Coping with Covid with Scott Rohrer
Scott Rohrer’s grandfather started a plumbing and heating company in Pennsylvania in 1959. For decades the family served customers in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania area. “My grandfather started the business, and then my dad came on after school, and then I came on after school,” says Rohrer. “It’s been a great journey as a family business.” The only thing that changed during all that time was in 2003 when Rohrer and his dad decided to convert the family business to Mister Sparky, Benjamin Franklin Plumbing, and One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning. The business now spans 5 counties in Pennsylvania. Then came Covid-19. The usual “spring rush” for his HVAC and electric brands never materialized, but demand for plumbing services remained steady.
How has Covid-19 affected your business?
To varying degrees. The obvious personal interaction of the home services industry is the most visible, in that our technicians wear masks, gloves, and are extra self-aware of how to interact with customers. We have also had to navigate employee time off because of exposure or possible exposure, which has affected our ability to serve customers. The biggest financial impact to the business has certainly been the customers’ hesitancy to allow us in their homes. A substantial part of our HVAC business during the spring is driven by preventive maintenance, which typically supports our installation/replacement department. This is where we saw the biggest hit. Customers often requested to delay the appointment for 30 days or more, which pushed the “spring rush” later into the year, or in some cases eliminated it completely. As such, we are dealing with the compression of the season by attempting to handle both preventive maintenance and demand calls in a timely manner. Our electrical business also saw a substantial drop in “voluntary calls,” which typically include ceiling fans, light upgrades, or general convenience items that customers seemingly were willing to wait for until a later date. However, our plumbing business barely noticed a bump, which continues to reinforce our belief that plumbing needs are typically the most pressing and life-interrupting items for customers and require immediate response.
What are you doing right now to get through this?
Besides some of the factors described above, our biggest solution has been to “keep on keeping on.” We’ve tried to create a consistent and positive work environment for office and field employees. We received great feedback and gratitude from employees who were simply thankful to have a job, or in some cases a place to go that felt “normal.” We became dynamic in our communication, frequently doing mass video announcements “from the owners.” We emphasized our continued desire to serve our customers as they also were experiencing the same challenges. As we begin to return to normal, we still have some differences that will eventually fall back in line, but our teams are motivated and determined to continue the momentum we have into the future.
Has your franchisor offered you any kind of assistance?
Authority Brands took a key role in assisting with the HR side of the puzzle, but perhaps even more important were the government and financial changes that were—and still are—coming at a rapid pace. The government was changing guidelines, assistance, and direction on a daily basis, and it was very helpful to have webinars, emails, and general communication and support from our franchisor. The corporate marketing team also provided assets and guidance on relating to the new marketplace, which was important since there was widespread confusion in the community as to who was open and who was not.
What are you doing to help your employees through this?
We’ve made several attempts to keep morale high. We really focused on our workplace culture during this time and created daily trivia and other fun games. This served to create a more strongly knit team, as well as serving as a bit of a distraction from the daily chaos. In the field, we hosted a drive-thru breakfast in lieu of our typical sit-down breakfast. We started hosting live video training sessions, and we tried to connect in the parking lot with technicians, plumbers, and electricians as much as possible.
What are you doing for your customers?
Our biggest communication to our customers has been that we are still here and ready to serve. We have made some occasional payment accommodations for those in need, but in large part our customers have been pleased to know that we are still operating.
How are you working with your suppliers?
There has not been a significant change in this area for us.
What have you done about cash flow, PPP, etc.?
We are continuing to explore our options for all programs.
What else would you like to see from your franchisor or government?
We appreciate the steadfast focus and support put forth during this time by Authority Brands, and desire to see that continue, so our entire network of franchisees can keep our businesses strong and profitable.
If you are in a state that reopened early, what was that like for you?
Pennsylvania was not a state that reopened early. However, we were deemed an essential business so we never needed to close.
How are you planning to reopen and rebuild your business post–Covid-19?
We never closed down and remain as committed as ever to continue serving our community.
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