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We asked about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on your businesses. You responded.
Nationwide, companies are being forced to adjust to unexpected consequences of the coronavirus. Some companies are seeing some surprising benefits, while others are operating cautiously as they fear the worst is yet to come.
Here’s some of what you’ve told us so far:
MARCH 30: Brandon Barker, commercial operations manager
J. Barker Landscaping Company, Bedford, Ohio
For now, J. Barker Landscaping Co. is still operational in a limited capacity.
“We have closed down our main office until April 6th and have allowed office staff, sales people and account managers to work from home,” Barker said. “Our company offers a variety of services that go outside of the ‘landscape services’ realm. Those services are demolition, dumpster rentals and trash removal/sanitation. These services are considered essential according to state officials in Ohio. We have cut back on some of our landscape services, but we are still probably running 70% of our full landscape operation.”
Barker added that the company is still servicing five local hospitals as well.
“We maintain 5 hospitals in Northeast Ohio and numerous other medical facilities,” he said. “We want to make sure that they are getting the service that they need to be fully operational.”
When the COVID-19 crisis first began, Barker said the business did receive some cancellations, but the majority of those customers have come back.
“There have been a few delays in some of our jobs, due to the uncertainty of our current situation. But the delays have only lasted a few days and work has continued on afterwards,” he said. “Customers tend to not mind us working since we are outside and not coming in contact with them.”
While work continues, Barker said he is concerned about staffing, as J. Barker Landscaping Co. typically utilizes H-2B workers.
“There is much uncertainty as to what will actual be the outcome in regards to our H2B workers,” he said. “Right now, it’s looking like we may receive some but not all of our H2B workers. We just found out this week that workers who had not previously worked in the U.S. are being turned away from one of the U.S. Consulate in Mexico, preventing them from obtaining their visas. Returning workers seem to be in a better position and have obtained their visas. We hope there are no issues at the border when they try to cross later this week. Luckily, the majority of our workforce is not H2B, so we should still be in decent shape with our work force. We have already been focusing on recruiting and interviewing new hires in the U.S. to make up for any H2B shortage.”
Barker said he is also concerned about how COVID-19 will impact residential design/build projects.
“Our biggest concern is how this is going to affect our potential residential design/build and landscape construction projects in 2020,” he said. “We would imagine that planning or starting a new landscape project is taking a backseat to a variety of goals and concerns for our residential customers. People might be less willing to invest in a new landscape when there is much uncertainty on how this pandemic will affect the U.S. economy. But we want customers to know that we can move forward with any of their landscape needs because of the safety and health precautions that we are taking as a company.”
In order to keep employees and customers safe, the company has staggered start times, maintained six feet of distance during team meetings and limiting the number of people in confined spaces by having only one person in each truck.
MARCH 27: John Wimberg, vice president
Wimberg Landscaping, Cincinnati, Ohio
Wimberg said that while he’s not panicking yet, he is concerned about the uncertainty the coronavirus pandemic will continue to cause.
“We’re a little worried,” he said. “We’re a pretty good-sized company so we might be able to withstand a little better than some of the small companies.”
Wimberg Landscaping has about 50 employees, and according to Wimberg, did around $5 million in sales in 2019.
Despite all non-essential businesses being closed in Ohio, Wimberg said his crews are still operational.
“It was very vague on what was essential,” he said. “They basically said that anything time sensitive was permitted. So, we’re going to keep our basic services going here for as long as we can. We’re giving our people that option that if they want to take the state-supplied unemployment until the shutdown ends they could. The uncertainty definitely leaves you a little uneasy.”
Wimberg added his company had been initiating safety and sanitation procedures before the stay-at-home began.
“A couple of weeks ago we started doing stuff like social distancing, wiping things down more and having one guy clock everybody in in the morning,” he said. “We told people not to come into the office, which is separate from our warehouse, unless they absolutely had to. We’ve been trying to arrange for each person being in separate trucks. So far, it’s worked out.”
The company has also been keeping in touch with its clients to let them know they’ll still be out there working.
“We did an email blast to everyone to let them know what we are doing, and we have a Facebook page that we’ve been updating,” he said. “There’s been pretty positive feedback. I think people just like looking out the window and seeing a bit of normalcy.”
Despite reassuring customers, Wimberg said he has had some cancelations.
“When this first hit, we had a few people cut back on what they were going to do or cancel the job,” he said. “We had one of our bigger customers cancel a couple of decent sized projects. At the same time, I would have thought that our phone lines would have been drying up, but we still got people calling in and looking for work.”
Wimberg said that to make it through, he’ll be using how the company handled the Great Recession as a kind of business model.
“We’re looking back to 2008 and 2009 and looking at what was good then and what was bad,” he said. “Back then, we tried to slash a lot of costs, and went through and asked ‘what do we really need.’ We cut back our advertising a lot and some extra services we didn’t really need. At this point, we haven’t really slashed anything.”
Josh Wise, owner
GrassRoots Tree & Turf Care, Acworth, Georgia
On one hand, Josh Wise has watched five customers call and cancel their service specifically because of COVID-19.
On the other, he’s also seen his sales at GrassRoots Tree & Turf Care in Acworth, Georgia, actually grow this year as opposed to last. He said he had a higher cancel rate last season, and in that same time, he had just under 550 new accounts for the first few months of the year. Right now, he’s looking at 900, and he’s nearly got 200 new clients this week alone.
“A lot of people had trip plans, but now they can’t go anywhere and do anything and they’re getting all these refunds, they’re saying, ‘honey, let’s do something with our lawn and landscape,’” Wise said.
He said he acknowledges the severity of the situation: His crews are practicing social distancing, and they’ve changed the way they do group meetings to a larger circle outside rather than sitting around an office. Any shipments to the office are being instantly sprayed with Lysol and equipment is being wiped down more than usual. “You constantly hear the sink turning on and hands being washed,” he said. “Everybody’s being cautious. Employees are just going from home to work, and from work to home.”
But he’s also remaining upbeat. Among his 28 employees, Wise said he’s told them he’ll be flexible, as one employee who has a weaker immune system is already staying home for the next few weeks. Business-wise, things seem to be humming along. Wise has increased his advertising, too, so more people are seeing his company’s name.
“All in all, things are going really well here,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to get really bad. I really don’t.”
Amanda Linder, owner
Rolling Hills Landscapes, Inc., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Linder said that when the stay-at-home order went into place, and non-essential businesses were forced to close, talking to her local municipality allowed the business to finish a job that was already started.
“What happened was, I called the municipality where we had a job open,” she said. “We are doing an engineered wall, so we dug out about six feet back and six feet high of earth in someone’s yard. When I reached out to the police in the area, they said it’d be more of a public safety issue to let it go, so they let us keep going.”
Since then, Linder said her state senator has made it clear that landscapers and lawn care workers are considered essential.
But even with being able to work, Linder said some clients are still canceling their upcoming projects.
“I’ve had it go both ways,” she said. “One lady called and said that because they had to cancel some vacation plans, their home improvement projects are now moving up. We were able to move her forward on the schedule. I did also have a patio project where a couple, because of the uncertainty over the next few weeks, pressed pause. Another project said they are laying low for now because of what’s happening.”
After changing their business model about a year ago to only focus on hardscapes, Linder said she’s uncertain about how the coronavirus will impact future projects.
“We’ve talked about it and see it going both ways,” she said. “Maybe, if more people are inclined to stay around and be closer to home, they’ll take a look around and say, ‘maybe it’s time we do something here. If someone has been out of work, they might find the need to hold off altogether.”
While some landscape companies are typically gearing up for spring this time of year, Linder said the coronavirus hasn’t interrupted too much.
“Usually, March is kind of sketchy,” she said. “There’s about six to eight weeks where we are down completely in the winter. Now, I’m usually getting the early birds. The work in the early spring is usually just carry over from the previous season. It’s not until April where we start to see more.”
Linder is hoping things return to normal soon, and maybe that this unexpected pandemic will help to fill out some of the company’s slow season later in the summer.
“We’re hoping everything springs back by the middle of summer,” she said. “From the Fourth of July to back to school time is usually a bit slower. Hopefully this will propel us during that time.”
John Mueller, president
Mueller Landscape, San Diego, California
John Mueller knows it’s a scary situation, and in California, where the state issued mandated shutdowns earlier than most others, coronavirus has been a hot topic for weeks.
Yet after some of the initial concerns over whether his company had enough saved up to survive a long-term shutdown – California considers landscaping an “essential business” because of its safety and sanitary benefits – Mueller said tensions have cooled at his company. In fact, he’s seen an uptick in sales and job applications.
Usually, the industry-wise labor shortage is so severe that one advertisement might draw a single interested applicant, Mueller said. But now, with other businesses laying off employees – some temporarily, some permanently – things are going quite differently. He can even afford to be picky with who he selects to join the crews.
“It was extremely hard to find quality help,” Mueller said. “Now, I run an ad, I’m getting more than a dozen a day. Most of these people don’t have experience… but at least I am getting people who are calling up.”
His company is a smaller company with two-man crews who practice social distancing as much as they can, and Mueller has stressed to his employees that they not come in if they feel sick at all. “When the crews get back at the end of the day, we use Lysol and spray down everything in the truck, we do an extra cleaning that wouldn’t normally get done,” he said.
Mueller is certainly seeing some benefits from the COVID-19 concerns, but he acknowledges they could be temporary. “It’s day by day,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s hour by hour. People are being laid off right now by the millions all over the country. We just don’t know what happens next.”
Adam Coupe, owner
Coupe’s Cut Lawn Services, Carmel, New York
New York City might be the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., but an hour’s drive away in Carmel, Coupe said its business as usual for him.
“We’re outside and by this time of year we’re already approved to do a whole bunch of commercial work,” he said. “And all that money is budgeted and spent… right now we’re busy and as far as New York says we’re an essential business and allowed to be out working.”
In fact, Coupe says the stay-at-home order is allowing crews to finish some jobs faster.
“We don’t really have any contact with anyone when we’re outside,” he said. “Especially now, when we’re in these parking lots and there’s very little traffic. We’re getting a lot of work done and it’s usually a mad house, but there’s no one here to bother us.”
While working, crews are adhering to social distancing guidelines.
“We’re trying to maintain that six feet of social distancing between each worker,” Coupe said. “We’re putting less guys in the trucks and taking more trucks to the job. Guys usually like to eat their lunches in the truck, but we’re not doing that anymore. We’re just sitting out on the curbs. We’re cleaning the trucks daily and taking more measures there.”
So far, Coupe said he hasn’t lost any jobs because of COVID-19, but no new jobs are coming in.
“Honestly, right now it’s business as usual,” he said. “The only thing I can say is that right now the phone isn’t ringing for new customers. The phone is completely dead, when as long as the sun is shining, people are usually calling. The customers we have now are doing stuff, but I think there’s a big hold on anybody who didn’t previous have landscape services but were thinking about it.””
Coupe added he feels the community is happy to see landscaping crews still out and about.
“There’s no customers telling us not to show up,” he said. “Everyone is eager to see us out here. I think most of our customers are happy to keep the economy rolling, and do it safely, rather than cancel everything.”
With not knowing how long the stay-at-home order will be in place, Coupe said some plans for the business will change.
“We were looking to hire one or two more guys for this season, but now that’s been put on hold indefinitely,” he said.
Coupe added that the company is researching small business loans that will become available for those affected by the pandemic but has no immediate plans to apply.
“Luckily, with how we run our business on the financial side, we’re prepared for these kinds of things,” he said.
Right now, he said his biggest worry is clients not being able to pay on time.
“The main concern that I have is that we’re in a service industry and for us to make a dollar we have to spend dollars,” he said. “We’ve got to put the guys in the trucks, put gas in the trucks and put gas in the equipment. Now with all this coming down the road, I’m worried the money is going to get short. People are out of work, they’re cutting back… how long will it take for us to see that money coming in? People will be paying late or pushing us off. When it comes down to it, people have to pay their mortgage or their utilities and then they say, ‘the landscaper can wait.’”
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