Harmony Brown almost laughs when describing her company’s original plan to deal with the pandemic.
She held a meeting with her leadership team and they determined they had to get out of “growth mode” if they were going to survive rapidly declining sales.
“We initially made the plan and realized we would have to furlough basically almost all of our office staff — our plan was to just shut down,” she said.
“When we heard that the stay-in-place order was coming, we thought it was only going to be for two weeks initially. We thought we were going to shut down operations for two weeks, let it pass and then start back up. That didn’t happen.”
GreenWorks, Brown’s inspection and engineering company, was considered an essential business and remained open with a skeleton crew.
“Our goal: Let’s see how many people call us and let’s see how many services we can still do,” she said.
In the beginning, that didn’t amount to much. Only about 25 percent of GreenWorks’ normal business came in as the pandemic first took hold in March. Since then, normalcy has started to set in and Brown’s company is experiencing some year-over-year growth as of mid-May.
But getting back to a true “normal” has come with some adjustments.
Since the pandemic hit, at least one homeowner is turning her inspectors away each day because they don’t feel comfortable with people in their homes — despite inspectors wearing protective gear from head to toe.
Some inspectors, for that matter, don’t want to go into buildings with people in them — and Brown has been able to accommodate those requests as they come in. “The other inspectors don’t mind. They really feel like they’ve taken enough precautions between the social distancing and asking people to be out of the home and the equipment.”
“Normal” is also filling out a Paycheck Protection Program loan application at 6 p.m. on a Friday night. Luckily her banker at Chase, accountant and the company’s CFO had coached her through the process, making it easier to get through the application, which was approved.
A norm she wasn’t expecting was her staff, most of whom were brought back with the help of the PPP loan, might not want their jobs back — either because their unemployment benefits were better than what she could pay them or because they were concerned for their health.
“It’s a little awkward for me,” she said. “… Because they’ve been with me and you want to keep everyone.”
But then again, normal doesn’t stay that way for long in this environment.
“It's just so weird. Every single day, I wake up and I have no earthly idea of what I don’t already know,” she said. “Anything can change.”
And it did. As of May 15, Brown’s company is doing slightly better than it was this time last year. She said at the beginning of March, the company was growing about 30 percent over year prior. In mid-May the company was up about 15 percent year-over-year.
If business continues to trend that way, GreenWorks may be able to focus on growing again, she said.
“It’s happening so fast,” she said. “Just keeping up with the speed of things is the biggest hurdle: ‘OK, how do we navigate this? When do we start planning for growth again?’”
Note: This story is part of the Dallas Business Journal’s Small Business Big Mission project. Starting in March, the local business-to-business newspaper followed nearly a dozen small businesses to track the way they coped, pushed and pivoted during the uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. For information about local, state and federal aid, visit the Dallas Business Journal’s Small Business Resource Guide.