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Moving Toward a Post-COVID-19 World (Conclusion)

“As we’re slowly moving toward a post-COVID-19 world, what changes will be needed in our approach to selling (technology, adding markets and products, etc.) and hiring/training/retaining personnel in the new economy?”

Commercial Laundry: Phoebe Ellis, Lace House Linen, Petaluma, Calif.

As we move into our post-COVID-19 world, we are very focused on how we rebuild while maintaining some of our key business values of service, integrity and quality.

We are fortunate that we were able to retain a key group of employees during the past 16 months, so we have been able to adequately service our customers as businesses reopen. We have hired some new employees through referrals, which usually is more effective as the new hires have some understanding of what we do when they start.

We are spending a great deal of time talking to our customers as they are reopening their businesses and trying to determine their needs and weekly orders. We have been very flexible with them but also have emphasized to them how important it is to place orders in advance so that we have the staff and product ready.

We have learned that we can no longer service all customers, especially those who have smaller, specialized items and quantities. We have changed our hours and days of operation, so we have had to be very mindful and strategic on customer management. This is a dramatic change to pre-COVID days when we used to accept all new business because we operated seven days a week.

To be profitable moving forward, we are evaluating our customer base to ensure that each one is a good match for Lace House. This is especially true with our hotel customers who struggle with maintaining adequate linen inventories.

We are being extremely thoughtful about adding extra hours/days to our production schedule as we rebuild our business.

Another change in our business model is that we are consolidating the number of items offered. It is difficult to find certain items, and we are now limited by our production schedule on how many custom items we can even process. Customers are less interested in the specialty napkin than pre-COVID times, as they are just happy to be open and have clean linen, delivered on time.

It is an interesting time in our country, especially in the hospitality and restaurant industries, so we are happy to have endured the last 15 months and are still operational, and we are cautiously optimistic about the next few months.

It does seem like people are ready to gather and celebrate once again, so we are thrilled to be along for the ride, providing clean linen to our restaurant and hotel partners.

Equipment Manufacturing: Charles Spencer, G.A. Braun Inc., Syracuse, N.Y.

As someone who has the pleasure of calling on over 100 operators on a regular basis, first and foremost, know that if you are having troubles selling business and hiring staff, you are in the majority.

Everywhere I go in the Northeast, “Employees Wanted” signs are waving and salesmen are out there finding out what customers are still operating and looking for new niche markets to fill up their plants.

I think the COVID-19 technology legacy to business will be how we adapted to online sales meetings and servicing clients. I personally had to make a list of passwords for all the meeting portals I was being exposed to on a regular basis … Bluejean, WebEx, Zoom, just to name a few.

While lacking the “personal touch,” they allow us to make quick meetings happen, get face time with clients and save valuable travel dollars. I don’t see these as taking the place of in-person sales calls, but I do see them rather as opportunities for quick in-person meetings that are a step above a phone call and still allow the personal interaction, volume, inflection and facial expressions that make in-person meetings so valuable to the sales process.

I look to use these ongoing to replace longer phone calls or those calls where a visual perspective gives extra value.

As for adding markets and products, I believe it’s still all about how well you know and research your markets. And those markets that are just beyond your current market reach? Those are the ones that may hold opportunities for you if you get in quickly and strike at market share. Being the last ant to the picnic only leaves you tired and hungry.

How much more the year is going to hold with changes in hiring and training is something that has often come up in my conversations with operators. More so than ever, I think we need to grasp onto technology that keeps our plant employees engaged in the work with as little training as possible.

Things like automated quality grading systems and sorting systems will be at a premium in the coming years to reduce training and fatigue.

For those employees who do office work, we need to have opportunities for working remotely at least some percentage of the workweek, and, finally, be prepared to pay employees on a frequent basis for some jobs. Now I’m not saying we’re going the route of some countries where an employee leaves their eight hour day with $100 in cash, but with some jobs where very limited training is involved, we have to face that it may be what makes the labor market more accessible to us.

I wish you all the best in taking on these new challenges and hope 2021 is a good recovery year for all of you!

Consulting Services: David Graham, Performance Matters, Fort Mill, S.C.

Good day, ALN readers! I could write a book on this topic—it is not only wide but long! Let us break it out into segments.

The first thing I would do is take the word “slowly” out! You can be cautious or calculating, but if you are slow, you will be eaten up!

Segment 1: Selling.

Technology—If you are not using a customer relationship management (CRM) solution to contain your information, you must obtain one. These can come in many sizes and shapes—Salesforce is the best known, but if your route accounting runs on an Alliant system, then you have a module that can be added to your existing system for a reasonable price.

Pipedrive, Monday and Freshworks are also rated highly.

Adding Markets and Products—Before you endure the cost of expanding your markets, you might be wise to begin to saturate your existing market with new products or focus on existing products first. I always defer to hygiene products and services.

Coming out of COVID, the demand for cleanliness has never been higher. Hand sanitizer, soaps, toilet tissue, hand tissue, air fresheners, urinal mats and much more are very available right now and in demand. When you reach a saturation point here, then you can undertake the expense of a branch/depot, more trucks, more staff, more fuel, etc.

When is that? Hard to say, but you will feel the need to move forward.

Segment 2: Hiring, training and maintaining personnel.

Hiring/Training/Retaining Personnel—COVID and the influence of millennials give us a new dimension in this vital area. Some thoughts follow.

Bring your key and hourly employees into the equation. I have seen so many try to hide the numbers from the people who can help you achieve the numbers. Of course, certain data such as payroll dollars and profits are items you may need to hide.

Not so with efficiencies and achievements. When the team hits the numbers, you celebrate! Budget yearly dollars for fun and reward!

Running the Business on Time—Daily meetings, goal setting and interaction with your employees are mandatory. Be visible on the work floor or in the service department every afternoon. Ride with your sales reps routinely. Set one hour aside weekly to debrief with the boss or your key associates.

No business can be successfully run from the conference room. Accountability is the key. Never perform a physical work function unless it is critical or part of training. Your eye on the business is too important.

Pay and Benefits—Are your wage levels competitive? Hiring, staffing and retention of employees is the single greatest challenge we face right now. Very few business sectors aren’t affected and the competition for good talent is at all-time highs.

There are specific strategies you must use to attract and challenge the next generation(s) of employees. It starts with competitive compensation.

Do you offer good benefits such as health insurance (even a 50% contribution is solid), paid time off (PTO) and inexpensive group life, vision and long-term disability? Weight the cost of all these.

Lastly, the “pièce de résistance” or crown jewel: profit sharing. The proper program raises profits for the company and wages for the rank-and-file without sacrificing quality. Who could ask for more? Win-win!

Finally, Performance Matters LLC and I will help you in any manner along the way. Until next time, remember, do not go slowly!

Miss Part 1 with thoughts from the perspectives of other institution laundry, chemicals, textiles and distribution experts? Click HERE to read it!

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].