Frustration Abounds

People are stressed. Covid has us wondering, frustrated, concerned, and for some, scared. And it boils over into passive-aggressive, snotty, and even mean behavior. And I’m not referring to those making it political.

How else to explain an email I received last week that said, “…if you were a real business you would have answered your phone.”

Okay, I get it. But just think, what if I was someone who could help this person? Or, someone who could buy something from their company?

I preach relationship, relationship, relationship to my clients. Don’t blow it before you have a chance.

Isolated Information May Equal Trouble

Some recent events have reinforced my belief that singular information can easily lead to the wrong conclusion. We see this in the news. A police officer makes a mistake, and some assume all cops are bad. A protestor (or protest hijacker) throws something, and some assume the whole group is bad.

Singular information in other parts of life can also get us off track.

I was looking at some of a client’s financial reports. Revenue and production efficiency should move together. If efficiency goes up so should revenue, and vice versa. But they didn’t; Efficiency was solid, but revenue went down. I found out the reason for this, it made sense but at the same time didn’t make sense. In other words, I now understand why it happened, but production efficiency shouldn’t be calculated the way it is/was. If all I did was look at one or the other, I’d get an incomplete picture.

The same goes for COVID cases. We are constantly barraged with the numbers of new cases. Just paying attention to the top line number can get you worried (it sure has with Washington’s governor). But if you look at the positive cases in relationship to the number of tests, you’ll see the numbers are up because testing is up. As per the Washington Department of Health’s website last week, the percentage of positive tests is (was then) at about half of what it was in April. Want to see the positive numbers go down, test less (that’s a joke).

Take this into account when you look at any business whether it’s to buy it, work there, or offer advice. It’s like peeling an onion. You peel until you get the right answer, whether it’s the one you want or the opposite. When it comes to buy-sell deals, you’re going to see a lot peeling. If sellers thought there used to be a lot of questions, they’ll now find their “onion” just got a got larger.

“Not all those who wander are lost.” J.R.R. Tolkien

Time for Thinking

Recent weeks and months have been traumatic. In business June was the quietest for us in three months. As quiet to the first couple weeks of the virus shutdown. The disgusting murder of George Floyd on top of the virus sure has changed our lives. I’ve put a lot of thought in all that’s going on, done a lot of reading, and listening. About those disenfranchised by society and those whose businesses and lives have been ravaged by a virus and then by looting.

Bottom line: I can put up with our business being slow for a while (repeat, for a while) if it leads to the societal change we need. Because if change truly occurs it will benefit all of us in many different ways (not just economically).

For perspective, we have a son-in-law who’s a police officer. I had three or four high school friends become police officers, two very good friends; guys with whom I played rec softball and touch football. One of those friends was murdered at age 29 when he served a (rather insignificant) warrant, the recipient pulled out a gun, and put a bullet in his head. His partner would have also been murdered but the killer’s gun jammed.

At the same time, some of my best friends are Black. I’ve known people who have been “targeted” based on their race. It happens and I know because I’ve been on the periphery of it. While not nearly the same, a number of years ago we were in Scottsdale over New Year’s, I went out for an early morning walk around the resort grounds, and because it was about 40o I had on a sweatshirt with the hood up. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a security guard on a Segway, and he was following me. Once he saw I was a white, middle-aged guy he left me alone. Hmmm, if I wasn’t would he have acted different?

I’m a believer in the 80-20 rule (sometimes more, sometimes less). In my opinion:

  • 80% (or more) of police are good.
  • 80% (or more) of protesters are well meaning.
  • 80% (maybe 98%) of politicians are in it for themselves not you or me.

So we know this stuff happens and it’s not from the good 80%. When I hear the president make comments encouraging violence against peaceful protestors it nauseates me. Just as it does when criminals hijack peaceful protests in order to steal and destroy. A destroyed small business will devastate the owner (see the front page of the June 4 Wall Street Journal about looting in small, minority owned businesses), his or her family, and the employees, who may have a hard time getting another job or getting unemployment given the ineptitude of the Unemployment Department, at least in Washington. 

Unfortunately, there’s no easy solution to all of this other than to do our part and have more acceptance. On one of our Rotary projects in Antigua we were having a discussion and one of my (Seattle) friends said, “People are people. Some are fat, some skinny; some tall, some short; some smart, some not so smart, some black, some white, but people are people.” And that really sums it up.

Education is one of the foundational pieces and we can’t keep having such educational disparity. More education, less dependency on government assistance, and a better life for all as life in general and the economy are not zero-sum games. It takes all of us doing a little bit. Business is business and there are more important things in life.

“Hell is boiling over/And heaving is full/We’re chained to the world/And we all gotta pull.” Tom Waits

What Will People Hoard Next?

We must be in the minority because we eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables. Now we’re eating more than before the virus crisis and I’m reading that farmers are not able to sell their crops because so many people are buying primarily meat and shelf stable food (cans, dried, frozen). Just look at the (low) price of strawberries over the last couple of weeks.

More proof, Costco posts a list of items they are out of and last week it included milk and eggs (they had some but what they had would be gone by early afternoon the day we were there), and fresh chicken. The produce section was overflowing. 

On April 27 the Wall Street Journal had an article titled, “Farmers Forced to Destroy Their Crops.” This after an article the week before about farmers dumping milk and eggs. It’s not that there’s not enough food, it’s what people are buying and how it’s packaged. If it’s packaged for food service distributors the packaging won’t work in the grocery stores.

On April 28 the WSJ had a headline, “Overcrowded Barns Hamper Pork Industry.” There’s a surplus of hogs as well as cows and chickens given the virus outbreak in meat packing plants. Tyson releases a notice about upcoming poultry shortages, stores can’t get their usual supply, and people hoard what is in the store.

I’m guessing they don’t teach about this in supply chain classes. Of course, they don’t teach about common sense and the lack of it is what’s fueling the fire (hoarding). So, will the produce aisles be hit hard next when there’s limited meat? We’ll have to wait and see.

“The secret to be successful with a child is to not be its parent.” Mell Lazarus

Need Versus Free (Money)

One of the most famous lines in literature is Charles Dickens opening of A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” One could apply that line to what’s going on these days with the pandemic. 

It’s the best of (business) times for grocery stores, streaming services, cleaning supplies manufacturers and distributors, etc. It’s the worst of days for those getting sick, having knee replacements or rotator cuff surgeries postponed, and owners and employees of a devastated small business. Given this is a business newsletter let’s talk about the last point.

Let’s start with two examples that represent quite a few situations I’ve discussed with people over the last couple of weeks.

A client with a distribution business was worried about making her payroll a week later, even at its current 50% of normal level. She didn’t know if her PPP application would be approved by then. The big problem is her customer base has been forced to close and she estimates 20% are closed for good. The same goes for companies supplying restaurants, hair salons, coffee shops, really any personal service, etc.

The owner of a service business told me his normal service is down, but their backlog of project work will keep them busy for three to four months. He also applied for the PPP and I’m sure he’ll get it. Given it will cover costs, the revenue will fall straight to the bottom line so at least the government will get a percentage of it back in taxes. And I know of businesses applying for the PPP even though their sales will be strong.

I’m sure the government officials were in a quandary. How to get money out ASAP versus qualifying who will get it. They chose giving it to all business meeting the topline criteria, which was mainly size of company and keeping people working (or calling them back to work). There were no “need” qualifiers like how much have your sales declined? Or, what will your Q2 sales be compared to 2019? (Yes, I know there’s a question asking the applicant to state they’ve been affected by the virus.) Given the business owner has to hire back their people to get loan forgiveness, what will those people do if there are no customers?

Not an easy decision and I wonder if there will be qualifiers in the future phases of the relief programs. There should be.

“I am not the kind of person women fall in love with. I sort of grow on them, like a fungus. Jeff Bezos

Random Thoughts Part 3 on the Virus Crisis

I get more feedback on my random thoughts memos than any four to six weeks combined, so here are some more.

Politicians look very well groomed, hair salons and barber shops are closed, I really need a haircut, so does anybody know where the governor is getting his hair cut?

“Non-essential” businesses are essential to the business owner and employees, aren’t they?

Did Joe Biden paint himself into a corner by saying he would pick a female running mate just before Andrew Cuomo became a star? 

What happens if government opens up the economy and workers are too scared to go back to their jobs? And/or the customers are too scared to go and buy?

We need a middle ground between Trump not caring if people get sick and (WA) Governor Inslee not caring about business owners and their employees.

And speaking of politicians, one of the best lines I’ve seen or heard came from a State rep in Wisconsin who said, why can we go to Walmart and buy flowers, but we can’t get flowers at the local florist?

There are almost no autoresponder replies to emails these days, other than from bankers telling us how busy they are with the paycheck protection program (and it’s true).

It’s easier to stay at home, especially on sunny days, if you’re an allergy sufferer and the pollen counts are at the top of the charts.

And speaking of allergies, what is the point of an allergy eyedrop coming in a .085 fluid ounce bottle (that’s about 1/7 of a teaspoon). The plastic must cost more than the solution.

I get a kick out of people who cross the street when they see you walking towards them. The mist we create when breathing doesn’t carry nearly that far (I’m guessing less than the six feet we’re told to be separated).

There’s a lot of well-deserved praise for health care workers, grocery store employees, and the same praise should be given to those in the supply chains that provide the products to the stores and medical facilities.

There’s a lot of creative comedy out there. A friend sent me a picture of an enraged Al Bundy with the caption, “Just to be clear, we’ve all agreed that liquor stores are “essential” and schools are not!”

There’s a huge and growing need for social/people interaction and Zoom Happy Hours are here to save the day. I think they’ll continue although not as frequently. 

Realize the officials in charge of the virus and economy in Washington State are the same genre of people who built the West Seattle bridge that is in danger of collapsing (on its own) about halfway through its expected life.

“If you make up your mind not to be happy, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have a fairly good time.” Edith Wharton

More Random Thoughts on Our Crisis

I’ve had a lot of positive comments about my random thoughts format during the crisis, so here are some more.

Every day I get closer to having my wife get the clippers out and give me a buzz cut. I needed a haircut three weeks ago, was debating if it was safe to be in a shop, and then the lockdown.

I’ve seen more than enough emails with links to all the disaster relief programs. I’ll bet I got 20 or more.

I find it really beneficial to not have news radio on during the day because all they talk about is virus related, and not much is new. I can get enough in short bursts in a lot less time.

We walk our dogs almost every day and boy are there a lot of people out walking we’ve never seen walking before. And, on a walking meeting with my friend Pete McDowell we ran into a couple who saw us coming, moved about 25 feet away, and gave us a dirty look for being on the same path they were on.

A lot of helping going on. Just in our family, my wife went to the store for our 85-year-old neighbor. Jessica and she are sewing masks for Evergreen Hospital. Tomorrow I’ll be helping deliver 300 meals the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club is buying from Tutta Bella for Overlake Hospital (when we’re done, I’m guessing we’ll provide at least 3,000 meals for health care workers). My younger daughter gave an elderly man at the store two extra masks she has (the store was out of them). I know this is happening in many families.

There’s sure a lot of creativity going into funny videos about the virus. A friend even sent me a YouTube link for a German one titled, “Scheiss Corona” sung to the tune of My Sharona. 

On a serious note, I wrote my State legislator and asked why politics crept into the shutdown policies (I know the answers and I’m not making judgments here). Why was Sound Transit allowed to work for a few weeks, but home remodelers can’t? Rotator cuff and joint replacements for people in pain are out but abortions are essential? Why are pot shops open but gun ranges aren’t? I think it healthier to shoot off a few rounds to relieve stress than get high.

A lot more of us are getting better at Zoom, GoToMeeting, Teams, and other video conferencing services.

People are going to get sick of working from home a lot faster than many “experts” think they will.

Finally, I get asked all the time about when I think the economy will bounce back. Most people are optimistic because we’ve bounced back fast before. Then I see Tom Douglas, Bill Gates, and others writing about how they think it will be a long road to full recovery. I’m guessing it will be somewhere in the middle of the timeline, but really have no idea. I hope the optimistic crowd is correct.

Social versus People Distancing

I’ve read and heard a lot lately about how we’re all social creatures by nature, which makes social distancing tough. My neighbor says we’re people distancing not social distancing.

An he’s right. We’re in touch from six feet away, on Zoom, Teams, FaceTime, and other apps. We’re just not close to each other (which is tough on people who love to hug).

Will COVID Change Regulations?

Perusing LinkedIn, emails, Twitter, and other sources I see a lot of commendations for health care workers of all types. The same for the universities, corporate research labs, etc. that are working on tests and vaccines. All deservedly so.

I don’t see too much about how most people, including politicians (if politicians really are people), are united to get things done quickly. In this case, it means circumventing some regulations and attitudes.

Believe me, I’m not anti-regulation. I believe workers need to be protected, I don’t want companies or individuals dumping chemicals in the water, on the land, etc. We need to protect people from themselves with seat belt laws, restricting texting while driving, etc. And yes, regulations can go too far. Did you know when there’s a green box for bike riders at a stop light you can’t (legally) turn right on red? Yep, federal law as told to me by someone at the City of Kirkland when I questioned this.

So it’s great to see some of the labyrinth removed to get vaccines and tests approved. Let’s hope more of the excess regulations go away after all of this.

Taking Action as Best We Can

Last week I had six meetings, one presentation, and four group (associations, etc.) meetings cancel. This week I have one meeting (so far) and we’re going to get coffee and walk around downtown Kirkland while we discuss things. Trying not to go stir-crazy!

Quite a change in a very short amount of time and it will be like this for at least a couple more weeks. So, Jessica and I planned our short-term strategy and decided since in-person meetings will be rare that we will each try to make 20 calls per day. Just to stay in touch, see how others are doing, and see if we can be of any assistance.

I’ve told clients to keep moving forward so as not to lose momentum. It’s what we need to do along with supporting small businesses as best we can (as in, get take-away food while restaurants are closed).