It’s not a shock that a lot of small businesses are hurting right now. Implementing new safety protocols, buying new equipment and PPE for workers, and changing policies to keep employees and customers safe. The task at hand, this past summer, for companies that have been able to maintain operations has been to shift.
Many small businesses in the East Bay, however, have been forced to shut their doors and weren’t able to implement the changes needed to continue providing services under the restrictive circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. Other businesses have closed temporarily, laying off or furloughing employees and reducing costs to survive.
Terms like “lean” and “efficiency,” “essential,” and “pivot” have become commonplace in discussing what is a truly an abnormal time in our world. Service workers are people we have to depend on, and titles like CEO and Principal have quietly moved to the background as even large, powerful organizations are reporting mass layoffs and closures.
In California, cases have been up and down and then up again. However, there is constant talk of reopening, even as the highly infectious virus continues to spread. Main Street America, a network of more than 1,600 commercial districts comprising 300,000 small businesses, reported a survey conducted in April 2020 and found that about 7.5 million businesses are at risk of closing permanently if the pandemic persists. And here we are: six months later with the number of cases and deaths still on the rise.
When news of the COVID -19 pandemic broke and California counties began mandating shelter in place orders, Pipe Spy was not unlike many small businesses in Oakland: unsure, looking for answers, and wondering what the economic slowdown would mean for the company. After a few days of uncertainty around what would happen, plumbing work was declared an essential service by Alameda County. We quickly posted notices, reconfigured office staff to work from home, and implemented every precaution recommended by the CDC.
We knew changes had to be made, and our leadership team sprang into action. Being flexible and steadfast was the key to implementing changes that would prepare us for a new way of doing things. Soon a surge in service requests from folks who were falling in love with their gardens again, making home improvements, and finally finding the time to have the plans drawn up for that accessory dwelling unit (ADU) they’d been putting off for years.
Researching became a required skill as toilet paper, sanitizing products, and other shortages emerged. The Pipe Spy team had to keep their eyes open and research online deals for PPE (most of which are products we use in our trade on a regular basis). We also had to listen to our customer base, hear what their concerns were, and figure out how to help. It wasn’t long before we realized what the answer would be: to be there for our customers. We had to keep our doors open and be ready when Oakland and East Bay residents needed us.
Rising Up to Challenges
The team at Pipe Spy knew that trying to go on as “normal” while maintaining a high level of work quality would be a challenge. We have had to adopt practices that weren’t “normal” and show up for each other as much as we would for our customers.
Social distancing would challenge how we typically interacted with our customers on face-to-face service calls where we may have to ask questions. Checking in on customers to see how they’re doing as well as asking detailed questions in a phone call before providing services have proven to be the best way to bridge the gap and offer contactless plumbing repair service.
Cost of materials was also impacted as a result of trade being halted in some regions. Many homeowners have been struggling with lost wages and difficult financial challenges. We knew if we would give grace deductions to seniors and other vulnerable communities on their repair invoices, it would make things a little easier on them.
No matter what challenges we faced, we tried to look at them positively. With that attitude, we often found that solutions were right around the corner and often easier to execute than we thought – especially when compared with the more complex steps some companies have taken in order to keep operating.
We get questions all the time now about what we’re doing to keep our team and customers safe, and we’re proud to tell them: “Everything We Can!” We’ve made our focus what we can do instead of what we can’t do in keeping with CDC recommendations.
Practical steps often look more like taking extra care. For instance, at our headquarters: the shop kitchen, locker room, bathrooms, and other office surface touch points get sanitized twice a day. We provide N95 masks in a variety of styles and colors to all of our staff and conduct temperature checks at the start of each morning. We hold to a strict “No mask, No entry” policy for the shop, and we’ve limited vendor interactions by leaving signage and instructions for our delivery partners.
We’ve expanded our traditional morning safety meeting to include discussing social distancing challenges that come up on job sites. Morning stretches at 8:00 am are ran to keep our team healthy and moving (though the hula stretch makes everyone laugh because some folks are really animated!). We developed a mantra in the morning where we show our hands up in the air as a reminder to wash them often and to say: “We come to work with ten fingers; we go home with ten fingers!”
We’ve made sure our entire team receives periodic testing for COVID-19 and that testing is available for any team member who wants to schedule a test during off hours. We ensure there are handwashing stations in portable bathrooms at every job site and that our work crews are wearing masks and social distancing from customers and each other while working in the field.
And lastly but certainly not least: we’re giving time off to folks who may have family members affected by the pandemic. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act is helping Pipe Spy extend sick leave up to 80 hours of full-time pay.
So, we’re doing okay and really supporting one another through this – and we’re hoping you’re out there supporting each other too!
Pipe Spy has been serving local East Bay communities for more than 20 years, and we plan to be here 20 more. For more information on our services and how you can contact us with your underground plumbing concerns visit our website at pipespy.com .