How to keep your business healthy as Coronavirus strikes

By eCommonSense
17 March 2020

CoronavirusThe current global pandemic is challenging the way that businesses operate and testing whether they have robust continuity plans. Digital expert and eCommonSense founder Andy Scothern explains what steps builders merchants can take to minimise the adverse effects on their business.  

As the Coronavirus crisis escalates, many builders merchants are rightly worried about how it will affect their business as the government imposes increasingly draconian measures.

Since builders generally work in small groups and outdoors, they should be in a lower risk profile; we could assume that many of them will continue to work. If they are working, they will still need to buy products from merchants and with the right precautions in place they can.

But that does not mean that merchants can sit back and relax.

Given the many unknowns surrounding coronavirus, builders merchants need to evaluate their readiness to deal with the fallout on operations, supply chain and employee well-being.

You need to ensure that your business can continue to operate with minimal staff and put business continuity plans in place during the crisis, which some are predicting may go on for as long as a year.

One of the emerging trends is how consumer behaviour has shifted, as more people purchase goods on websites. eCommerce experts predict that online sales will double by the end of the crisis. The desire to buy online is likely to be mirrored by many builders, as they look to minimise the risk of coming into contact with the virus.

When traditional channels and operations are impacted by the outbreak, the value of digital channels becomes immediately apparent and potentially urgent.

A logistics specialist has warned retailers to plan now for 40% of retail sales to be made online at the peak of the Covid-19 outbreak, which is double the current 20% of all retail sales. Due to the length of the crisis, this behaviour is likely to become ingrained in people's behaviour just as the 1988 postal strike virtually created the fax machine market overnight. 

So what should you be doing now? 

The first thing is to get ahead of the crisis by preparing a list of the kind of issues that might strike and developing mitigating and contingency measures.

Your people are your most valuable assets, and you need to keep them safe, informed and prepared. You will need to outline what your approach is to meetings, customer contact, remote working, sick pay and basic hygiene. You will need to model scenarios about critical operations and how you would reassign staff if necessary to keep the business going.

If all of your administration teams work in the same place, then the risk that one person inadvertently infecting everyone increases considerably. While you may be able to cope with a few people off sick, that will be challenged to breaking point if the majority are off at the same time.

So considering where your critical staff will work from should form a key plank in your continuity planning. If your administration team can work from home and dial in through a virtual private network, then all the better. 

If the jump in online sales in other sectors is anything to go by, then your website will see an increase in traffic, so you need to make sure it can cope.

You should make sure that your customers know that this channel is available for anyone wanting to use it. Additionally, you will need to look at processes around delivery to make sure that drivers are kept safe, and the amount of contact is minimal.

If your online operation is not as advanced as you would like it to be, then you may want to bolster your call centre operations in the short-term. My prediction is that delivered orders may increase significantly, which means that your fleet will also need to be running at maximum efficiency.

Finally, although it may sound odd today; prepare now for the next crisis. Covid-19 is not a one-off challenge, as it's just the latest of a long line of crises to deal with, from BSE and Foot & Mouth disease to SARS. We should expect additional phases to the current epidemic and other epidemics in the future. The research shows that the effectiveness of organisations to respond to crises indicates that prior preparation is the best strategy.

One thing that is certain even in the early days of this crisis is that you need to prepare for a changed world. In essence, business and society will never be the same again, as it was after the postal strike. Fax machines became ubiquitous, and 30 years later are only just being retired.

You need to make sure that your business also changes to be ready for the new world.