SALT LAKE CITY — As businesses across Utah keep their doors indefinitely closed, companies deemed “essential” are scrambling to adapt to coronavirus fears.
Although many companies are reporting a drop in sales, the demand for plumbers, electricians, carpenters and other trades is still there — Utahns still need their water running and their lights on.
“It’s pretty much been as business as usual,” said Dax Steenbergen, marketing coordinator for Whipple Service Champions, a 24/7 plumbing, heating and electrical company located in Salt Lake City. “But I think we’ll probably see the effects of it in the next couple weeks, and then ramifications long term are still up in the air.”
Steenbergen said workers are constantly disinfecting equipment and wearing gloves, precautions electricians, plumbers and other service technicians and trade workers around the state are taking.
“We still are taking calls like we normally would,” said Daniel James, owner of Black Diamond Experts, another 24/7 utilities company that operates throughout Utah. “But when our technicians get to a house the first thing they do is ask, ‘Hey, is there anyone in here who has the coronavirus?’ If there is, we’ll postpone.”
James said Black Diamond Experts is still operating between 60% to 70% of its normal capacity, although he expressed concern that profits could continue to sink, noting that spring is typically when business picks up.
“It could decline more,” he said. “The majority of calls we’re doing are needs not wants, we’re not necessarily doing big remodels on people’s homes like we normally would this time of year.”
Other local companies, despite being deemed essential, have been forced to lay off employees and implement drastic changes due to a drop in business.
David Bower, owner of Precision Appliance, a Salt Lake City-based appliance installation company, was forced to lay off all eight of his employees and scale back company services even though he falls under the “utilities” umbrella of Salt Lake County’s list of essential businesses.
“I believe it’s all going to come back,” Bower said. “As for how’s that going to look, nobody knows.”
Bower, who is now conducting business by appointment only, told KSL he made the changes because he was concerned about the health of his employees and uncertain how business would fare. But since doing so his phone has been ringing off the hook.
“Everyone’s doing more laundry so washers and dryers are breaking down, people need freezers, stoves, all that,” he said, speaking over the phone shortly after delivering a refrigerator to a homeowner in Salt Lake City. “I probably could’ve had one of the strongest weeks in a long time last week if I was open with full stock.”
I believe it’s all going to come back ... As for how’s that going to look, nobody knows.
–David Bower, owner of Precision Appliance, a Salt Lake City-based appliance installation company
Some of Bower’s business woes stem from his supply chain, as appliance retailers and wholesalers across the country try to keep up with what Bower called “panic buying.”
“They still have product coming in for me but It’s nowhere near as much as it was,” he said. “I’ve been told you can’t find a new freezer in the state of Utah. ... I can’t even get my hands on a used one.”
While many local companies are struggling to stay afloat, some larger chains are reporting an uptick in business as more and more people work from home.
“We’ve seen a surge of people across the country, including all over Utah and Salt Lake City, seeking the vital technology and household necessities they need right now,” said Kevin Flanagan, a spokesman for the nationwide electronics retailer Best Buy. “Like laptops, monitors, keyboards, webcams and routers to stay connected, help their kids continue school outside their classrooms, and be able to work from home.”
Best Buy has had to make several changes, like conducting the majority of Geek Squad services via phone or online chat and temporarily suspending all in-home installations and deliveries.
“Basically, we’ll take the item as close as we possibly can to the front door of customers’ homes without bringing it inside,” Flanagan said.