By now, most states are well into their reopening plans in response to the COVID-19 virus, moving from one phase to the next, lifting restrictions, and trying to balance health and safety with business and commerce.
Progress in the portable sanitation industry is tentative but encouraging. PROs are telling us they have begun receiving orders for toilets, not just sinks and sanitizer, so it points to a general opening up of the economy, not just treading water.
It follows the pattern that health experts had been telling us, that the number of virus cases would reach a peak, then gradually diminish. However, as was also predicted, some states are currently experiencing a rise in the number of cases after reopening their economies.
How are you preparing your business for reopening?
Like many other industries, portable sanitation will be facing a “new normal” that comes with both challenges and opportunities. In the short-term, and probably until a vaccine becomes available that reduces the threat, operators will have to be able to pivot from one changing business situation to the next. Portable sanitation may trend toward:
Portable sanitation as an industry is buoyed by two fundamental strengths:
As you ramp up your return to activity, you may find yourself re-examining almost every aspect of your business. The SBA lists the following common issues that small businesses may encounter during the reopening process:
Remain on top of the situation by being informed. Continue to monitor the effects of COVID-19 on your service area, your state, nationally and internationally. Join other portable sanitation professionals on social media to share industry-specific news and views.
Stay up to date on your state’s reopening plan. Check your state’s official website.
There are many sources that can guide you as you focus specifically on opening up or ramping up your business. An excellent overview is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “Coronavirus Small Business Survival Guide.” The resources include getting started, federal government stimulus, other financial assistance, managing employees, connecting with customers, how the coronavirus will impact businesses in the long run, and more.
One aspect of business remains the same even during these times – prep for your upcoming season by maintaining your inventory and equipment. Units, sinks, hand sanitizing stations and other products should be clean, working properly, with no loose or damaged parts.
As your plan for reopening becomes clearer, how does your current inventory sync up with changes that you expect to make? More sinks, hand sanitizing stations, soap and hand sanitizer may be at the top of your list of planned purchases. If you decide to purchase new units, get your orders in quickly. We have heard from portable restroom suppliers who are currently fulfilling such a large number of orders for sinks that orders for sinks and other products, particularly units, are backlogged.
However your plans shape up, stay in touch with your suppliers. What changes are they making to respond to current events? Will they be adding a “COVID-19 surcharge” to orders? How might shipping be affected?
Research or contact other suppliers. You may need backup vendors should your traditional supply chain fail.
It may be possible to kickstart your new season by taking advantage of loans and Coronavirus government relief programs that are managed by the SBA. Information is available at https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options.
PPP is a loan that provides incentives for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll. The SBA will forgive the loans if all employees are kept on the payroll and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities.
There is an EZ application and Full application. Recently, both have been simplified to streamline the forgiveness process. Both give the option of using the original 8-week covered period or an extended 24-week covered period.
At this writing, the deadline for filing has been extended until August 8. However, Congress has introduced the “Prioritized Paycheck Protection Program (P4) Act” that would extend the deadline to December 30 or longer to apply for a forgivable PPP loan while creating a new option for a second loan for borrowers with 100 employees or fewer that have lost at least half their revenue due to the pandemic. Stay up to date on these latest developments.
The EIDL is a traditional loan program administered by the SBA. For a time, the SBA was accepting new EIDL applications only to provide relief to U.S. agricultural businesses. However, as of June, applicants who have already submitted their applications will continue to be processed on a first-come, first-served basis.
If you have agricultural customers, the focus of applications on these businesses may reopen these opportunities for you. Contact them so they know your services will be available and to inquire about additional products or services that you can provide.
Enables small businesses who currently have a business relationship with an SBA Express Lender to access up to $25,000 quickly.
The SBA is providing a financial reprieve to small businesses by paying six months of principal, interest and associated fees that borrowers owe for all 7(a), 504, and Microloans.
The SBA also works with lenders to provide loans to small businesses. Check https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans.
You can also contact your bank or financial institution to arrange other loans or to help guide you through the SBA application process, which can be complicated.
You can’t work from home in the portable sanitation business. If you have not been able to keep your workers on the payroll, they may be coming back to different, unfamiliar conditions. As your drivers and other employees return, they become your responsibility while on the job. You want to do what’s best for them.
If you have an office with employees, you have to establish a safe working environment. OSHA offers a publication “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19.” The recommendations include taking basic infection prevention measures, which include:
Wear masks as recommended by your state’s COVID-19 guidance. You as the employer should provide masks to all employees when they are on the job. They can be purchased or made at home.
Sanitize the interior of your truck regularly, especially if more than one driver uses it. Car and Driver, for example, recommends using soap and water on all “touch points” – steering wheel, door handles, radio, seat belt, sun visor, etc.
With your plan in place and your physical environment prepared, you are ready to bring back your workers. But will they be available and ready to return? Communication is the most important aspect of your reopening strategy. Let them know the safety measures you have put in place. Listen and address their concerns.
You may lose some employees who aren’t willing to return, so have in mind a hiring strategy. See if seasonal workers are ready to go full-time. With unemployment running at record levels, there may be a wider pool of candidates to draw from. You may not have a lot of work at the beginning, so be upfront about it. Less work does offer the advantage of being able to get new workers up to speed at a more measured pace.
Have you received any phone calls or texts asking if your company was still open? It’s a positive sign that outdoor activities are calling! But it’s also an indicator that you have to be proactive about informing your customers and the public about your company’s status. Don’t wait for customers to knock on your door.
Contact your current and potential clients and let them know:
Contact your Chamber of Commerce and individual company members, and service organizations that you belong to, and let them know:
Ads in local papers and spots on local radio stations are usually inexpensive. Let the public know you are open. Emphasize the importance of sanitation and disinfecting hands.
Put an announcement on your home page. It can be as simple as “We’re open for business and ready to meet your cleanliness and sanitation needs.” You may also want to add pages of additional information to promote your knowledge and expertise in sanitation, your safety precautions and other virus-related news.
In addition to reopening and sanitation information, recent photos are especially effective on social media. Shots of you and your employees using face masks on the job, or simply shots of units at recent outdoor activities, reinforce a positive message about your services during the economic recovery.
Wash your trucks and inventory so you present your business at its most professional. Uniforms should be clean and tidy. Make sure your company stickers are on the outside and inside of all your units.
Volunteering your services for local not-for-profits, civic organizations or your church is always an opportunity to promote your company and your community support. If you are in a financial position to do so, volunteering could be especially beneficial at this time.
Double back on some of the traditional job-source standbys such as municipal websites, party and event planners, contractors and not-for-profit organizations. Check the fine print for new requirements that may affect portable sanitation at events due to COVID-19.
A number of cities have begun trial programs that have closed miles of streets and roads to vehicle traffic, reserving them instead for walking, biking, dining or simply as more space for people to be outside. These new outdoor, public arenas may need portable sanitation stations, opening a potential new way to serve the public interest and create a new revenue stream.
Check with your Chamber of Commerce to see if any municipalities in your service area are or are planning an open streets program. If not, you may want to propose the idea yourself.
The internet is a source of information. One site is the Open Streets Project.
The SBA offers information on opportunities for small businesses to bid on contracts for work that aids federal agencies in responding to the pandemic. Also, if your company already has a current federal contract and you are experiencing difficulties fulfilling it because of the pandemic, relief is available. See “SBA Federal Contracting Guidance for Small Businesses Impacted by Coronavirus (COVID19).”
One of the most important unknowns of the pandemic is the possibility that COVID-19 may return in the fall and winter (like the flu). Start watching for news reports towards the end of summer and early fall. If the virus does reappear, you should get more localized information from your state’s website.
Once again, your business may have to turn on a dime to respond to quickly changing circumstances. Anticipate that customers will be cautious. Fewer winter events may be scheduled or have a tentative status. But the demand for sinks and hand sanitizing stations may suddenly increase. Keep your workers updated.
Use all the information you gather to update your business plan in anticipation of reopening. Focus on short-term objectives that will get your business through the year. Revisit the plan as often as needed when significant events occur.
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