For Rob Price, CEO of the School of Rock, the information swirling about in the early days of the coronavirus was a temptation to be avoided.
“We decided to get some independent and customized and proprietary medical advice from the get go, to help us synthesize what was going on rather than listening to the news and trying to reconcile between CNN and MSNBC and Fox news,” Price said on a recent NetSuite virtual event, part of the NetSuite Business Now series. “All of that input in the early days was complete mumbo jumbo.”
Price and team brought in a pediatric specialist with some background in epidemiology to help them plan how to manage their corporate- and franchise-owned music schools as things progressed. Even with that guidance, the coronavirus still caught the company unexpected in many ways. It caught most businesses unexpected.
According to a survey conducted during the virtual event, 48% of the nearly 350 attendees said they didn’t have a business continuity plan in place, another 17% said they had one but it wasn’t useful.
So, what to do? Navigating business uncertainty was the theme of last week’s virtual event in which Price was joined by his CFO, John Cappadona, along with Lawrence Franchetti, CEO of One Beat CPR Learning Center, which provides CPR training and distributes defibrillators and related health care devices.
For most businesses, the first step is taking stock and determining immediate priorities. While most companies think in 12-, 24-, and 36-month increments, uncertainty means narrowing that window significantly, said Scott Beaver, senior product manager at Oracle NetSuite and moderator of the event. Franchetti’s teams were positioned to see the warning signs early.
“We serve first responders, hospitals and everything from schools to churches,” Franchetti said. “We knew there was an emerging problem, and it was coming very quickly.”
For both School of Rock and One Beat CPR Learning Center, adapting required a swift shift in business model. It was a common concern: the biggest challenge cited by attendees on the virtual event was continuing business operations (51%), followed by order reductions (35%) and those who had to close doors until restrictions are lifted (10%). Just 3% cited existing supply chain that can’t deliver materials.
From Training to Equipment and In-person Lessons to Online
One Beat CPR shifted from a training-plus-product business to providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other equipment its customers suddenly needed, such as ventilators. While the business had sold some ventilators in the past, it took some work to make the transition, identifying its most trusted suppliers and targeting them early. One Beat CPR is now selling masks, face shields and sanitizers among other items in demand by people grappling with the coronavirus.
“We were able to work with our bank, the finance team and undergo plans to acquire products that folks on the front line needed,” Franchetti said. “We were able to work with vendors as well, to create products and business plans for our team to be successful. The first day it didn’t seem like it, but now we’re pretty nimble.”
It’s now working with manufacturers to acquire more PPE products and has started making its own face shields.
“We had to think big, bigger and biggest,” Franchetti said. “We thought, ‘why can’t we do this ourselves?’ I’ve been calling it a watershed moment for our organization. We’ve opened up additional distribution lines, tested manufacturing our own products. We’re shipping globally and getting into areas where we didn’t have a strong foothold.”
School of Rock had to quickly transition from its business of in-person music lessons.
“We needed to plan for the short term, but in context of the long term,” Price said.
Within a week, School of Rock had created an online education platform, a process that likely would have taken six months without the pressure of the current climate, Price said. Not only will that platform help the company and its franchisees survive now, but it helps solve some of the reason schoolchildren don’t take lessons, like summer vacations, lessons that are too far away, or students unable to drive to classes. The organization was able to do that thanks to collaborating closely with franchisees and leaning on its culture of learning and sharing. The organization held regular meetings, built a wiki page for feedback on the platform and shared best practices of the franchises that were managing best.
“Our community and our team has rallied around a purpose and our culture,” said Cappadona, the CFO. “We’ve done a lot of work over the last few years building that up. It has really revealed itself during this time of crisis.”
Staying Focused on the Mission
The coronavirus didn’t just introduce business challenges, it raised stress levels as well. Both companies were able to turn to their business mission to help cope.
“The reality is that we have our team [to worry about] too,” Franchetti said. “The stress and anxiety of how this will affect their home life. How are they going to come home? Anchor in yourself and your purpose. For ourselves, it’s helping save lives.”
One Beat CPR created online classroom sessions for its employees who had children home from school. It also paid for babysitting.
Both organizations were also careful and clear communicating with customers and employees. School of Rock worked to educate franchise operators on managing their costs, including navigating conversations with their landlords.
“This has revealed to me the power and importance of individual communication,” Price said. “Every franchisee in our system has my cell phone number.”
With new business models and new learnings, both businesses are poised to bounce back when things return to normal. But as one poll during the virtual event posed—How will you get back to normal?—many are not sure. Just 5% said they would get back to business as normal, 43% predicted minor tweaks, 26% predicted significant changes and a quarter of respondents answered, “we don’t know.”