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The COVID-19 pandemic presents challenges for everyone in the home services industry. But it can also be a differentiator for your business.
Employees are scared about their chances of catching Coronavirus and their financial status. Customers are concerned about letting tradesmen in their house. And owners and managers fret over employees, customers and the bottom line.
More than ever, leadership is essential. What leaders in the trades say, and what they do, always matters, but especially in times of crisis.
That was the message from ServiceTitan customers with thriving businesses despite the uncertain times who were guests for Friday’s webinar on success during the Coronavirus outbreak.
Aaron Gaynor of The Eco Plumbers in Columbus, Ohio, and Sarah and Brad Casebier, owners of Radiant Plumbing in Austin, Texas, are working hard to provide that leadership.
What does that look like?
Presenting an optimistic, empathetic message.
Thinking about the image you’ll project.
Protecting employees and customers.
And not focusing solely on the bottom line.
You’ll be “annihilating your culture” if you show selfish motives, Brad Casebier says.
“Everybody is watching you right now, and how you show up is being assessed,” he said.
“If you can get in that space that this is about the employee being safe and maintaining a job for him for the duration, you’re going to be saying some of the right things automatically.
“We don’t even know what the financial end is, we’re just dealing with the health piece right now. What’s coming on the back end of this is going to be harder on us as business owners.”
The best way to deal with “right now” is with a simple approach.
Really love on your employees right now,” Brad Casebier says, “and show them that you care.”
The Eco Plumbers and Radiant Plumbing are both having record years. The Eco Plumbers has a 60 percent growth rate year over year, and Radiant Plumbing is at 50 percent.
Both are located in “shelter-in-place” situations, with only essential businesses able to operate.
Here are 10 tips they offered for leading during the Coronavirus outbreak:
1. Lead, take quick action, make the hard choices, and embrace working remotely.
Rapid action was critical for dealing with the Coronavirus situation. Brad Casebier’s concern level and urgency went from 1 to 10 in the course of a weekend. That urgency, and addressing team members openly to let them know they’d be kept safe, earned buy-in from employees.
His company took quick action and immediately went remote, even though they weren’t ready for it. It created strain, but it also set the tone for the team.
“This is one of those moments when leaders need to lead,” he said. “If we’re putting safety in front of everything else, it just sets such a standard for the team. My leaders have cascaded that message down, because clearly this is important.”
2. Ask employees directly what they need, then get their verbal commitment to help.
Building a company culture over time helps, so leadership before there’s a crisis is important. That will help Gaynor, he says, in this time of crisis.
“This culture was already built,” Gaynor said. “They just know and believe I’m going to do this with them. We’re a very transparent company. Now we get to reap the benefit of that in a time of uncertainty.”
Get in front of your employees and let them know the plan, what you’re doing to keep them safe, and to show your commitment to do whatever is necessary. And ask for their verbal commitment to do the same, without pressure.
“Everyone has the option not to work,” Brad Casebier said. “I want no peer pressure, I want all these guys to make their own personal choice. The money is secondary. Health is first.”
That gives employees a stake in the vision.
“Having your team have trust in you and having them attached to your vision (is important),” Brad Casebier said. “It’s not just what you can get out of them. In some cultures, employees can feel like just a tool. In our culture, we’re attaching them to the vision.”
3. The budget isn’t at the top of the list right now.
Budgets are great, and most people are motivated to beat the budget. But the Coronavirus has changed the focus.
“I won’t say they’re out the door because they’re never out the door,” Gaynor said. “But right now, it’s all about helping people. Take care of our techs, take care of our team, take care of the community. Show up as good people and a good business. All that (budget) stuff will work itself out. I’m not saying you can ignore a budget, because that would be reckless, but at the same time, it’s not at the top of the list right now.”
4. Maintenance is taking a hit. Making customers comfortable is key.
Brad Casebier said he sees maintenance as a moral crisis. Customers are not anxious to have workers in their home, but not doing that work could lead to failures down the road. Maintenance also puts technicians in bad situations for non-essential work.
“Every business owner is having to make decisions they didn't plan on making,” he said.
“The argument could be made that if we don’t run maintenance there will be a catastrophe of broken air conditioners later.”
“We made the decision that we’d rather mop up the crisis of broken air conditioners later than risk somebody getting sick over something that is not actually broken.”
Casebier said it might cost money, but it will keep employees safe.
5. Get leaner internally, but increase marketing. And stockpile cash.
Radiant is doubling down on advertising, because they see opportunity there. It’s something they learned during the 2008 financial crisis.
“The best advice I had (then) was get lean early and increase marketing,” Brad Casebier said. “There are plenty of customers out there, you just have to get more. Marketing is the thing you should accelerate, and then you get lean internally.”
And looking for sources of cash is important, too.
“You need to be stockpiling cash, because you don’t know what’s coming,” he said. “This is a financial Armageddon ahead of us, and nobody knows what’s going to happen next. The smart thing is to try to capture more market share now, and stockpile cash.”
Multiple TV buys have gone live for Radiant this week. “We’re not pulling back,” he said.
Gaynor agreed, saying his company is getting ready for a marketing push, focused on branding instead of sales, with the message that the company is there to help.
“Why retreat?” Gaynor asked. “We have 90 employees, they want to work. I take that very seriously. This is a chance for good companies to become great, and great companies do more.”
6. Don’t send a technician to do a job you wouldn’t go do yourself.
Gaynor started his company with $50 he borrowed just after coming out of a personal bankruptcy. He has the coveralls he wore to make plumbing calls framed in his office. They are a reminder of his roots, and of what not to do now.
It reminds me of the guys in the field, and what they go through, because I did it,” Gaynor said. “I’m a plumber by trade, and I’m never going to forget it.”
That’s particularly important during the Coronavirus outbreak.
“One of the messages I’ve given my team is that I’ll never ask you to run a call during these times that you don’t want to do,” he said. “I’ll never ask them to do something I wouldn’t do, and I’ll be here every single day.”
7. Make sure your team has PPE, no matter what it takes.
Gaynor has assigned two guys at The Eco Plumbers to drive around all day and find PPE, wipes, spray and other safety essentials for the company.
“That’s their full-time job,” Gaynor said. “Everybody’s got all the gloves to wear around. We have a kit, we actually call it our COVID-19 preventative kit, and every truck is stocked with one. Every technician in the field has been given a kit and signed out a kit and trained. How to prevent, how to wipe down, multiple device sharing … “
Gaynor has personally reinforced the importance of PPE and disinfection.
His message? “This is what we need to be safe, and protect you and get you home to your family every day.”
8. Enforce social distancing, even if your employees aren’t scared of each other.
Familiarity breeds trust, and Brad Casebier saw that play out in install crews who were not following the six-foot distancing protocol when they picked up parts and equipment.
“Everyone is a potential contaminator,” he said.
His solution? Curbside service. Techs come in, text which parking spot they are in, and the parts are delivered directly to the truck.
“We got medieval on that,” he said. “Nobody’s coming in the building, nobody is coming out of the building. The essential people who have to be in the warehouse are maintaining their space.”
The reason: One sick technician could shut down your business if everyone has to quarantine for 14 days.
“You’re definitely not making money there,” Casebier said. “This is the biggest threat. This thing is real, and it’s spreading like wildfire.”
9. Go above and beyond to keep your staff safe.
At Radiant, Sarah Casebier has worked to provide safety equipment, including germ-killing UV lights and ozone generators.
The company is also in the process of building a shower in the parking lot so the technicians can clean up, change, and bag their work clothes for washing at home, to keep their families safer.
“All those steps, those are not instinctive for people,” Sarah Casebier said.
They also brought a paramedic in to teach technicians the proper way to remove PPE.
“Your technicians are really scared, more scared than you know,” Brad Casebier said. “They’re gonna be tough because that’s why guys do, they act tough. But they really don’t want to get this bug, and they really don’t want to get their families sick.”
Those above-and-beyond steps differentiate companies.
“The details of taking the gloves off precisely, these guys need that,” he said. “They want this information. As a leader, giving them that and taking that time, that is a level of buy-in that your competitors aren’t doing.”
10. The pandemic could last a while. Keep leading.
In uncertain times, people want certainty. And times of crisis reveal who owners and managers really are.
How well those leaders maintain their message will, too. Making the goals clear and inspiring your team can fade over time. Recognize when they need a recharge.
“We all get a charge of energy at the beginning,” Gaynor said. “Two or three weeks go by, and the energy starts to come down a little bit. It’s going to be two or three charges your people will need from you.
“If your message has always been the same, you’ve been acting the same way all along, this is just another opportunity to step up and guide your team.”
That means leading by example, answering questions, and providing clarity.
“Support your team. Support your community. Put them out front right now.”
Resources for the trades
For the latest information on how the COVID-19 outbreak is impacting the trades, check out our Coronavirus blog, our Facebook group for customers and our Facebook group for the industry.
If you have story ideas or questions, you can email us. We’d love to tell your story about how you’re helping in your community or dealing with these uncertain times, or just help answer your questions.