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).

Life Goes On

As business (and life) have visibly come to a standstill there’s still activity. In the last few days I’ve talked to or emailed with four people in my industry and all have said they have things going on, just not as many in-person meetings.

I do think buy-sell deals will be delayed as buyers (and banks) see if the virus is having any effect on the business’s performance. In a meeting last Saturday, we all agreed Americans are quick to panic, hence the run on toilet paper and other items, and also quick to get back to normal.

I plan to have us do what we normally do, albeit with a lot more of our conversations on the phone.

Staying Safe Is the Motto of the Day, Week, Month

I’d be remiss to not write this memo about the Coronavirus and yet I’m not going to go into whether it’s just the flu (like some say), over or under reaction, or if people should wear masks to bed. I do know the virus has a longer than normal life of being alive, spreads super-fast through our easily traveled and networked world, and that’s what’s concerning people So, let’s cover what it’s doing to people like you and me, i.e. business owners and executives. 

Part One

The headlines tell us the airline industry, cruise industry, and therefore related businesses like hotels and suppliers are having problems. But what about small businesses, that I really feel for? Here are a few examples:

  • Restaurants – we went out with friends last weekend and a restaurant I’d expect to be full on a Saturday night was maybe at 75%. The Jersey Mike’s sub shop in Kirkland was on social media reminding people they were open (so come on in). Pagliacci Pizza sent an email out about their health and cleanliness policies, i.e. come in for some pizza, we’re okay.
  • Catering – this is an industry hit hard. Two owners told me about all the events being cancelled (one is more concerned about her employees not getting hours and pay than anything else). KIRO7 did a segment on how devastating it is for caterers. My Rotary club, like many others, has canceled at least three meetings. I feel sorry for the staff who won’t be working those days.
  • Product companies – a client is worried about the big industry trade show at which they exhibit because many of their customers are from overseas, and probably won’t attend, and see her new products.
  • A good friend owns a video production company. All their jobs in March and April sans one cancelled in the last couple weeks. Wow!

Alternatively, I was in five retail places over the weekend and they sure didn’t seem to be suffering from a lack of shoppers and a person on a call Monday said he was calling from a jammed packed coffee shop.

Part Two

All over the media is the recommendation from government to have employees work from home, if they can. Easier said than done I say, having had a home office for over 20 years. It takes time to realize you’re “at work.” I used to have a quarterly breakfast with a business friend and when he started working from home he told me how hard it was to stay away from the refrigerator.

Last week a business owner said she has some people working from home and estimates they get done about 70% of what they get done in the office. And, we’ll find out if having certain people work from home improves or damages culture.

Show Urgency or Lose the Game

It’s 2020. Another year, another decade. Doesn’t seem that long-ago people were worried about the world collapsing on 1-1-2000 because of computer clocks, does it?

As Jessica and I talked last week about getting back in the swing of things after the holiday break, one word we used a lot was urgency. Urgency on our marketing, urgency with our clients, and just keeping things moving.

Seattle football fans know the Seahawks would have had a home game in the playoffs if they had shown some urgency on the one yard line instead of getting a delay of game penalty. 

Urgency doesn’t mean rushing into things without a strategy or good tactics. To me it means when the starters gun goes off you move at the appropriate pace. By this I mean, in marketing you can move fast. Making changes to your processes or culture are done at a different pace so you don’t trip and fall. It’s different for all of us.

Think about three areas in your business where you can pick up the pace. And then move on them now, not next month or next quarter.

“Few things are harder to put with than the annoyance of a good example.” Mark Twain