or has had to unfortunately close their doors. Sit down with your staff to re-evaluate what you can improve on as a team. Try to figure out how much work or growth you can handle with your existing staff and employees. We’re prepared for the end of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021 to be very profitable because we acquired new business we didn’t originally have.
I think our economy as a whole has performed fairly well, all things considered. If we can weather this storm and make it out alive, our future may be just a little easier. That’s a sign of optimism that I didn’t have last year. I hope you and your business continue to flourish, or that you’re able to pull yourself out of a hole that this unexpected year has placed you in. Look ahead at what’s to come. I think the entire graphics industry will see greater growth than ever in the next six months. Stay positive!
Matt Richart is the co-owner of Digital EFX Wraps, a full-service, one-stop shop in Louisville, Kentucky. Matt leads country-wide demos and training sessions on how to sell, market, design, and install for the wrap industry. Follow him on Twitter @digitalefxwraps.