What did you do to thrive during the pandemic?
We’re pretty fortunate, honestly, that Push-Pull Decorative Hardware is in an industry that saw a surprising surge as the pandemic wore on. In April things were very dicey, and our sales were pretty much cut in half from April 2019, but I think there was just a general sense of uncertainty throughout the world as the full weight of COVID began bearing down on everyone. May turned out to be one of our best months ever; we heard from quite a few clients that since they were home all the time they were staring at all the projects they’d been putting off around the house and figured now was as good a time as any to tackle them. We also had clients with funds earmarked for newly canceled vacations that they decided to put into their home projects instead. As a business we took advantage of the PPP loan and the Maryland COVID relief grant simply because we had no idea how things would shake out as it progressed, but it turns out that the construction/design industry continued to boom throughout.
What were the special challenges of running Push-Pull Decorative Hardware during the pandemic?
Probably the most unique challenge we had to contend with was how to actually meet with people as the focus of our showroom is letting people touch and feel the door and cabinet hardware. We made the decision to close the show room down entirely from April to July. Because there really wasn’t any slow down in design and construction, we were fortunate that the workload didn’t stop as we worked remotely. In late July we moved to an appointment only model and have been operating that way since, moving in and out of the show room as appointments dictate. Getting the word out to all of our clients (new and existing) also proved to be challenging. We updated our website, outgoing voicemail and made numerous posts on social media, yet there are still some people who show up unaware that we’re operating by appointment only. We try as best we can to accommodate those folks who may show up while at the same time trying very hard to be mindful of the number of people we have in the showroom at any given moment and enforcing a policy of masks. There was also the matter of coordinating shipment deliveries, but luckily we have great delivery drivers who work with us as best as possible.
How do you think the pandemic will affect how you operate long-term?
What’s been the most eye-opening aspect of the entire pandemic is that there’s some flexibility in how we operate the showroom. Our showroom is very much a destination—we don’t count on random people walking in off the street to look at the hardware on display. It’s possible that we stick to an appointment-only model for at least the foreseeable future, relying on the trade (designers/architects/builders/etc.) to refer clients to us to set up an appointment to come in. We’ve also further embraced virtual appointments, providing a way for us to show potential clients around the show room without them having to actually come in. This entire pandemic ordeal has shown the world that a good chunk of its operations can be done remotely to some extent.
Is there anyone or any entity that was particularly helpful to you as you figured out how to operate?
We really leaned on our relationships with and the actions of other showrooms in the industry to see how they reacted. That gave us an opportunity to see how things were working and adapt them from there. Around August or September we noticed many showrooms were opening back up to the public with the same restrictions (masks, six feet apart, etc.), but we chose to stay by appointment only because it didn’t seem as if the situation was improving that much where things would get back to normal that soon.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
It’s pretty apparent that things are still a long ways off from returning to what was previously considered normal. We’re managing the best we can with what we’ve got, like everyone else is, and there needs to be a renewed focus on shoring up the front lines, so to speak. With the new administration, hopefully there’s a more concerted effort to prioritize rolling out the vaccinations to groups like first responders, essential workers and teachers. There are obvious financial ramifications to keeping things shut down from an economic standpoint, but if the focus moved to opening schools as opposed to restaurants/bars then we might find ourselves recovering a bit more quickly. My wife and I, like many others, have spent the better part of the last year doubling as teachers with virtual schooling for our girls, and it’s just really unfair to all the kids that they’ve lost an entire year of their academic careers to something wildly beyond their control. Getting kids back in schools safely gets teachers back in school and more parents back to work. If we all wear masks and work together we can speed up the recovery process.