Every business owner knows that the unexpected can happen. That’s what insurance is for – protecting the business in the event of a catastrophe. But what if that catastrophe isn’t a tornado or a fire or flood? How do you keep your business afloat? How do you retain your employees? How do you prepare for the future?
My three CARSTAR locations in Ohio are facing the challenge of the coronavirus on the frontlines, balancing the need to serve customers and repair their vehicles while preserving the business and protecting the health and safety of employees – which is a daunting task.
I’ve already been through a major fire and, as a result, I’ve mapped out a thorough planning and recovery process. But this COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. We’re working closely with our local government, health professionals and business community to shift how we’re serving our customers during this unique and challenging time.
Planning for the Downturn
Here are a few suggestions I’ve learned over the years for navigating uncharted waters and protecting your business for the long term.
First, make sure your business is properly insured for a major business disruption. Many policies cover flood or fire, but you need to specifically include coverage for a communicable disease. Talk to your insurance agency to understand what exactly your policy covers and what you need to do when you make a claim. If your policy doesn’t include this coverage, when you negotiate your renewal, make sure you add coverage for these kinds of circumstances.
Second, when times are good, make sure you create a safety net for times like these. Creating an automatic savings plan helps ensure that you have emergency funds available when needed. Ideally, you want to have about three months of operating expenses in savings to protect yourself and your employees.
Conserve Your Expenses
Now is the time to take a hard look at your income and expenses with your accountant. If you can delay any major purchases to conserve cash in the short term, that can help provide a cushion. It is also worth talking with your vendor partners to see if you can extend payment terms to provide more flexibility.
Many landlords are providing relief on rent payments, and some banks are providing extensions on commercial loans. In addition, the IRS has extended the federal tax deadline, so that can give you some breathing room on an annual payment. These are several avenues to explore with your accountant.
Also, the Collision Industry Foundation (CIF) and the Small Business Administration (SBA) are offering loans for businesses impacted by the coronavirus challenge. You can apply for assistance with the CIF here. Through the SBA, your employees can apply for the Paycheck Protection Program, and you can apply for business loans and debt relief by clicking here.
Protect Your Employees
We all know how hard it is to attract and retain talented technicians and team members. Now is the time you have to work even harder to keep them. There will still be vehicles that need to be repaired, and you will need to take extra measures to protect your employees’ health and safety on the job. Here are a few tips:
- Encourage your team members to follow all current OSHA guidelines regarding gloves, eye protection and respirators – and educate them on the importance of limiting personal contact in workspaces.
- Make sure all shared equipment and spaces like paint rooms and parts areas are sanitized throughout the day, and all employees in these areas are wearing proper protection.
- Evaluate team scheduling to allow non-essential employees to work from home, if possible.
You can also focus on training during this downtime, getting your team updated on their I-CAR Gold training, OEM certifications and vendor training programs. When the business climate returns to normal, they will be better prepared to repair advanced vehicles.
Use Your Downtime Productively
Finally, when your volume is a bit slower, it’s an ideal time to clean and update your facility. Clean and sanitize all walls, counters, surfaces and floors. Consider interior and exterior painting to give everything an updated, fresh look – a project your team members can tackle when they aren’t as busy repairing vehicles. And now that the shop is clean, it’s a good time to explore opportunities to keep it that way, such as utilizing a dustless sanding system. Now is also the time to perform annual maintenance on equipment and tools and make needed repairs.
Your team can also use the downtime to conduct physical inventory of all of the supplies, parts and materials you have in stock and determine how to order and use it more efficiently. Make sure equipment is correctly inventoried so you can accurately depreciate it on your financials. You can also get organized by installing new shelving, racks and cabinet systems that make finding the products needed for each job easy and efficient. It’s important to add a tracking system so that as parts and supplies are consumed, they are re-ordered promptly, thus reducing delays on repairs.
While this is the most challenging time many of us have ever faced as business owners, it’s important to focus on how to take a smart, positive approach to dealing with today’s situation. It is also critical to learn from these experiences and better plan for such challenges in the future. We will eventually see an end to this, and hopefully return to our normal way of life in the months to come.
Tom Martin is the owner of three CARSTAR locations in Ohio – CARSTAR Sidney, CARSTAR Troy and CARSTAR Piqua. He started working in a collision repair shop at 15, then went on to purchase the business. He joined CARSTAR in 2003 with his first location. He opened his second CARSTAR location in 2014 and a third in 2019. He has long been a champion of advanced technology and also training for his team. He also donates his time to a variety of volunteer organizations, veterans in need, the homeless and youth sports. He can be reached at [email protected].