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Ask Your Board – COVID-19

“What are the lessons you learned during the COVID-19 crisis and how might your business potentially change as a result?” – Bill Ryan, Partner at TDTOne, Inc. Pineville, NC 


Michael Wall, President, CSI Materials Handling, Westmont, IL

The biggest lesson I learned from the COVID-19 crisis was that my involvement with MHEDA is invaluable. The guidance, information and advice I got from my fellow Board members and MBOA members helped my company navigate the uncharted experiences of dealing with an economic shutdown. It was through conversations with MHEDA members that made me aware not only of the availability of the PPP loan, but the importance of applying for it immediately. Were it not for my MHEDA friends I have no doubt that my company would have fared worse during this crisis.

Ted Springer, President, Springer Equipment Company, Birmingham, AL

We have learned many lessons during the Covid-19 crisis, the world is very fragile. Life, business and the economy can be going quite well and in just a few days everything changes!

It is evident we will continue to deal with changes due to COVID-19 for a very long time. Our business has changed and will potentially continue to evolve, with a much greater focus on the health and safety of our team members, their families and our customers. Those changes will continue to challenge all of us, as we learn how to be productive in a different setting. We may be pleasantly surprised by how productive we can be. We have learned that our OEM support level has increased due to the fact our manufacturer and supplier partners tend to respond faster as they work remotely!

We may well embrace the benefits that technology offers as we make the full-time transition to more team members working remotely. We made immediate adjustments seamlessly without negatively affecting operations and may potentially continue this practice. The benefits are huge, as we increase our level of customer service while giving our team members a safer working environment.

The most significant potential for improvement is to increase our awareness of just how important our culture of health and safety is to our team members. And more importantly we have learned that we have the ability to grow our business even in times of crisis!

Michael Vaughan, CFO, Liftech Equipment Companies, Inc., E. Syracuse, NY

I think the primary lesson is to never underestimate how your organization will react to adversity. As I reflect on the past 6-8 weeks, I have been amazed at the teamwork being exhibited by all as we try to “make it work” with the new kind of workday. All employees have been willing to make sacrifices, enabling the company to envision a stronger entity that will emerge. Leadership is being exhibited at its best.

The biggest change I see will be how communication happens, both with employees and customers. We have been forced to adapt to new mediums and we are finding that in many cases the new mediums are equal to or better than the old and we have all benefited from an increased frequency and intensity of communication.

Thomas Albero, President & CEO, Alliance Material Handling, Inc. Jessup, MD

What a great question. I think I could write a book about what I have learned. First there are the simple things, like why did I ever eat those bowls of nuts at the bars? It is now Day 45 of no Miller Lites. It is good to know that there are no withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking beer. Our family can survive together in the same house for months with no interaction with others, well cell phone excluded. I must admit that I keep looking behind my back thinking a zombie from The Walking Dead is going to sneak up on me. I now know you can drive to work in the DC area with no traffic! 

Second, there are the business lessons. Having a Crisis Plan is critical and super helpful. We had a plan from the beginning and each day we execute it and plan for the next day. Microsoft Teams meetings can be just as productive as face-to-face meetings and allows us to feel like we are together when 10 people may all be in different buildings. Employees are outperforming all expectations when faced with a challenge like COVID-19. Technicians are putting themselves in harm’s way to take care of our critical essential customers. Learning the difference between PPP and PPE. Watching our government rise to the occasion to help.

It has been sporadic, but at times we have seen the Democrats and Republicans working together to solve a crisis. At the same time being embarrassed with the back and forth bantering of these same parties which does all of their citizens no good. The most notable lesson I have come away with during this crisis is perspective and always listen to all sides of the story. In January, I was planning to head to Thailand for an Enersys trip. In February, I went to Mexico. In March, I went to MODEX (not sure that was the wisest idea) and was frustrated with all the canceled meetings that we planned. In April, I have only seen the inside walls of our house and office. In a matter of four months, I went from making light of what people were saying about Coronavirus to doing everything possible to make sure I did everything I could to protect my family which includes our employees.

What does the new way of doing business looks like?  I am not sure we can say that quite yet, but at Alliance we will consider more remote office workers. Microsoft Teams meetings have been embraced and will continue. Hand sanitizer stations will be plentiful at all locations going forward. Sales calls will be different, but unsure how different right now. The two things that will remain consistent are the dedication and hard work of our employees to support our customers in any way they see fit and the true dedication of the MHEDA staff that have done a fantastic job helping us get through this crisis. Be safe and wash your hands.

Doug Carson, VP- Marketing & Sales, Fallsway Equipment Company, Akron, OH

I think the nationwide stay at home orders in place across the country accelerated trends already developing in the country. For instance, the shuttering of “non-essential” retail and eat-in restaurants has accelerated the tendency away from brick and mortar businesses to e-business and home delivery. There is also a quickening of the rush to automation we have experienced in the past attempting to off-set the dependency upon manual labor.  I think these two issues will force us to focus more on automated solutions going forward.

Forced remote working conditions demonstrated that business can still be accomplished without people being in an office environment. I believe this will have an impact on our businesses as we re-think our need for large office environments and their respective high overhead costs associated with real estate and running an enterprise.

Business to business selling has become increasingly difficult through the “front door” over time, and this crisis essentially stopped most in-person sales calls. I believe this effect will linger long past the passing of the COVID-19 crisis. The rise of marketing automation for establishing contact with potential customers is going to accelerate a great deal, as well as the requirement for companies to supply buying information electronically in a self-serve format for consumer use.

As I write this, in early May, 2020, the expected fall-out of the COVID-19 virus appears to be much more geared towards a financial self-inflicted wound than in human health related terms (in comparison to annual flu-related human effects). When this crisis is further in the rear-view mirror I hope there are clear lessons we can garner from our country’s and the world’s collective response.

Greg Brown, President, W.W. Cannon, LLC, Dallas, TX

There have been many opportunities to get creative and to review every bit of our spending. Slowing down has its advantages to get “micro” on the P&L statement and in every part of our organization.

Some things you don’t need at all during times like this, but will need down the road. With a few phone calls many of those can be and in W.W. Cannon’s case were deferred. Communication is key with vendors.

Some things have been hanging around unproductively way too long. Time to put a “bullet” in those.

Owners, executives, managers and associates can all get complacent in good times and “deal with a slack hand.” Time to review.

As always, save more, spend less. Have reserves. Be ready at all times to quickly make the changes needed to ensure the profitability of the company. “Don’t deal with a slack hand.”

It will take strategic moves to get through this. Stay strategic and keep moving. Stay positive. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.

Pete Womack, Vice President of Sales, Riekes Equipment, Kansas City, MO

The answer to the above question for me is two parts.

1. Working from home. With all the changes with technology, I am not afraid of having people work from home. We are able to see, through data, what our employees are accomplishing and how productive they actually are. I am not a climate change person but think about the amount of emissions that are not being released because we are not driving as much. The fuel we are saving, accidents that are not happening and so forth. Could be a positive going down the road.

2. Our facility has always been open for business and truck drivers, vendors, customers, and just about anyone could come and go as they please. Going forward we will continue the process of only allowing people to come in certain areas as it makes total sense.

Darin Boik, President, Advanced Equipment Company, Charlotte, NC

Ronald Burt once said, “Instead of better glasses, your network gives you better eyes.”  The Coronavirus has disrupted the life of nearly every person on the planet and created anxiety about an array of issues ranging from safety, financial responsibilities, or simply where to find a roll of toilet paper. Being part of a strong network of colleagues in a time of uncertainty is helping me guide our company through this pandemic.

There are many lessons learned and many yet to be learned as we wait for the end of this crisis. However, an important lesson is to have a strong network of people that will allow you to share ideas, thoughts, best practices and advice. My network, through MHEDA, has allowed me to navigate the waters of the SBA Paycheck Protection Program, find sources for PPE, and create guidelines for a safe work place. This communication and team approach have been an invaluable resource during an unprecedented time. Remember, networking is an investment in your business and MHEDA is great place to start building yours.

Nate Storey, VP of Operations Storage Solutions, Inc. Westfield, IN

The COVID-19 crisis is something that is affecting nearly every business throughout the country. I would imagine that all companies have had some level of learning how to address the challenges faced by their operations and employees.

The biggest lesson we learned came from the transition to a remote workforce. Storage Solutions has traditionally been a workplace that embraces the eight-to-five, in-the-office mindset. Many on our team held the belief that ‘working from home’ was a ‘play day’. Even though we had not adopted a flexible work environment when the pandemic hit, we were fortunate that our IT team had been making several changes that allowed us to test our adaptability.    

We discovered that we had the foundation of a company that could endure a transition to a flexible work environment. We were proactive with training and implementing new technologies, and our team had already learned to utilize our cloud-based ERP and CRM. We have implemented and trained on collaborative project management tools and continuing education projects to make sure our staff continues to develop, even with distractions that may come with remote work. Even beyond day-to-day training, everyone on our team also has access to the tools required to ensure our projects are still on track. These programs also allow us to maintain our regular communications through meetings and quick calls and chats. Essentially, we were able to move our conference rooms online before we knew we had to.

Over the past few years, we have put considerable effort and resources into ensuring our processes are standardized, documented, and easily accessible. We made sure our team could be fully operational for situations where they could not just walk over to a co-worker to ask how to do something. The ability to turn around and ask a question has suddenly turned into a luxury, but we were prepared.

Through this all, we ended up learning that we were prepared for supporting a remote workforce, even though we hadn’t made it part of our everyday strategy. The lesson learned is, retrospectively, that we made the correct decisions in strategic technology adoption. Looking back, it makes you appreciate what the alternative could have been.

Moving forward, we may take steps to maintain some additional flexibility for our teams in terms of embracing remote work more than we had before the crisis enveloped the country. We are finding efficiencies in our operations. For one example, by conducting meetings over Microsoft Teams or Skype, our team can still maintain relationships with clients with a face-to-face feel, despite physically being across the country. That technology saves resources for time and travel that could be applied elsewhere.

Additionally, as we continue to grow and add staff, we may evaluate our decisions surrounding the addition of physical offices at the same rate. It may be just as smart to go to a shared work environment with new hires across the country. We are learning that ultimately if someone works from home, and they can be as (or more) productive as in a shared office, we may encourage that mindset to some extent.

Ultimately, this crisis is causing a large percentage of businesses to learn about the technologies available to us at different rates. Fortunately, because we were early in the adoption of these technologies, our learning curve was not as steep, which is especially beneficial during a time of confusion and concern throughout the country.

Todd Maxwell, COO, RMH Systems, Waukee, IA

At RMH Systems, I quickly learned the true meaning of the word “essential”. I know that we are depended upon by our customers, suppliers, and employees to run a viable business that delivers what we promise; however, it really hits home when you have to put it in a letter to formalize the relationship. Since RMH Systems is essential, we have stayed open for business and kept our employees focused on taking care of the customer. Most of our employees are able to work from home and the need to come into the office is fading. A couple months ago, I would never have asked my office employees to work from home on a regular basis. My, how things change. With everyone working from home and spread out over several states, the need for communication is paramount. Our CEO, Tom Howard, has been updating our employees with regular COVID-19 updates so that our employees know what the company is doing to ensure the success of our business and keeping them safe. Knowing that times like this can be hard on our employees, RMH Systems decided to establish an Employee Emergency Relief Fund. It is important that our employees have another option to turn to when they have an emergency need. As far as changes to our business, we will be looking at telecommuting as a new option and formalizing it with a new policy. I believe that video conferencing is here to stay and that everyone will be more accepting of this type of meeting both internally and externally. The benefit and need for an in-person meeting will always be extremely important; however, the video conferencing prior to or after the in-person meeting will be much more accepting and efficient. At the end of day, when faced with a crisis, it isn’t the crisis that defines you, it is the way you react to it that does.