Don’t Panic: How Coronavirus Could Impact Your Plumbing Business

As the virus continues to spread and affect people’s daily routines, here’s a look at what it could all mean for your company’s operations

Don’t Panic: How Coronavirus Could Impact Your Plumbing Business

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The coronavirus has the world’s attention. Public reactions seem to range from media coverage eye-rolling to mass toilet paper shortages.

One thing is for sure: Officials are taking the threat seriously. So seriously, in fact, that it is affecting the world’s economies. News reports, Reddit threads and Tweets are rife with stories of small businesses struggling with the fallout. 

How worried do you need to be about the potential effects on your plumbing business? Only time will tell. It is still early days, as health workers and governments everywhere work to contain the virus.

But just because the coronavirus isn’t affecting you yet, doesn’t mean you should completely ignore it. Keep yourself, your family, your employees and your business healthy with a little planning. Consider these important areas:

Supply Chain

Supply houses are starting to see a small disruption in parts and fixture availability. Materials originating from Asia and Italy are getting harder to come by as quarantines ramp up. The words “limited availability" are in heavy use. 

Level of Concern: Moderate.

I’m not panicking yet. How bad parts and materials supply gets will depend on the length and extent of quarantines around the world. Right now it isn’t interrupting any supply chains critical to operations.

Risk Management Ideas:

1. Call your supply reps and talk to them about concerns they see on the horizon.

2. Be proactive about big projects where supply limits mid-stream could cause problems. 

3. Manage customers' expectations and warn them that delays are possible. Unless they have been living under a rock, they will understand.

4. Don’t wait until the last minute to restock disposable PPE items like gloves and Tyvek suits.

Workforce

When your plumbers don’t come to work, business doesn’t get done.

This is an area where it is best not to take risks, though. Better to have one employee out than force the entire company to shut down and cause a community crisis. 

If an employee isn’t feeling well, let them stay home.

Level of Concern: Medium high.

At the time of this writing, our area is starting to see its first cases of the coronavirus. Suddenly, I am very aware of the risks our field workers face and the potential consequences if they become infected.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it isn’t even well understood how the virus is spread. That’s not super comforting when your job forces occasional contact with bodily fluids.

Risk Management Ideas:

1. Send symptomatic workers home immediately. If they have a fever, cough, or are experiencing shortness of breath, encourage them to get tested.

2. Discourage workers from offering handshakes until the threat has passed.

3. Encourage the use of gloves, sanitizers, and other PPE that offers protection from germs. Note that respirators won’t work unless they are the N95 FFR variety.

4. Keep your distance. The CDC notes that, “Most often, spread of respiratory viruses from person to person happens among close contacts (within 6 feet).”  

Demand

Restaurants and event venues are being hit hard as people stay home. Some workplaces are even encouraging employees to work from home. That might cause a slight shift in demand for your services, creating more residential than commercial calls.

Level of Concern: Low.

In fact, I’m sort of hoping that all that toilet paper people are stocking will cause a few clogs. We know we are in a business that is pretty recession-proof.

Risk Management Ideas:

1. If people in your area are being encouraged to work from home, use social media to let people know if you have openings. They may take care of nagging maintenance and low-priority plumbing jobs while they are working from home.

2. Don’t make public jokes about the virus, even if you think it is being over-hyped. It’s bad PR. Train employees to take customers' concerns seriously. People are dying of this virus, and you never know how it has touched someone else’s life.

3. This isn’t a bad time to promote “touch free” upgrades. People are really worried about germs. 

Say it with me, “The plumber protects the health of the nation!” In this case, I’m not sure there is much we can do as an industry. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do our part to protect ourselves, our businesses, and the public.

About the Author

Anja Smith is managing partner for All Clear Plumbing in Greenville, South Carolina. She can be reached at anja@acpupstate.com.



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