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  • Steven Hernandez

Surviving a pandemic for small business manufacturers

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

March 16, 2020.

There is a buzz building on social media and the internet. I read this statement from Santa Clara county, "All individuals currently living within Santa Clara County... are ordered to shelter at their place of residence." Coronavirus had arrived and was ready to forever change our lives and our business. We had to send our employees home because of the information and it made us wonder what was next for our company.

Life seemed to come to a halt for a few days. The healthy sounds of a thriving machine shop: the destructive, eardrum shattering, grinding symphony of machining left ghosts in the empty building. As I walked down the aisles of our shop I wondered what the future had in store for us.

Eventually, we were able to bring a small group of employees back following the guidelines. As we got used to staying six-feet apart, disinfecting our workstation, doorknobs, and tables, life seemed to slowly turn back to "normal." The work that we were doing was classified as essential by the county. It gave me some solace that we were able to contribute to society during a time so many people were unable to leave their homes. Staying productive kept me from feeling the isolation and grief from the shelter at home order.

However, employees did lose hours or days of work as a result of the stay at home order and I knew that we and our employees needed any help we could get. Work got slow as it does sometimes for us. Glued to my phone, I watched Congress debate whether or not Americans should receive a one time relief check of $1,200 and if small businesses should be given a interest free loan to help retain employees. I laughed to myself thinking that $1,200 might barely cover the rent for some of my employees that lived in San Jose. We knew that work was sparse and we couldn't just wait for the government to fix our problems.

We got to work doubling and tripling our efforts to get new quotes. We reached out to every contact that might offer a bit of work to us, because we knew that in order to survive we would have to work for it. We had to set aside some smaller concerns and focus our energy and time into the future. I found that setting aside extra time in your calendar to focus on outreach and sales can be game changing when the day seems so busy and the hours seem to fly by.

Fortunately, we had received the interest free loan, and each American received the $1,200 check from congress. This alongside a few new orders brought us back to pre-pandemic levels of productivity. We were able to retain all our employees and get them back to work. Combining both good old "pull yourself up by your bootstraps," and government assistance seemed to be a good formula for addressing the now global pandemic and we were ready to get to work.

However, things aren't always that simple. Suddenly, our most valuable customer during the pandemic had recalled their entire product line and cancelled all open purchase orders. We were devastated by the news. I actually had to re-read their email several times before really understanding it. The exact reasons for their decision is still unclear to me, but I imagine the pandemic must have played some part in their decision. I'm sure similar things are happening to products across the world. Either supply chain issues or viability in the post Coronavirus economy has caused countless businesses to fail. I wonder how many companies across the country had to close as an estimated 1 in 100 businesses in the bay area have closed since March 2020. Now, we knew for sure that the illusion of returning to normality had ended.

There is a lesson to be learned in putting all your eggs in a single basket. As a small company, it can be difficult to adjust when a large portion of your business is ripped away. We had invested a lot of time, energy, and manpower into perfecting the process of supplying large quantities of this product and as a result it hurt us both instantly and left a huge scar. Most personnel devoted to manufacturing this product had to be let go.

I'm sure many of you small business managers reading this post can relate to the issues that I wrote about. You know how fragile a small business can be to the smallest of changes and with everything happening at once it can be overwhelming.

Now we are left wondering where do we go from here? I do not believe we can continue to thrive in this competitive industry during this pandemic without making major changes. Now is the perfect time, I believe, to reflect on the direction of our businesses and begin a new trajectory. As a small business it is critical to re-invent yourself and look for opportunity wherever it may be. I do not believe that the future is all grim for us and American Manufacturing. Follow me along in this blog as we dive into the future and look to thrive as a small business in a world where the little guy seems to be overwhelmed by a wave of incontrollable setbacks.

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