Every time I hear the term "flatten the curve," I sing it to myself in the voice of Waylon Jennings to the tune of the Dukes of Hazzard theme. And then I add ... Some day the mountain might get us but the virus never will. That's one of my dumb little coping mechanisms in this time of heightened anxiety.
It's bizarre. One of our staffers here at our store likened this pandemic to the slowest moving hurricane possible. I agree. The uncertainty is intense and the news of so many of my friends shuttering their doors for a yet to be determined period of time makes me feel nauseous.
For us, it's school book fairs. Louisiana has closed all schools for a month and with their closure around $60,000 in anticipated revenue has dried up literally overnight. Will we have time to reschedule? Can we pursue alternate sales strategies? How will we move all of this inventory? How much can we return? When will we have to close our store as well? When will we reopen? Will we have the cash to get through the pandemic? The slower summer?
The anxiety can be crippling.
My wife and I were discussing all of these things and we asked ourselves, "What are we going to do?" For us, the answer is the same thing we did in 2016. That year was our worst year in business owing to a string of natural disasters in our area that culminated in the Great Louisiana Flood of 2016. During that crisis we saw widespread school closures in our area as well as a complete halt to our local economy for non-essential goods and services. Those consequences were dumped on us then much like the consequence of the coronavirus is being heaped on all of us now.
It's tough to distill an experience like that into actionable steps to take in response and it's tough to try to cherry pick lessons that can be shared with others, but there are a few fundamentals that I know to be true and I'd like to remind everyone of them at this time.
- Focus on solutions and not problems. There are of course economic realities and uncertainties yet to be revealed, but don't lose sight of your goals, hopes, and dreams. Figure out how you want to emerge from this pandemic and then take the necessary steps to get there. For us, we're looking at being cash poor and time rich for several months so I aim to come out of the other side of this leaner, more efficient, and more organized than ever before. I'm also looking at business and personal debt restructuring as well as strategies to be more responsive to opportunities so that as they present themselves I can be ready to pounce.
- People are people. Everyone is experiencing this and everyone is going to have a rough go for a bit. Honesty and communication are essential. Express your concerns to your landlord, your credit reps, your sales reps, your banks as soon as possible. Don't wait to be late on a payment. You have infinitely more credibility and wiggle room if you are upfront and present a plan of action rather than sweeping problems under the rug. Go to your bank or your landlord or whomever right now and make sure they know your story and that they are on your team. Lead them to a solution, rather than presenting your problems.
- The future is what we make it. Certainly the randomness and unexpectedness of this pandemic would make it seem otherwise, but we have to remember that most of our anxieties and frustrations come not from the virus itself but from our collective response to it. This is the hard way wisdom is earned. We are a community. We are parts of other communities. We are our own leadership as well as our own source of authority. We have to take comfort in knowing that the experience of today can lead us to a stronger tomorrow.
- Community is everything. Whenever you feel like everything is at its worst, someone will surprise you. Whenever you feel like you are all alone, someone will surprise you.
Deep breaths and baby steps. Remember your goals and your assets. Share your talents. Think about others. Be honest and open. Create and share solutions. Take comfort and find strength in the various communities you are a part of. Lean on other people - metaphorically of course (#socialdistancing). Don't just react, plan.
Hoping for the best and planning for the future,
Co-owner of Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs, LA, and SIBA Board Member