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We’re Washing Our Hands…Now What? An Opinion.

Hao Nguyen /

As you have probably noticed by now, this issue of the newsletter is taking a slight detour from the topics you’re used to seeing. Rather than speaking on contract or advertising issues, we’re talking about COVID-19 and its effect on your dealerships, a topic that I would not have imagined I would be writing about (let alone know so much about) two months ago. My colleague Robert Ebin has done a wonderful job in outlining the measures enacted by our state and federal governments, their efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, and what you should do during this temporary closure. I’d like to change gears for just a brief moment, if you can humor me, to talk about the reason why your dealerships are so beloved in your communities. Just like any other business whose identity is sewn into the fabric of the community, I would argue that COVID-19 has the ability to tear that fabric apart if we do not come together and support one another during this crucial time.

Home Sweet Home

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and moved to Southern California in 2015. I was nervous after moving my entire life over 400 miles away and leaving many of my social networks behind for a new opportunity. After five years of observing how everyone treats each other, experiencing the good nature and positivity of others, and feeling the gratitude from the local businesses that I support, I can now easily call this place home. These unprecedented times made me realize that it was these small businesses that truly shaped the city I live in and became fixtures in the community by giving back in their own respective ways. I believe your dealership shares many similarities with the family-run coffee shop and local watering hole only the locals know about.

What sets your dealership apart? It’s the way you care about your employees, from the administrative staff and managers in finance to the technicians running your service department. It’s the way you help customers during the immensely complicated process of purchasing a vehicle. It’s the volunteering, sponsorships, and charitable events that you put on in your towns and cities. It is your focus on the employees, customers, and the broader community that makes you a pillar in your respective backyards.

Restaurants (and Other Small Businesses) Keep Our Communities Strong, And They’re Dying

I believe the local restaurant down the street (you know, the one that has been around for as long as you can remember) was built on the same ideals as your dealerships. Their focus is on the employees who clock in every day and the customers they serve. Or was. Now, their focus is on survival.

Before officially signing an executive order to include restaurants, Governor Gavin Newsom called on all bars, nightclubs, and breweries to close to the public in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. One by one, counties across the Golden State began issuing their own “shelter in place” orders and the Department of Public Health outlined regulations that urged California restaurants to close their dining rooms to achieve the same purpose. This got me thinking, “What will happen to those small businesses? To their hourly employees?” In the first 22 days of March, the National Restaurant Association estimated that the restaurant industry lost an estimated $25 billion in sales and more than 3 million jobs. OpenTable, a popular restaurant reservation and food delivery mobile platform, summarized data about online reservations, phone reservations, and walk-ins collected on its platform. States with more than 50 restaurants in the sample were included. It compared the change in bookings and reservations at restaurants on one day in 2020 with the same day in 2019, and the results were staggering.

Note: This sharp decline occurred even before “shelter in place” or “safer at home” orders were executed by the state government and local authorities. Now, almost all states have seen nearly a 100% decrease in reservations.

Some of these restaurants, balancing potential layoffs on one hand and a sharp decrease in patronage on the other, have permanently closed and more will shutter before this pandemic is under control. As these restaurants and small businesses leave our communities with them will go the intangible effects these establishments had on each of our small towns and locales. The same idea can be adapted to the fitness club, the winery, and even the bicycle shop up the street.

How Can I Help?

These small businesses make our sprawling communities a home and we should do as much as we can to prevent them from disappearing. There are many creative ways to encourage and support these small businesses during these difficult times. Here are a few.

  1. Use the local restaurants’ pick-up, curbside or delivery service (and tip the usual amount if you are so inclined). This is now the only way they can keep afloat.
  2. Not in the mood for that cuisine? Buy gift cards or gift certificates for future use from your favorite restaurants, breweries or wineries.
  3. Some restaurants are pivoting to convert their restaurants into pantries or convenience stores. They usually have less crowds compared to big box stores and, therefore, may have better availability for the products you need.
  4. To fill the scarcity, distillers across the country have retooled their equipment to produce hand sanitizer for the general public. Ask your local distiller or brewery if they are participating in this national push.
  5. Consider pre-purchasing classes from your favorite HITT, spin, cross-fit, or yoga studios.
  6. Don’t forget the local barbershops and salons. Contact them for any kind of gift certificate for use during a future visit for yourself, significant others, or young ones.

We’re In This Together

Like most of you are, I am staying vigilant and doing the recommended activities: not entering large crowds, practicing social distancing, cleaning surfaces that are frequently used, and washing my hands for 20 to 30 seconds. My first reaction was that I was taking these precautions to protect myself. However, as time passed, I realized that taking these precautions were also for others around me. In a recent article published in the New York Times, epidemiologists said:

“If it were possible to wave a magic wand and make all Americans freeze in place for 14 days while sitting six feet apart, the whole epidemic would sputter to a halt.”

If we all adopt these safety precautions, we will be effective in slowing the spread of this virus and “flattening the curve” so that the people who really need help will get it.  Also, practicing a bit of altruism will go a long way especially in times like these. The next time you’re at a grocery store, consider not buying more than what you need. Ask a neighbor if they need any errands to be completed whether it’s clearing out a gutter or picking up medicine because they cannot go outside. I can’t say whether or not these small acts of kindness will directly mean an explosion in business for you in the future, but it’s always good to remind yourself what got you there in the first place, which is displayed through these acts of positivity. In a time when the news cycle is filled with stories of doom and gloom, we should care for one another and remember to be less selfish and more selfless. We’re all washing our hands. Just please remember to pass the soap.

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