These are strange times. As the coronavirus continues to spread across the globe, the impact is being felt at all levels of society and across all industries, including design. The primary concern is for public health, and for in-depth information about precautions to take, please visit the Centers for Disease Controland Prevention’s COVID-19 hub. However, at Business of Home we’re committed to following the effect of the pandemic and its economic fallout on the design trade. We’ll be collecting the most important stories here, in a—hopefully short-lived—regular feature. If your business is being affected or you have a tip, please drop us a line.
6 STATES SHUT DOWN 'NONESSENTIAL' BUSINESSES
Today, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered the state’s workforce to stay indoors, declaring that only essential businesses can remain open. Pennsylvania’s Governor Tom Wolf announced a similar order, and New Jersey, Connecticut and Illinois are expected to follow suit later today. Their announcements came less than 24 hours after Governor Gavin Newsom of California ordered the 40 million residents in his state to stay home as much as possible in the coming weeks in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. In each of the states, most businesses and retail stores have been ordered to close, exempting only essential operations like banks, grocery stores, pharmacies and laundromats. The closings will affect manufacturing operations as well as shops and showrooms. —Haley Chouinard
INDUSTRY ORGANIZATIONS ASK, WHAT’S NEXT?
Decorative Furnishings Association (DFA) members gathered in a Zoom call with sales management training specialist Jody Sievert on Wednesday to talk through their responses to the coronavirus, and to begin to map a strategy for what they predicted would be tough times ahead. Quintus CEO and DFA president Jobst Blachy set the tone in his opening remarks, asking: “How do we communicate with our clients in a way that doesn’t seem insensitive given what’s going on? And how do we reach out in a way that’s going to be effective?”
As members voiced their concerns and talked through tricky decisions they had already made, Sievert offered sales tools to tap into while times are tough:
1. Ask the right questions. Amid a barrage of “we’re here for you” emails (stop sending those, Sievert said), how can sales reps make a meaningful connection with their clients? “One of the questions I find a lot of use with is: ‘What’s happened since we last spoke?’”she advised. She encouraged members to ask structured questions—and then to sit back and be good listeners.
2. Bend the rules. Many members on the call shared stories of designers who had called to cancel or put orders on hold—and for the most part, the members had tried to oblige as long as the piece wasn’t already in production. Firm policies may need to be bent in the coming months, with customer satisfaction as the long game. “Let’s not get so attached to our rules that they override our relationships,” she cautioned.
3. Get comfortable getting flexible. In these trying times, Sievert suggested that vendors may need to find new ways to support their designer clients—everything from flexible return policies to free storage for orders. The bottom line? Offer solutions. “Ask new questions and figure things out,” she advised. “Say, ‘I may not be able to do that, but let’s try this.’” She also added that those measures don’t have to become an ironclad part of a business: “Here’s something to resist: The idea that if I do this now, they’ll want this forever,” she said. “Put a deadline on it so you’re not beholden to it forever.”
Meanwhile, the American Society of Interior Designers had scheduled a call with members to go over its 2020 economic outlook report, spearheaded by economist Bernie Markstein. The numbers had been compiled during calmer times, but interestingly, Markstein didn’t see the coronavirus as justifying a huge revision to this year’s outlook. “My basic message is: The economy is strong. There’s a lot of impact we have to deal with, [but] when this is over, we’re going to see a rebound in the economy; we will see spending coming back,” he said.
Over an hourlong call, Markstein repeated the “Keep calm and carry on” message and went over a few predictions. Here are a few takeaways:
1. Communication and honesty will be key. “If you really are in trouble, you want to talk to clients and see if payments can be accelerated. You can also talk to your vendors, and ask if can you hold off on payments on some items. If you’ve got a banking relationship, talk to your bankers. If you do that, you will have a better chance of survival,” said Markstein.
2. Think local. A lot of the news will be national, but what matters most is what’s happening in your neck of the woods.
3. Keep half an eye on the markets. Though Markstein sees the economy bouncing back, stocks have taken an undeniable hit. “High-net-worth individuals have been hit hard by the stock market drop; they’re more likely to pull back,” said Markstein.
—Kaitlin Petersen and Fred Nicolaus
The global response to COVID-19 is rapidly evolving, with new information coming in a constant flow. Below, we’ve gathered the latest updates that pertain to the design industry.
- Government relief. Senate Republicans introduced a bill on Thursday that would provide hundreds of billions of dollars in business loans, corporate tax cuts and checks of as much as $1,200 for taxpayers. The plan would also place limits on a paid-leave program that was put into place earlier this week.
- Extended tax deadline. The Treasury Department announced today that they would extend the tax deadline to July 15, giving private citizens and businesses an extra three months to file. State tax deadlines will vary.
- Border closures. Nonessential travel between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico will be banned starting at midnight on Saturday.
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