Industry leader and California operator Maurice Brewster contributes insights to a Wall Street Journal article.
I’m digressing from the usual business topics to address the deepening global crisis rocking this industry. I get more specific on some business tips further down, but first I want to speak to handling this economic and life upheaval on a personal level.
During my years with LCT Magazine, I have read, heard, and interviewed numerous businesspeople, speakers, and leaders who preach the virtues of optimism and positivity on their paths to worldly success. Our trade shows especially have been fountains of encouragement and motivation.
It’s easy to revel in such messages of self-empowerment and achievement when times are robust and prosperous, and the underlying world functions the way we expect.
It’s not so easy when history turns very serious and challenges the two core pillars of our collective sense of security: Health and finances. The global pandemic ranks up there with major wars, massive terrorist attacks, economic depressions, and every natural disaster known to humankind.
For the first time in many of our lifetimes, we are discovering what happens when modern life shuts down. As many of us now fully realize, we can’t go to the gym, travel where we want, find what we need at the grocery store when we need it, send kids to school, and relax with a coffee at Starbucks. Much of America is stuck at home...and not by choice. Not to mention the loss of group- and team-based human connections and the nagging thoughts about who may have the virus.
We always tell ourselves life is short, appreciate what you have, and it can all be gone in a minute. Those reminders make us feel briefly humble, or assuage our excesses, and then we move on, thinking the good times are not meant to be over just yet.
Now it’s time to put all those clichés, warnings, and positive outlooks to the test. Do you still hold those optimistic views when the near-term odds look bleak? When you might have to suffer? Or lose something cherished? Or live in a daily atmosphere of personal risk?
We are all experiencing a certain level of fear and/or uncertainty, and no one will handle the pandemic crisis perfectly. We are not in control. What’s helpful is to take the optimism we’ve absorbed and combine it with some practical skepticism, while looking to the past for guidance. Here are some examples:
Forever changes? Some experts and self-appointed prophets are now predicting this pandemic will change our lives forever and rework the circuits of our society. Don’t be so sure about that. After 9/11 and anthrax scares, we were told to get ready to live with constant horrific terrorism and get used to living in a tense, security-oriented environment like in Israel. Except for the added layers and hassles of TSA checks, life after 9/11 gradually returned to normal. Our society was not drastically rewired or gutted in any massive way. Likewise, the Great Depression, rising global fascism, and World War II in the 1930s and early 40s caused a crisis that challenged the future of the freedom-oriented West. Instead, after tremendous sacrifice and devotion, it eventually yielded to an America entering a period of decades-long prosperity and gave us the Greatest Generation.
It’s likely that once this pandemic period passes, many of us will resolve never again to be caught without enough basic necessities, and we’ll all keep extra toilet paper, water, and canned goods around the house. That could be a positive; we’ll all be better prepared for the next hurricane, earthquake, flood, or blizzard, even if a global pandemic doesn’t emerge again for decades. Maybe we’ll be less wasteful, having experienced for the first time how it feels when our basic living supplies run short, even if temporarily.
Money comes, goes, and shows up again: I would also question those experts predicting permanent financial and material losses. Some businesses and plans will invariably collapse, and unfortunately, some people will go bankrupt. Looking at this with realism, think of the pent-up demand, desires, and yearnings that will accrue en masse over the next few weeks or months. Once the pandemic subsides, a teeming boom of people will want to get out and go places, reconnect, and reunite on a mass scale. Think of all that’s temporarily lost as being delayed and look forward to possibly having to work harder than ever before months or within a year from now. Picture the rediscovered enthusiasm for dining out again.
The stock market is the least of our worries: The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) hit a market low of 6,469.95 on March 6, 2009, having lost over 54% of its value since the October 9, 2007 high because of the Great Recession. From there, the Dow gyrated onward to hit its highest closing record ever on Feb. 12, 2020 at 29,551.42, just before the pandemic. If it bounced back like that over the last 11 years, it will ascend again in the future. Give the current losses some time.
Vaccines in the works: Doctors and medical experts are learning, experimenting, and improvising, and that kinetic spirit will yield hopeful results. We will likely embrace healthier practices, such as getting the flu shot, which at least half of all Americans still don’t do. Maybe we’ll see more nutritious diets and the pursuit of balanced living. Let’s create global pressure to shut down those exotic open animal meat markets abroad once and for all. Some practices don’t deserve to be considered civilized.
Higher ambitions: Most importantly, people worldwide will have time to reflect and realize what matters most to them in life. Maybe we’ll all come out of his a little less selfish, impatient, whiney, distracted, stressed, and demanding. What if this event revives the human desire to connect with the God of your choice or a benevolent spiritual source? There’s plenty of proof for millennia that such higher “networking” is a proven investment in personal contentment, joy, and peace, even in difficult circumstances. Those attributes seep into everything, business included.
For now, all of life’s qualities that can be had for free will continue in abundance. No hoarding needed.
Now, from the philosophical to the near-term practical...
While not guaranteed, here are some approaches being tried by different operators. This is a time to improvise and experiment. Staying busy and keeping a structure in daily life fuels hope:
Opportunity in waiting: Operators should contact all their clients and ask what events are rescheduled when. Assure them you will be there to provide ground transportation. Track postponed meetings, events, and business trips of your clients on a calendar and enter any re-schedule information.
Local transportation: Ask if any of your clients need delivery services or clean, sanitized, safe, solitary transportation to appointments, relatives’ homes, visits, work-related tasks, etc. Explain why this is safer than public transit, taxis, and TNCs.
Seniors transfers: For the same reasons, what better way to transport seniors out of nursing homes or care facilities to more solitary arrangements? (If medically possible).
Grocery list service: Offer to search for and deliver badly needed living supplies to clients amid shortages at grocery stores and retailers. You can offer to search for items your clients may not have time for.
Regional runs: With regional jet travel in the doldrums, develop a rate card for inter-city transportation, offering the same benefits as local transportation. People are too spooked now to ride the train or go Greyhound.
Stretch limousine comeback? Can the old stretch limousines be used again? They have dividers. A sanitized, cocooned stretch compartment sealed off from the chauffeur, even if they are verified and checked for good health, could be a huge selling point for ground travel.
Related Topics: business opportunities, client markets, coronavirus, COVID-19, criminal incidents, disasters, economic outlook, emergency planning, emergency preparedness, financial planning, LCT editor, Martin Romjue, operations, state of industry, surviving the economic downturn
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