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How do you get your shop through tough times, and take care of your staff as well?

That’s one of many questions we posed to Troy Willich, the co-founder and CEO of TDI Fleet Services. We ended up chatting for over an hour about the various stimulus bills out there, steps he’s taken to protect his employees, and unique services a shop can offer its customers in this challenging situation.

We recommend listening to the entire webinar, but we’ve provided some call-outs we thought were especially cool.

STIMULUS BILLS

We’ve covered the Paycheck Protection Plan and the U.S. stimulus bill in a prior post. We also covered a bit about what our friends in the north are doing: Canada is passing a $52 billion package that includes tax deferrals, loan payment delays, and payments to citizens.

TDI applied for the PPP and found that like the course of true love, it did not quite run smoothly.

“We were one of, if not the first, companies with our bank to apply,” Troy reported. “We were worried they would run out of funds.” Happily, TDI was approved – after two weeks – but the funds have yet to be released because “none of the banks have the proper verbiage for the lone contracts” just yet.

That’s led to additional questions. Will the money come in a lump sum? Will it be doled out?

We’re keeping on top of that and will provide updates as soon as we learn them.

WHAT’S THE PLAN?

So you applied for a loan and you’re running your business. What if the money doesn’t come soon enough? Do you have a backup plan?

Thousands of small businesses are facing that dilemma.

Many of us were raised with the idea that you should always have at least three months of savings in the bank. It’s a great idea; a rainy day fund can keep you afloat. But while it’s great to strive for, we all know it’s not always the most realistic thing to attain. Even the best-run small business can face trouble making payroll even after just a couple days of slow sales – and that’s without a pandemic.

TDI was fortunate in that they did have some ability to cover their payroll when COVID-19 initially hit, though not for very long. As the situation unfolded and the new regulations and restrictions settled in – ushering in the country’s strange new reality – Troy and his team had to think on their feet. “We’ve saved enough money that we can cover payroll, but not all the payroll. It made us take a long, hard look at the cash.

What would we do if we didn’t qualify for these loans?”

“When all this started and we were concerned about quarantining, we weren’t sure how extreme we were gonna get hit,” Troy goes on. “We were watching what was going on in New York and Louisiana. We had set back quite a bit of money [in savings] … we knew we couldn’t sustain 100% of our payroll without working.”

As TDI worked out what to do with payroll and covering shifts at the shop, they confronted the most important element of their business: their staff. After all, the coronavirus is just that – a virus – and it had already proven it could move quickly.

It might very well end up hitting TDI. Troy remarked,

“Our plan was to try not to have everybody sick at one time.”

PROTECTING YOUR SHOP

At first it sounds counterintuitive. Why not try to just keep everyone healthy?

Of course, that’s the ultimate goal. No one wants to get sick. But by creating a staffing plan that protected the most vulnerable staffers and built in backups for those who might become ill, they determined how they could stay open.

The first thing they did was establish the most important element of their shop: its people. TDI has two physical locations and its mobile arm, and that’s a lot of staffers to protect. Of course, they wanted to stay open and continue to make a profit; that’s how their staff gets paid. But the most important thing they could do was to look after those who worked for them.

If all else failed, that meant feeding them even if business shut down entirely. “We did make a plan where we would be able to pay everybody $250 a week to put food on their tables until we were able to go back to work. We knew we had enough to do that for a 2-3 month period.”

But how to avoid the shop getting sick? TDI had their backup plan in case everything fell apart, but what could they do to prevent needing that backup plan?

Troy pulled all the high-risk employees and put them at home. One person was allowed in the office, per building; they were required to schedule with each other. “Steve, myself, and two of the other managers all stay home and away from each other.

We are the backups – if someone gets sick, we can step in and run that department while they’re out.”

TDI has seen good results with social distancing. Cones are placed outside all doors; you can knock, and then step back, so that when the door opens you’ll still be a safe distance away from the person you’re addressing. Customers no longer are allowed into the shop, and are instead greeted by a staffer when they arrive. Despite some early pushback, Troy says, customers seem pleased by and appreciative of the efforts.

HOW FULLBAY HELPS

We didn’t go into this webinar with the intention of plugging Fullbay, but Troy gave us the perfect opportunity. One of the reasons social distancing is working so well for them is because those who aren’t directly making repairs don’t have to be present.

“I don’t see how we could do it [without Fullbay],” Troy says. “If my supervisor needs to work from home, he can. … for years I’d go to the business and feel like I had to be there, [but] I can absolutely do all of this from home. Ninety percent of my leadership and direction can happen remotely, and I can see what everyone is doing. … I don’t know how anybody could do it without this kind of software.”

Fullbay is, Jacob sort-of jokes in the webinar, built for social distancing.

TROY’S ADVICE TO SHOPS

It’s said that difficult times can show you who you can keep in your life, and who you ought to release. That same statement applies to businesses, especially repair shops. Now is the time to shore up the good relationships you want to keep – with vendors, with your bank, with employees – and start stepping back from those that don’t do you a service.

“This is a good time to find your strong customers and strong vendors,” Troy says. “We poll our customers daily to see how they’re doing.”

He stresses sharing and passing on information to families, customers, and vendors. Every few days he conducts a socially-distant meeting with his staff where they check in on each other and he reiterates the most important things they can do to protect their families and themselves.

And maybe that’s one of the biggest takeaways of how TDI has approached the pandemic. They start with the family unit. By keeping yourself and your family healthy, that will benefit your work family, your customers, and ultimately your business.

One of the best things any business can do is let employees know they can stay home if they need to. In a situation like this, that ability is critical.

“Most people are going to come to work, even if they’re sick,” Troy says. “For the rest of us to stay healthy, we made it easy for them to say, ‘I am sick. I can stay home.’”

Keeping your employees healthy and happy goes a long way in keeping your shop open and your customers content, even during times such as this. If you can pull that off, it should be business as usual.

“Provide your service and work hard,” Troy says. And stay safe – the rest will hopefully fall into place.

Suz Baldwin

Suz Baldwin got her start in the automotive industry, writing and editing for several motorcycle and classic car magazines straight out of college. In the years that followed, she’s written all sorts of copy for brands big and small while consuming enough coffee to paralyze a dinosaur.