CORONAVIRUS

Ready to reopen? Four Cedar Rapids business leaders offer advice

For some customers, 'the fear factor is huge'

Andrea Shriver (left) staples a bag containing a customer's food after writing an encouraging not on the bag while Matt
Andrea Shriver (left) staples a bag containing a customer’s food after writing an encouraging not on the bag while Matt Danielson prepares a drink order for a customer at Brewhemia, 1202 Third St SE, in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Wednesday, May 6, 2020. Both are also co-owners of the business. The coffee shop is reopening in stages. The business has reopened with a limited to-go menu, online ordering and no-contact pickup. They’ve recently added a barista back to the operation. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
/

On Wednesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds removed some restrictions on businesses in the 22 counties that have been seeing higher numbers of Iowans affected by COVID-19, including Linn and Johnson counties.

Now those organizations have to make decisions — on bringing back employees, services to provide and how much access to allow for customers.

And as those businesses reopen — some after more than two months — crucial steps likely will include ongoing communication with employees and customers and a well-thought-out restart plan.

The Gazette spoke with business leaders about the challenges faced by business owners as they consider how and when to open their doors.

• David Drewelow of ActionCoach Heartland in Cedar Rapids is a consultant with 19 years of business coaching experience.

• David Hensley, director of the University of Iowa’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, has expertise in small business management during a crisis.

• Josh Seamans is vice president of Cushman and Wakefield, a global commercial real estate adviser that operates offices in more than 60 countries including China.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

• Steve Shriver is a Cedar Rapids entrepreneur who operates and/or helped found four diverse enterprises, including Eco Lips and Brewhemia.

Their responses here have been condensed from lengthy individual interviews.

How important is communication and having a well-prepared plan for resumption of business?

Shriver: The one thing that has been imperative throughout this whole process is communication with employees, customers and the public. I also would recommend writing as detailed a business resumption plan as possible.

One of the main reasons is to fully understand what you are doing as this is a brand-new challenge that none of us has faced.

Drewelow: You really need to be communicating now, more than ever, with your employees, customers, vendors and suppliers. What does your plan for the next 20 to 30 days look like? What are things that you can be doing right now to get ready?

Hensley: I think it is critically important to have a reopening plan because most businesses are not going to be at full strength right away. What might their revenue forecasts look like? How can they keep their costs down as their business starts to rebound before it gets back to full capacity?

Seamans: Your plan should include a checklist of reopening steps appropriate to your type of business. Retail will have different items than distribution or industrial businesses.

You need to communicate your plan to employees, customers, landlords and lenders.

How much will fear play a role in the resumption of business?

Shriver: Everyone has a different idea of the risks involved, such as using a handle to open a door or interacting with a person — the little things that we are used to doing.

When you look at the risk versus reward of doing that, some people will be willing to go into a store and others will stay home. Some employees don’t want to come back to work yet and some people are itching to get back. You have everything in between.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Drewelow: The fear factor is huge. For the small business owner, we try to channel that fear into a focus on being highly aware of all the possibilities to mitigate concerns.

If you own a restaurant, can you post the menu online or use disposable menus? That way, a customer doesn’t have to touch something that might have been handled by someone else.

Appropriate spacing of customers within a restaurant also will help alleviate some of the fear.

Hensley: You need to communicate what steps you are taking to protect the health and safety of your employees and your customers. If you will be requiring the use of personal protective equipment like face masks, are you going to make them available?

Will limiting the number of people entering a business be difficult?

Shriver: There are not a lot of people who want to gather in masses right now. It seems like as businesses start to reopen, it will be more like a trickle.

It will be just like turning on a water spigot, with the flow of customers gradually increasing.

Hensley: I think we will see a lot more customers buying, rather than just shopping. They are going to buy the items they came for and then leave.

If businesses have more vulnerable customers, I would recommend establishing separate early morning times like many of the grocery stores have done to provide a safer environment.

Many companies have adopted using digital conferencing platforms for meetings. Will we see that trend continue?

Seamans: I think Zoom will be used for more internal meetings, so there is no need for someone to fly from, say, San Francisco to New York. But in terms of sales, it does not replicate that face-to-face interaction.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

We have done work with clients that live several hours away and we have to come in for a city council meeting for a project that we are working on. That’s a three-hour drive in for a one- or two-hour council meeting and another three-hour drive back — basically an eight-hour day. If we can Zoom in and answer any questions, that’s a lot more efficient at less cost.

What should a small-business owner consider when determining how many employees to recall?

Shriver: We will be able to bring some people back to work and generate some revenue, but not in a huge way. Anybody who can work from home should continue working from home for as long as they possibly can.

We should not be rushing to get those people back. There is no incentive.

Hensley: Owners are going to be making hard decisions. Do I bring back half of my team at full time or do I bring everyone back at reduced hours? What are those implications going to be?

In some cases, other industries have been hiring and some may be making more money. Businesses may have to pay more to attract that talent back.

Restaurants have been forced to change their business model from on-premise dining to carryout and delivery. Should all owners take this opportunity to examine and update their business model?

Shriver: We took two businesses — SOKO Outfitters, a retail store, and Brewhemia, a restaurant — and put them rapidly online within a month. When we come out of this, I think we will be stronger because we will have that infrastructure in place in addition to the old school face to face traffic that we used to have.

Hensley: I think this is definitely the time to look at your business model to determine what is appropriate given the economic situation that we have. That is not just going to be critical for reopening, but over the next six months to a year as long as we are dealing with the virus.

Some business owners will see that their customers have lost their jobs or seen their income drop dramatically. They are going to be changing their patterns of consumption based on necessities.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Drewelow: Some of my clients believe that are looking their competitors and realize that some may not reopen. They are looking at whether they can merge with them or somehow salvage parts of that business.

Some business owners have realized that the way they deliver products or services will have to change. Many of my older clients have been dragged into using modern technology.

Support our coverage

Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.

Support our coverage

Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.