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Plan for the New Normal

By Kate Tyndall

May 10, 2020

Here’s what one 33-year flooring industry vet and coach has learned steering his company through the Covid-19 crisis, plus his advice on navigating a post-pandemic world.

Once the pandemic hit, and state after state, including his own, instituted shelter-in-place orders, Chris Zizza got cracking to protect his $3 million hardwood flooring business in Westwood, MA, and his full-time staff of 16 plus 20 subcontractors.

“Immediately we had jobs fall off the schedule. We knew we’d qualify for the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) plan, and we put together a payment plan for employees,” Zizza says. “If they felt threatened [by Covid-19] they could stay home and use their sick and vacation days.”These are the measures he put into place:

The Plan for Today

  1. Institute social distancing.
  2. Wear masks and gloves on job sites.
  3. Take employees’ temperatures daily.
  4. Sanitize trucks and equipment daily.
  5. Employ free-standing hand sanitizing stations in the showroom and mount portable hand sanitizing stations in the trucks. “Quite frankly, if you’re not on the clean train you’re going to be left at the station for sure,” Zizza says.
  6. Provide virtual appointments.
  7. Offer a samples drop-off and pick-up service. Zizza recently picked up a $14,000 job that would have stayed on hold if he hadn’t arranged for delivery and pick-up of samples to the architect client.
  8. Set up a system for ensuring all samples are sanitized after handling and before being returned to the rack. 

Zizza is adding a Covid-19 tab on his website listing all these measures, so customers and visitors to the site can see exactly what measures he’s using to keep them safe. It’s a step he urges other contractors to consider doing.While some of these measures come with a cost, the reward is in assuaging his customers’ fears and ensuring that he will keep business coming in.

For instance, on a recent small job that would normally require two guys, Zizza sent three, spreading the hours around, each man in a truck by himself. “From a cost standpoint it sucks,” he says, “but from a people standpoint, it’s what you do. We can’t have more than one guy in a truck.”

When the company has multiple jobs going, Zizza asks his installers to drive their own vehicles, and reimburses them for gas.

Seize Opportunities for Success

As the pandemic gave him unlooked for downtime, Zizza took the opportunity to work on his company’s business plan, redeveloping his staff’s job responsibilities and reorganizing the company. He discovered inefficiencies that he could rectify and create a higher functioning workplace.

“If I had a message to any of the guys out there, it’s that we can’t turn this into a pity party,” Zizza says. “Don’t say, ‘When am I going get a break?’ I say, make a break. This is no different than a downturned economy. You can see a downturn economy coming, and if you get caught with your pants down it’s your fault. We didn’t have any warning signs here, but if you don’t acknowledge the circumstances, that’s your fault.”

Zizza is doing whatever he can to make this own breaks.

He’s instituted a program for his sales guys called Find a Frame. As they go around on their own he has them looking for projects going up that look like they’ll be needing floors in about three weeks. Targeted properties get a brochure drop-off. 

Zizza has also ordered masks branded with his logo from a New Jersey company that formerly made sports uniforms and retooled during the crisis to make face masks. Now every time his installers go out or into a customer’s home, they are promoting the company as well as keeping themselves and their customers safe.

It’s also not a bad idea to evaluate the safety measures put into place for the Covid-19 crisis to see what might provide a good selling point once the crisis has abated. For instance, virtual showroom appointments are a service that can be offered post-pandemic to busy customers who don’t have the time to come into the showroom. So could a samples drop-off and pick-up service.

“Whoever is first to the market with the highest professionalism is going to get the request for the job,” he says. “You really have to step up service and convenience and politeness.”

Communicate Regularly and Practice Acceptance

The pandemic has also taught Zizza to touch base with his employees on a regular basis to make sure they are okay.

“I am an old school guy, a ‘Just do your job; I’m not your grandmother,’” type, he says. But he realized that Covid-19 had aroused fears in his employees about their and their families’ susceptibility to the virus, and he needed to respond to that.

“I have gotten more compassionate,” Zizza says, and he’s found that his workers appreciate his concern. He also uses the company’s internal text message system to pass along messages of encouragement.

Zizza has learned from experience that accepting a new normal is the way to move into the future with grace and humility. His mother showed him the way.

“My mom is ill and she’s been ill for a while. She has leukemia. We make changes to our behavior around her. She has a new normal and we have to accept that. I tell her all the time, ‘thank you, mom.’”