BUSINESS CHANGES IN THE TIME OF COVID-19

Don’t let the coronapocalypse get you down: the future belongs to those who can adapt and see the needs and opportunities ahead

These are interesting times. As we have been bemoaning the lack of toilet paper and the ability to visit our favorite restaurants, the gaps in our technology, infrastructure, and general ways of life have been revealing themselves. Additionally, we can see what is really important in our lives, and what is just gravy. For those who can see the ways to fill those gaps, their fortune awaits.

If you are a business owner, you have perhaps been realizing how you could save the huge overhead cost of rents paid to your landlord, and use those monies in better ways than paying for space you don’t really need. Vast swaths of the business landscape have (finally!) been discovering that we can work from home quite efficiently. And the working from home is more civilized, keeps employees happier, and saves commute time that can be better spent on other tasks.

Zoom and LogMeIn have suddenly become essential tools for everyone, but they also show that there are great opportunities for those who can create more such tools, so that we aren’t all dependent on 1 or 2 currently overloaded systems. Skype has stepped up with a Meet Now application for instance. And we would need innovative new marketing systems with a wide reach that could get the word out about such useful new products.

There is an opportunity for innovation in trucking and logistics, the delivery-end crux of our national supply chain. Industry players with the ability at a moment’s notice to change their routes, and quickly make short-term contracts with new vendors and buyers to cope with a crisis or a break in the chain, could divert supplies piling up in warehouses or production facilities to where they are most needed. This would apply to air freight too.

Another thing we see tis the need for more local production. No one should be completely dependent on extra-national suppliers for any essentials of their economy. The future is probably going to see more pandemics rather than less, and now is a good time to build for such contingencies. Similarly, no economy should be dependent on the need to export the bulk of its production elsewhere. Because sometimes, as China recently discovered, you won’t be able to produce or to export.

Efficient hydroponics and greenhouses could supply local produce in a time of crisis. Lab-grown meats could be a game-changer, but probably like many of you, I am not sure I am ready to go for that yet, even though it is probably cleaner than traditional meats.

There is a wider need for inexpensive, efficient generators, and new fuel sources. We are all too dependent on the larger energy grids and supply chains. One of the few good things about the current crisis is that the price of gas has been going down. But that can change, as we have all seen. Widely available and economically accessible methods of transport not dependent on oil and gas (or electricity generated by it) would be a game-changer.

Cultural venues are offering free virtual tours and concerts. You can travel and vacation without the hassle and without even leaving home. Audible has some free audio book offerings. The Dallas Arboretum has a wonderful aerial drone tour with a lovely musical soundtrack. It’s all great! For those of us who previously did not have computers or internet at home, it has been the time to change that. Builders of in-home shelters and storage facilities may be seeing a boom in business. Apparently, gun sales certainly have soared. Prepping has gone mainstream.

There are also immediate opportunities: payment systems are scrambling to climb on board the helicopter-money train and be a middle-man delivery system (no doubt for a fine fee) that helps bring your stimulus check to you.

Traditional lenders are in some cases balking at lending under the emergency small-business loan program that is part of the $2 trillion stimulus package. The guidelines are not clear, and their underwriters simply do not have enough time to reasonably digest the vast quantities of information that are part of the loan application. And some lenders were liable after the 2008 stimulus, when loans weren’t paid back, or they found they had lent to fraudulent entities. There is always a lot of opportunity for fraud in any government program, and that comes from the top all the way down. If you are a business owner applying for the program, you may have noticed the invasive information grab: you need to supply all your payroll records, lease information, costs and revenues and so on. There is some opportunity for loan forgiveness of the federally-backed loans, if you use the money to pay your employees. And new lenders are being approved as we write this.

If everyone broke their lease that now sees that they are trapped in an unnecessary and highly expensive lease contract, with an unreasonable landlord who grants no break on rent in these times when no money is coming in, what would happen? Does that landlord have the time, money, and legal staff to sue everyone for breach of contract? Is this an opportunity for landlord-side attorneys to find new, lucrative employment? Or would everyone be forced to adapt to a better way of doing things? So much of brick-and-mortar really is mostly obsolete in these times, and empty malls could be better turned into apartment or townhome communities or entertainment venues. Particularly for commercial landlords, this might be a good time to grant some temporary rent forgiveness, until tenants are able to bring in money again to pay you. If you are known as the more decent and reasonable commercial landlord, surely businesses looking for a place to rent would know that you are the one to come to? Otherwise, businesses that suddenly see less value in renting the premises may go elsewhere as soon as possible,

Also obsolete are paper newspapers. The waste of ink and paper is unconscionable.

But I digress. Anyway, it is a new world. We need to adapt. And always keep plenty of toilet paper on hand.

by Jen Green, Burch Law