COVOD-19 Response: Brian Stowell, President, Crown Point Cabinetry

April 30, 2020

We check in with twelve architects, builders, designers, and suppliers to see how they are managing their staff and their businesses during this incredibly challenging time.

With the coronavirus currently taking over our personal and professional lives, the measures that have been instituted to stop its spread have had a major impact on most businesses, including those of us serving the New England design industry. In times of crisis, we turn to people who have withstood similar circumstances in the past and persevered. We reached out to twelve industry leaders who have led their firms through past crises to share what actions they are taking now, how they will measure the success of their firms over the next twelve months, and how they’re moving forward.

Brian Stowell the president of Crown Point Cabinetry shares how his business is moving forward during the COVID-19 crisis.

How are you communicating with your in-house teams and outside vendors?
At this time, we are trying not to come across as aggressively courting anyone’s business. We are still operational, as New Hampshire deemed us an essential business. More than anything, we are reaching out to professionals and end-users alike to let them know we are thinking of them, we hope they are well, and we are here if they need anything. We have found that a lot of the professionals are closed, slow, scared, and/or frustrated. And because everyone wants to share, we have had a lot of conversations.

We have decided not to go dark and pull any advertising commitments made for 2020. This was to continue to support those that we want to make it through this time as well as keep front and center in people’s minds.

We have shut our showroom to outside visitors and vendors. Only staff is allowed in the building during the shelter in place. While this is not the ideal business model, people understand that this is temporary and the way almost everyone is doing business during this time. We have grounded our entire sales force until the shelter-in-place order is lifted. We have used Microsoft Teams and Zoom to communicate with those who are working at home, as well as with clients and professionals we cannot see face to face at this time.

How will you be defining success in three months, six months, a year?
Success for us is different things. First of all, we want everyone to stay healthy. We have taken great measures for this to be the case. We have been flexible with our staff, to the point of opening a temporary daycare for employees who have childcare issues that would prevent them from working. Keeping my staff together is the first measure of success.

The second measure of success is to continue to operate as normal in regard to keeping my entire staff, keeping pay and benefits intact, and keeping them busy when we expect fewer orders over this two- or three-month pause in the economy.

NOTE: This would not be possible without the Payroll Protection Program. Much to my amazement, the relief bill passed by Congress and signed by the White House allows us to operate at full staff because they have our back for eight weeks. I will always be grateful as a small business owner for this. Always.

Six months from now, we expect things to be back to normal, albeit with new lessons learned. We are going to use the slower times to re-engineer our processes and get some projects done that we have been too busy to tackle. We have asked our entire crew to come forward with projects they feel are worthwhile. Twenty-four hours after I had a shop-wide meeting to let everyone know my plan, we had over 120 suggestions. So, this is very exciting.

A year from now, I hope to look back with great appreciation for my crew, my suppliers, my shipping company, and everyone in this great nation who helped us through this time. First and foremost, those on the front lines of managing and fighting this crisis on a daily basis. And those who we tend to overlook. Grocery store employees come to mind.

Is there something you implemented at your firm in 2008 that worked that you are executing again?
We learned a lot from the Great Depression of Housing that hit hard in 2009. I have a lot of employees who were here during that time, so they understand that we have one goal. Do what we need to do to keep us successful. But mostly it is a reminder that we have been down this road and managed to come out the other side. So, we know we can do it again.

How are you thinking about cash flow management differently now than in more normal times?
We are being more cautious with our expenses, but we are not going backward or breaking any marketing commitments we have made.

Are there different cost-saving strategies you are leaning on regarding staff, overhead, and discretionary spending?
We have just finished installing about $1.25 million in equipment that was purchased in 2019. The goal is to maximize this investment so we are focusing on getting all of this equipment to a place where we get the returns we need sooner rather than later. We will invest more money on our re-engineering. This will be mostly labor that is covered through the PPP, but we will invest in materials needed for everything from new racks to wiring and ductwork for rearranging certain equipment and workstations.

How do you ensure your “all of a sudden” remote workforce remains motivated and productive?
Remote workers understand what needs to be done. One works on a team that tracks daily output, so it is easy to tell if she is doing what she should. And she is. The majority of my staff who are working remotely are in sales. I have eleven sales designers out of sixteen who are working “at home.” They have nice base salaries, but they understand that this is not the time to take naps on the couch and watch Lifetime. They continue to work as normal because they, too, believe this is temporary, and they do not want any interruptions in their sales for this year.

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