Our economy is taking a huge hit during this pandemic, in America, this means a great deal of loss to all small businesses. Dave Singer, Owner of Warehouse Of Fixtures, opens up about how to move forward with the business after a crisis. .
Q&A with David Singer
As a small business owner during this time of uncertainty and the pandemic, what concerns you most ?
When we started to get an inkling of what this pandemic was going to become, we set a 3-part approach to our response. 1- Worker and Client safety: My feeling is that in any situation, safety should be the first concern. 2- Business Continuity: Being able to run our business effectively while working from home. There are a lot of considerations and training that went into converting to work from home, especially only having one week to make the change. 3-Cost Reductions and Cash Conservation: Although our business still has a strong backlog of work, we knew that in 2-3 months we would see a large reduction in our workload. We called our lenders and venders and asked for extended terms or payment deferrals. We asked our bank to bump our line of credit. We re-budgeted our revenue under what we felt was the most likely case scenario and cut our spending to get us close to break-even. Our team is also checking the budget weekly and making adjustments as needed.
With such a long-standing history in the St. Louis City, what other challenges or events have shaped the way Warehouse of Fixtures has done business over the last 60+ years?
I was in leadership in the business during the 2008 recession and that was also a challenging business environment. However, being a business that focuses on helping our clients save money on quality office furniture, we were able to come through a stronger company. In 2001, my grandfather’s company faced the economic fallout of the tech bubble bursting and then 9/11. That crisis put 1/3 of our industry out of business and Warehouse of Fixtures had pivoted to higher end products and away from used and value priced products. This shift and the inability to cut costs and conserve cash, put the company out of business.
How has this impacted your business and your family?
We decided to reduce some staff as that was the only way we could get costs inline. Knowing this was coming, it was gut wrenching, I couldn’t sleep for about a week. We felt it was important to do it early, so we had enough cash to give people some severance. It also gave the rest of the staff more certainty about their jobs earlier than many businesses that waited to make the reductions in staffing. The other impact in my family is having two young kids at home and a wife that works full time as well. Keeping a 6 year old entertained is a full time job and we are doing the best we can, but it is a struggle. It makes me more understanding and appreciative of my co-workers with young kids at home.
How hard is it for you to lead a team through a crisis?
In times of crisis it is important to be decisive, set the priorities and communicate with your team. You have to be able to do what it takes, however hard that might be. No one likes firing people, scaling back, calling vendors and asking for help, but those are the hard things that are required to get through a crisis like this.
It is hard, but the more experience you have in leading the easier it is. I am confident in my ability to lead, and having some great mentors and a lot of people I can bounce ideas off of. If I were a new leader that didn’t have those resources, this would be an impossible situation.
What changes have you implemented during this time with your warehouse and staff?
Much of the staff is working at home, we are doing all we can to keep as few people in the office as possible. Unfortunately, that isn’t possible with the warehouse and delivery staff. We have supplied these teams with disinfectant sprays and wipes to clean their stations every morning and afternoon and providing PPE to our staff. We also asked them to maintain social distancing and wash or sanitize their hands frequently, leaving these supplies in the bathrooms and common areas. The biggest thing is that we are allowing people that don’t feel comfortable under these circumstances to take unpaid time off. As a business owner I will not force someone to do something that they aren’t comfortable doing.
What positive effects do you see coming from this entire event in our history?
It’s hard to predict what the world will look like on the other side of this crisis. On the family side– I think the biggest thing is families connecting and spending time together in ways they haven’t in the past. On the business side– There has been some pretty loose spending and investing over the past 5-10 years that I think will get reeled back in. I believe after business go through layoffs and other cost cuttings, they will be looking to spend less on items like furniture that have no real ROI. I also have seen a lot of creativity coming out of this crisis in businesses coming up with smart ways to deal with the losses in revenue and support their clients through tough times. More than anything, I have seen people expressing gratitude, doing whatever they can do to help each other, and being compassionate.
As an employer of many, what changes could your local government implement to help your business and employees?
The local and federal governments have put a lot of programs in place to help employers and employees. One thing I would love to see is some simplification of regulation. We spent tens of thousands of dollars over the past few years to make sure we were charging the correct sales tax for clients out of state.
What unique features/products from your business can help the public during this pandemic?
We are currently providing a wide selection of used chairs for $20 to people affected by the current crisis to make their work at home experience more pleasant. This allows people to come in and pick out a chair that fits them, versus buying one at random off the internet and spending a lot more for something that may or may not fit their needs. We also have desks, other ergonomic products and anything someone would need for a home office.
Have you had any new, creative business ideas that have come up that you will implement from now on?
We have had to learn how to process orders remotely, which I know will be helpful in moving forward. It will help us move forward and open new markets without having to have a full purchasing and customer service staff in those areas. One nice thing is we have learned how to service clients through Facetime and Zoom calls, which makes it easier for them to buy from us. We have also come up with new resources to get smaller orders delivered to clients more affordably, like delivering chairs through courier services versus our staff. I also know that coming out of this creating an e-commerce platform is going to be a big priority for the company. Not having that as a resource in this situation puts us at a big disadvantage.
What positive message would you like your employees, clients and the community to take away during a time like this?
I think the coolest thing I have seen is all the expressions of gratitude that have come out of this. If we can keep that and carry it forward it would be amazing for society. I picked up a pizza as a show of thanks to my inside sales staff and the restaurant I picked up from was so grateful for my business. The people coming in and taking advantage of our $20 chair sale have been so thankful to us and our staff for helping them through a tough situation.
I have had fellow business-people calling just to check in on me, and I have done the same for many others. There is a real feeling that we are all in this together and a lot of gratitude for the little things that we can do for each other. I hope that continues.
We would love to hear how your business is doing and how we might be able to help each other through these times. After all we’re in this together.