Editorial: The Grinders Will Survive

by Patrick OToole

There’s a scene in the British comedy “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” where two knights fight it out with swords. In quick succession, the challenger loses limb after limb, but he’s not giving up, even with blood streaming out gratuitously. They are “mere flesh wounds.” Finally, as he hops around on one leg with no arms, he’s talking trash, urging his foe to continue fighting him, boasting about how he is going to prevail despite all logic.

Patrick O’Toole

Things have not gotten that bad yet for remodelers and home improvement pros, but it might feel like it. Pardon the gallows humor, but there’s a parallel to draw between the unfortunate knight and the plight of small-business owners today. With the nation on lockdown, we are in an unfair fight for our business lives with one arm tied behind our backs and barely a leg to stand on.

By now we know the facts. With no medical way to stem the spread of the dangerous coronavirus, social distancing was mandated. Hundreds of local home shows around the country were canceled, cutting off a critical source of leads for many companies. Then clients canceled in droves. They were justifiably concerned about having workers in their homes during a contagion. And for the same reason, in-home sales calls stopped cold, as did canvassing and many other normal face-to-face activities associated with remodeling, like visits to expensive showrooms.

Soon after, the governors in California, New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania instituted draconian “stay-at-home” orders, shuttering all non-essential businesses. Within days, a total of 31 states had followed suit. Thankfully residential construction was deemed “essential,” but the damage had been done. The industry was in a free fall, left grasping for ways to stop the damage, hopping on one leg.

As these events unfolded, our team at QualifiedRemodeler.com got comments from dozens of remodelers around the state of California on how they planned to proceed. Most were grinding it out, finding ways to keep their teams busy, communicating continuously with clients and trades. A few were putting their companies in mothballs, furloughing employees while finishing up “essential” projects like kitchens and baths for people who would need to have those rooms functioning again.

Thousands of remodelers sought information by attending webinars hosted by this magazine and others, and some bright spots emerged. Remote sales presentations via computers flourished. The use of HEPA filters, along with a litany of other sanitary procedures, helped some remodelers keep some jobs moving forward. And in one of the greatest twists, the years remodelers spent learning to comply with lead-safe practices—vertical separation barriers, gloves, masks, etc.—overnight became tools for safely keeping workers and homeowners separate.

Business owners were having their worst month ever; but through these methods, there was a flow of cash, enough to keep moving forward. Cash is king right now, and many remodelers will unfortunately run out of it before this painful lockdown ends. With any luck, many of you will apply for and receive emergency Paycheck Protection loans from the Small Business Administration. Even with $350 billion to dole out, it will be spread thin across millions of firms involved in other hard-hit segments: retail, restaurants, travel.

In the coming weeks and months, an altered remodeling industry will emerge. The grinders among you will have prevailed using all manner of new ways to sell and install jobs. Let’s get after it. QR

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