The Coronavirus has had a devastating effect on small businesses everywhere. As a small business ourselves, we have felt these effects firsthand. We also work very closely with smaller businesses (our Cleaning Partners are local dry cleaners and laundromats) who are hurting during these challenging times and are less well-equipped to navigate.
Our Cleaning Partners tend to look like many of the small businesses that are struggling across the country today - sole proprietors, often immigrant-run, and very dependent on day-to-day sales to make payroll and pay rent.
Since early March, we have been working very closely with our Cleaning Partners to help them navigate the current environment. Through this process, we have had to learn quickly how to operate in the “new normal” that COVID-19 has created. To that end, we wanted to share some thoughts on our approach in case it helps you (or a small business owner you know) today or as you prepare to re-open in the coming months.
Our approach to helping our Cleaning Partners can be broken down into three main categories:
- Prevention - taking steps to put in preventive measures and reduce the risk of transmission.
- Relief - making sure our partners understand relief programs available and the steps needed to apply and benefit from them, where applicable.
- Support - doing whatever we can to help navigate the business challenges related to COVID-19.
At Rinse, our approach to managing the operational complexity in our business is to “always be paranoid; never be complacent.” Never have those words been more important than right now. We’ve worked very closely with our Cleaning Partners to ensure they are well positioned to prevent transmission and keep their teams, our teams, and our customers safe. Here are a few key steps we have taken to maximize safety and optimize prevention:
- Making sure our partners have the necessary supplies - The first step was to make sure our partners had all the necessary supplies to implement key preventive measures. Given the significant demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) today, purchasing items such as masks, gloves, soap, and disinfectants is very challenging. Rinse has spent considerable time and effort in finding and procuring key supplies, often sourcing from multiple suppliers in various geographies, and at times shipping supplies from well-stocked Rinse offices to areas where we had less available supply. We are covering the cost of these supplies for our Cleaning Partners as needed, and have focused on providing core items such as disinfectant, soap, gloves, and face masks for all staff to wear throughout their shifts.
- Making sure our partners understand how to implement key preventive measures - We gave our Cleaning Partners clear procedures to follow and train their staff on, mirroring what we were already doing at Rinse. These efforts included:
- Sharing our internal processes with Cleaning Partners on how frequently we take certain measures such as hand washing and wiping down surfaces.
- Sharing any real-time updates we learn from CDC, OSHA, or local government guidance on how to ensure a safe workplace.
- Creating signs in both English and Spanish for our Cleaning Partners to post in their facilities so their staff had clear instructions and reminders for proper handwashing techniques, social distancing, and to send people home if sick.
- Working with our Cleaning Partners to help them adjust their processes and stagger shifts so they could maximize social distance and limit in-building occupancy.
Over the coming weeks as our various markets look to relax shelter-in-place restrictions, we will continuously monitor local and state ordinances to make sure that each of our Cleaning Partners remains compliant and ahead of the curve.
- Making sure our Cleaning Partners are executing on these key preventive measures daily - Our Cleaning Partners are a core part of our team, so they were asked to follow the same daily protocol that each of our local operations teams follow. In addition to frequent hand washing, regular disinfecting of all surfaces, and strict social distancing, we asked all of our teams and Cleaning Partners to take daily pictures of these measures in action. Not only did this serve to hold everyone accountable and reinforce behavior, but the daily pictures also made it very clear across all of Rinse’s markets that we were all working together to keep our team and customers safe.
In addition to practicing strong preventive measures, we needed to act quickly to help our Cleaning Partners weather the financial challenges of this period. The first step was to help our Partners understand the various relief programs available.
When COVID-19 hit, there was a massive wave of relief efforts undertaken by the government at the federal, state, and local levels. The amount of information that emerged was significant, as was the level of complexity. Some of our Cleaning Partners did not have issues understanding and navigating the complexity of these programs, while others didn’t know where to start. We spent time proactively reaching out to our partners with information we had on programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), and various other relief efforts available to them.
In addition, we helped some of our Cleaning Partners with their immediate cash management needs by letting them know when local governments had suspended or delayed collection of water, sewer, and utility bills. We also made sure they understood what opportunities for rent relief or protection were available to them.
(Note: there are many articles out there with links to various relief programs available, so we won’t include them here, but if you are interested in a more detailed list, please email us at [email protected] and we’ll share it with you).
Once preventive measures were in place and our Cleaning Partners understood the relief options available, our main focus was and has been to continue to support our Cleaning Partners in this new environment.
To be clear, these have been challenging times for our Cleaning Partners. Despite being essential services and remaining open, Dry Cleaners have experienced dramatic revenue reduction with the halt in business travel and the rise in work-from-home behavior. For many of our Dry Cleaning Partners, Rinse is now their only source of revenue since most customers have stopped visiting stores in person. Business has also declined for our Wash & Fold Partners as customers choose to stay at home or are hesitant to use public, in-store, washers and dryers. As a result, we have worked to support our Cleaning Partners in a few key ways:
- Reducing overall costs and simplifying operations - Rinse worked closely with our Cleaning Partners to share revenue forecasts based on early metrics we were seeing in our own business. Sharing this information helped our Cleaning Partners make proactive staffing changes and operating adjustments to weather the storm. We removed constraints such as 2-Day Rush Dry Cleaning so our Cleaning Partners can work flexible hours and operate on alternate days to reduce overall costs. In addition, we have supported our partners who have chosen to pause operations at the moment and are ready to pick up where we left off with them whenever they decide they are ready to work again.
- Helping improve working capital - In an environment like this, cash on hand is critical, so we have worked closely with our Cleaning Partners to help with cash management where we can. For some Cleaning Partners, we have shortened our payment terms to ensure they have access to working capital sooner to cover costs such as payroll and rent. In some instances, we have seen an increase in volume for certain Partners because their counterparts have closed down for the time being. To help them accept and service that volume, we have purchased additional supplies and equipment for them, such as folding boards. In addition, we have shouldered the cost of COVID-19 related supplies to make sure our Cleaning Partners don’t have to trade off safety with being able to pay the bills.
- Creating new revenue streams - Rinse is working with our Cleaning Partners to produce reusable cloth masks. We initially asked our Cleaning Partners to make them for our internal team, and then we decided to ramp up production to sell masks to our customers. These masks are not only providing a great service for our team, our customers, and the public at large, but they are creating a new income stream for our Cleaning Partners and helps them keep their staff working.
Rinse has had a close relationship with its Cleaning Partners since we launched in 2013. We are very proud of the way each of our Cleaning Partners has responded during a challenging time, and we’re proud of how closely our local teams have worked with them to make sure they have the support they need. COVID-19 is presenting unprecedented challenges and the only way we will all get through this is to work together.
If you are a business working to navigate COVID-19, or if you are contemplating how to re-open in a COVID-19 world, we hope the information above is helpful. If we can be of assistance, or if you have feedback based on what you’ve learned, please email [email protected] and let us know.