The coronavirus has caused Steve Gray’s company to tap the brakes.
Spire Agency didn’t slam into a brick wall, but it’s cautiously going over a speed bump.
The B2B marketing firm where Gray is a partner was lining up a long-term lease for August to support its aggressive growth goals before the pandemic hit. Putting the move on hold has signified a lot of what Spire and its clients are facing in the current environment.
“We continue to be in this awkward space because the reason that we were going to be moving was that we believed that we’re at our capacity for our current square footage and because of the growth of our business and the growth of our agency,” Gray said. “… We look at the pandemic and the economic crisis and we have to go back to our metrics to begin with and say, ‘Is that still true?’”
Gray has been steering the firm’s clients toward being proactive since the beginning of the pandemic, asking them to think about what their business will be like on the other side. Some B2B companies that have been dragging their feet on digital integrations are asking Spire to help them build out online capabilities now that they’re faced with few other choices to reach customers.
With offices opening back up, many of Gray’s clients spending has stabilized, but his team is still working from home. He’s also trying to figure out how its current space can be reorganized to incorporate the safety measures needed to mitigate the spread of the virus.
“It’s a Catch 22 that you’re caught in,” he said. “You don’t necessarily want to make the massive economic, long-term commitment (of a new lease) without the vision and the clarity of knowing where your business is going to be going.
“There’s so much uncertainty right now it’s tough to have a concrete vision like that,” Gray said. “But if you stay where you are, you may be compromising your ability to have a good social distancing space plan.”
Gray said his agency hasn’t taken the hit that some of its counterparts who work with consumer-facing companies have. There have been signs of slowdown, but the company is now working with their clients to help brand coronavirus-related necessities such as Plexiglas dividers, floor markers for distancing and hand sanitizing stations for offices.
Spire’s office space may become more like a coworking space, where team members filter in and out of the office as needed but aren’t required to come in every day.
Managing his team remotely has helped him not only feel more connected to his team than they sometimes were in person, but has helped him take a deep dive into his company’s operations.
“Once it comes to PPP and really breaking down in the individual levers that really drive your profitability, that’s something that I’ve had to get much more tied into,” Gray said, “just because our business functions differently now than it did in March.”
Overhead and expenses are different now that his team is working from home. There’s no need for office perks or other brick and mortar necessities, but there are investments in software and technology to keep his team communicating.
“So how do you manage the expenses and then also how do you re-tailor your organization to be virtual?” he said.
“How do you still implement programs that keep your employees connected to your clients, but also help your employees know that they’re special, they’re needed and maintain that morale?”
As Gray continues to weigh the needs of his clients and employees, he keeps in mind what this experience with the pandemic will look like in the rearview mirror.
“It’s going to be very interesting 20 years from now to look back on this period of time with the benefit of hindsight and be able to truly evaluate what worked and what didn’t work,” Gray said, “… what decisions we made were the right decisions, and which ones should have been handled differently.”
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 Business Journal’s Small Business Resource Guide.