Get Ready for a Brave New World

changeLast week, I wrote a column that basically asserted that things had changed. Well, things have changed since then, too.

In that time, many parts of the country have gone from “social distancing” to full lockdown, including my own state. So the message from my last column, which was essentially to get out there and see what we could do for our clients and fellow citizens while remaining safe, is no longer appropriate in some places.

So I spent a lot of this week talking to colleagues in the rental and staging portion of our industry.

There is a lot of gloom out there.

There is no doubt that this particular national emergency is going to have an especially negative effect on our industry. In lesser crises than this, rental companies have been forced to go out of business. I fully expect that there will be some of that in this situation as well, probably even worse than many other situations. Many rental companies (and I have worked in, consulted to or trained a lot of them) spend most of their time in short cash flow. The large event industry, especially, tends to be a feast or famine kind of business. So we will probably lose a number of businesses and have a number of unemployed colleagues.

So, now that I have admitted to the gloomy side of this, I will tell you that I have also seen rental companies both survive this kind of emergency and prepare themselves for new business at the same time.

The decision on whether you are a functional business, prepared to enter a rental business that has changed in nature, will depend on what you decide to do now. And I think the first thing to think about is that this gives you an enormous chance to make your organization more efficient, both as individuals and as a company, and to educate yourselves. So, to that end, let me give you a list of things to do right now as a group and as concerned individuals.

First, stop the binge-watching! The worst thing that could happen is to allow our business to dry up and wither away while playing Doom.

Here is a quick list of things that you should be doing:

First, during this period, have a regular company meeting by Zoom, WebEx or whatever standard you choose. Keep the crew together, see if you can help each other and help each other with the courses that I am going to suggest next. But on top of that, this is the time to enter a group discussion on what kind of company you want to be on the other side of this. Emergencies are times when people have the time to think and a tendency to be honest with each other. Open things up, in a nonconfrontational way, about how you would like to see the organization be different when you return. This is a great time to discuss processes and procedures in an effort to streamline them, something that we get very little time to do during the year. One of the other things that you should do in these meetings is to discuss how you feel your customers’ events and meetings are going to be impacted by this, and what facilities, equipment and skills you will need to serve them. Predicting what is going to happen here is not rocket science. For some time, large events will be far fewer in number and even medium-size meetings will be broken up and done by videoconference or virtual meetings. So maybe (just a thought), this would be a good time to really familiarize yourself with those technologies and to ponder what services you can offer to enhance and enable them.

Second, once you have determined that there will be a new mix of skills required to serve the new market, go get them. There are hundreds thousands of courses available online from your manufacturers and distributors. But even better than that, AVIXA has made a lot of expensive online courses that carry certificates available for free during the emergency. This is your chance to earn your CTS, advanced CTS or other completion certificate. Among the other things that will be available are courses on the technologies that you will probably realize you need to know more about, from computer networking to computer security to videoconferencing. There’s no excuse now. You have the access and you have the time, and if you come out of this with no more skills than you went in you will have wasted an opportunity. The biggest excuse I hear for not completing this kind of training is that someone is too busy or their schedule is too hectic. Don’t try and give me that one now.

Third, get your sales act together. First, because you will need it to hit the ground running when things come back to “normal.” But second, I don’t know of any industry more screwed up than ours in the way we sell. Our biggest asset is our people, but our biggest charge item is for gear and our quotes mostly look like parts lists. On the other side of this emergency, there will naturally be an enormous emphasis on services. Get ready to price them, get ready to market them and get ready to sell them. There are a lot of assets for this, including material which is on the AVIXA website and on rAVepubs.com. You might also contact a consultant, such as my friend Tom Stimson, who specializes in consulting to the rental and staging industry. He has some real advantages, both being a stager and holder of an MBA, so he is somebody who can really help you look inside your business, its structure and its finances. Tom can be reached at tom@trstimson.com. There are also lots of other business consultants out there, so choose one you trust and get to work If this path is available to you.

If you are not in a total lockdown area, during the company meetings that you have online, select days that one person can go into the office for the purpose of doing those things for which we never have time. Take turns checking in gear. Especially take turns checking in gear that you are not familiar with, while videoconferencing with someone who is. If one person at a time can be in the shop, this is our time for hands-on training with an expert looking in and providing advice. I can think of few other times when those people would be available for this kind of concentrated effort.

The best rental crews I know are tight teams, made that way through adversity on show sites where they work together and learn to trust each other. Steve Jobs said that you never had to worry about team recruiting because good teams are self-policing and in our industry, I completely agree with him.

So get off your butts, stop moping and get ready for the Brave New World. There IS going to be one, and you are going to want to be part of it.