Staying on track

Companies will continue to face several challenges, including working remotely and staying operational, as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

March 26, 2020

As part of its weekly webinar series, The National Association of Landscape Professionals hosted a webinar addressing business concerns over COVID-19 on Wednesday, March 25. Presenting were NALP President Andrew Ziehler, Greg Herring and NALP’s Vice President of Government Affairs Andrew Bray.

Ziehler, who is also the president of Ziehler Lawn & Tree Care, of Centerville, Ohio, as of this week, his employees are all working remotely, but planning for this stage actually started about two weeks ago. He added that talking with NALP members and other associations helped him prepare.

“We leaned on our network throughout the industry,” he said. “That was crucial for us in those early weeks. It made it a lot easier for us to continue on the day-to-day business and also ramp up for this big event that was happening.”

Ziehler suggested that landscape companies get a peer network in place sooner rather than later by joining national and state level associations.

“I can’t stress enough building your network in a time where you don’t need it, because it’ll be there for you in a time when you do,” he said. “When you’re faced with a crisis like this, you start to see how important those relationships are and how they’ll benefit your business in the end. So, get involved.”

After talking with others in the industry, Ziehler said his team got ready to work remotely by doing some trial runs.

“We moved all of our meetings to Google Meetings,” he said. “It was like training wheels for working virtually, so everyone could get used to it.”

Now that the office staff is at home, he said face-to-face contact is still just as important. Ziehler added that his employees meet with their supervisor at least once a day via video conference.

“We also started doing videos for team morale,” he added. “People are feeling really engaged.”

Ziehler said the online “Coffee Chats” his company has started doing also help employees stay connected.

“These are another two times a day where people from every part of the company can go on and have the opportunity to see others,” he said. “They’re used to seeing everyone, so now we’re just facilitating that virtually.”

According to Ziehler, businesses should also stay in contact with its vendors and lenders at this time.

“We’ve been talking with our vendors and lenders,” he said. “They’re coming up with some great ideas on how they can help us with cash flow, stagger payments and help the business through this tough time. I would suggest making sure that you’re the first people to contact your lenders, not just reacting to when you have to, to keep things above water.”

Greg Herring, founder and CEO of The Herring Group, echoed Ziehler’s claims about staying in contact with lenders.

 “We encourage all of our clients to draw down their lines of credit,” he said.

During the COVID-19 crisis, Herring said companies will need to have cash available.

“Cash is like the gas line to an engine,” he said. “I want to encourage you to get a lot of cash.”

Herring noted that in addition to building liquidity and drawing on a line of credit, landscape companies might also consider giving out incentives for paying for a full year of services in advance.

With more states issuing lockdowns or “shelter in place” orders, Bray said the wording is unclear on whether landscaping is considered an essential business.

According to Bray, many states are basing their criteria on a memorandum from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In those instances, Bray said landscapers should be able to stay operational.

“We’re interpreting that to include us,” he said. “When you think of all that we do, we clearly fit in those essential services.”

NALP is keeping an updated, state-by-state list of the orders online.

“We’re working on these rapidly,” he said. “We’re continuing to reach out to these states.”

When in doubt, Bray said “Not having a concrete yes is better than having a concrete no.”