Tuesday, 07 April 2020 17:19

ASA Colorado Shares Ideas to Help Shops Survive During the COVID-19 Crisis

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ASA Colorado hosted a Facebook Live panel, “Surviving During the COVID-19 Outbreak.”

Mediated by Carm Capriotto of Remarkable Results Radio, the March 30 panel included Bob Redding, Washington, D. C., representative for ASA, as well as four members of ASA Colorado’s Board of Directors: Chairman Bryan Gossel, Immediate Past Chair Brad Pellman, Mechanical Division President Phil Carpenter and Board Member Judi Haglin.


Capriotto referenced “two-week businesses," which were explained by Gossel.


“I was told by my banker that two-week businesses aren’t going to make it," Gossel said. "Even in good times, so many businesses are just two weeks from closing their doors. If that doesn’t resonate and wake you up to the things that you should be paying attention to normally, now you’re forced to pay attention.”


“We’re more than two weeks into this crisis, and we’re worried---we don’t want to lose anyone who services automobiles in our country,” Capriotto said.


Redding shared information on the CARES Act, passed March 27, including the EIDL and the PPP, and how these programs can benefit shops struggling due to the coronavirus.


He also talked about the programs during the ASA’s briefing the following day.


“The intent of Congress and the president is keeping businesses open, keeping people employed and keeping people going to businesses," Redding said. "Importantly, they also want money on the street as quickly as possible.


"The EIDL and PPP are opportunities shops can participate in to get through this crisis, but pay attention to deadlines and start contacting the SBA and your lenders now to get in their queues," Redding said.


Redding said the EIDL includes an emergency cash grant of up to $10,000.


"If you laid people off, the PPP will help you bring them back, plus it has principal forgiveness provisions if certain criteria are met," he said. "The government’s goal is to get money to those who need it fast and help them keep their teams employed.”

Redding said the automotive repair industry is not used to asking the federal government for help, but these programs are designed to help it.


"This is an opportunity and, for many, a necessity. Don’t be afraid to participate in the help provided from our federal government right now,” he said.


Stressing the importance of understanding as much as possible and sharing legitimate documentation to help everyone, Capriotto turned to Pellman to discuss what the association’s membership is doing to avoid going out of business while contending with the pandemic.


“Relief is coming with this CARES Act, but it may not be as fast as we’d like it to be,” Capriotto said.


Pellman acknowledged many shop owners are concerned, since they’ve never experienced anything quite like the current situation.


“No one can say they were prepared for this to happen in their business,” Pellman said.


“There’s never been a great opportunity to join a peer group or association," Capriotto added. "I don’t know what you’re waiting for---the time is now.”


As the conversation turned to fixed business costs, Haglin suggested shop owners examine their bills for any payments that can be deferred, and encouraged a reevaluation of every aspect of the business.


“What can you cut back on? If employees are on furlough, did you place a hold on their uniforms? Can you reduce the frequency of any scheduled maintenance items? Where can you save so you aren’t expending all that money? Start being creative as you look at your finances. You need to be asking ‘what’s next’ and explore the possibilities,” Haglin said.


In regards to shops’ reluctance to stay open, risking employees’ health and dealing with concerned customers, panelists reminded attendees they should be disinfecting keys and other high-touch points before the tech gets in the car, and the process should be repeated before it’s returned to the client, preferably where they can witness the effort.


Hand sanitizer stations are another valuable asset that can help protect employees and customers.

“We are an essential business because we’re servicing vehicles for truckers, medical workers, grocery store workers and others who need to be able to perform their jobs for everyone’s sake,” Gossel reminded everyone. “We are blessed to be considered essential. Automotive and collision repair used to be the gutter industry, but now everyone gets to see that we are a life-sustaining business that helps keep everybody going.”


Carpenter stressed the importance of maintaining contact with employees to check on their concerns.


“You have to support them if they are worried about bringing this disease home to their family, especially if they have vulnerable family members living with them," Carpenter said. "Yes, it’s a business, but it’s a balance of business and taking care of the people that are there for you every other day.


"Loyalty can be bred out of what you do for employees in a crisis, and it’s important to recognize that what you can do for somebody doesn’t always mean money---it can also mean communicating and simply being there for people.”


“Staying connected in your shop about everything that’s going on in our world allows you to find out who’s really on your team," Pellman added. "The employees who offer solutions are your good team players. These are the best people you have, and you want to hold onto them.”


Referencing employees that have been placed on furlough, Haglin said people feel isolated and unimportant when they are laid off.


"If you plan to bring them back, make sure you are communicating with them frequently and sharing positive information about the steps you’re taking to move forward and bring them back to work," Haglin said.


When Capriotto asked about community outreach, panelists encouraged shops to get in front of customers in a supportive way, by offering services such as pickup and dropoff or even just calling to check on them in a personal capacity.


“It’s not about money, it’s about bigger things than money,” Gossel said.


Although it may be tempting to reduce marketing during this trying period, the panelists discouraged business owners from taking that step.


Instead, they recommended shops share organic videos to demonstrate the steps taken to protect customers.

Gossel has encouraged his techs and salespeople to post videos to maintain relevance and get outside their comfort zone.


“We’re trying to improve our whole team during this trial,” Gossel said.

“Facebook videos don’t have to be extremely professional,” Pellman said. “It’s real life, and it can just be you in your shop. I posted a video where I acted as if I was walking a customer through the shop so they can see what we do.”


Movies have multiple takes and there’s no reason a shop can’t delete a video and try it again if they aren’t happy with their first attempt, Capriotto said.


“This isn’t about thinking outside the box. We need to break the box so we can learn to do some new and different things,” he said.


Haglin suggested shops can use the night drop box, text-to-pay apps and other techniques to avoid face-to-face interaction, expressing curiosity about how this may change how businesses operate once the crisis is resolved.


Gossel expressed his faith that people love human contact.


“We’re meant to be together and unite,” Gossel said.


Haglin reminded folks not to panic if they touch someone in error.


“Don’t touch your face, and go wash your hands," Haglin said. "When it comes to PPE and gloves, techs should make sure to change gloves in between each car so they aren’t infecting the next vehicle they work on.”


While some rural areas have not yet been impacted, Gossel encouraged shops in those areas to do business like normal with extra precautions, but to also pay attention to what people are saying in order to be prepared and stay ahead of the curve.


"Check in on your neighbors and everyone else. It’s hard to be positive all the time, and we all need someone to talk to," Gossel said. "Now is the time to build and strengthen those relationships so you have someone to lean on, and remember that we are going to power through this.”


Haglin and Pellman reminded attendees ASA National has a legal team to assist in sharing valuable information and deciphering the laws being passed.


“The key is knowing that we are going to come out of this on top," Carpenter said. "We’re in a very good industry because we are essential, and we are going to come through this.”

“So many people are reaching out to others who need help. I’ve never seen such teamwork and camaraderie," Capriotto said. "We have a silent enemy, and if anything will pull us together, it’s something like this. It’s time to reinvent yourself and your business to stay fluid in this dynamic situation.”


In order to help keep automotive and collision repair professionals informed during the COVID-19 crisis, ASA Colorado is offering a free membership until the end of the current session in July 2020.


“If you see value, and we hope you do, you’ll stay a member when the new session starts,” Pellman said.


For more information about ASA Colorado and how to join for free through July, visit asacolorado.org.

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