And that means this coronavirus is about to teach us all a LOT!
New York State is building four temporary hospitals in preparation for the wave of coronavirus illnesses that seems to be coming our way. One of those hospitals will be set up in the Westchester County Center in White Plains. When I was a kid growing up in the paint business, there used to be regional and even local trade shows for paint dealers. The ones around us were always held in the Weschester County Center.
As were many of the basketball games, concerts and community gatherings of my youth.
You may have read or heard recently about New Rochelle, New York? It's also in Westchester County. It was one of the virus' early hot spots. There is a quarantine around an entire neighborhood of New Rochelle which is entering its third week. They put a pin on a map and drew a one-mile radius circle. Inside the circle was locked down.
This tragedy will touch us all. It is no longer a faceless story from a far away town, for any of us.
The pin was put in on a spot near the Wykagyl Country Club. Wykagyl is stunning! A golf course and setting worthy of the decades of professional golf that have played on it. With stores and shops all around it, the area is a cool little hamlet in the middle of this city of 80,000.
Wallauer's, an independent paint and hardware retailer has two stores in New Rochelle. They're both opened; deemed essential by New York State law.
Growing up in Westchester, my mom was a big golf fan. She didn’t have a closet full of Nancy Lopez swag like I would have but still; a big fan! We often went to watch the professional women's tour play at Wykagyl. I remember as a kid, following mom's favorites around the course and getting autographs.
I know that neighborhood well, beyond just going there to see women’s golf in the 1970's. I sold paint in that part of the county for years! The abundance of well-maintained pre-war apartment buildings made it a target-rich environment for a paint salesman. While over that way, I used to stop at this terrific kosher deli in a tiny strip of stores. It was worth the hassle of trying to find a parking space in this almost-town, almost-city, corner of Westchester County, NY.
It hurts to watch this trauma unfold in our familiar places. The peaceful memories are now changed; overlaid with scenes from our current adversity.
I grew up in White Plains, New York, where the town motto was “All our friends live in New Rochelle!”
We used to stop and pick up dinner at a place called “Poultry Time!” They had all the "Jewish food" that my grandparents would want to eat when they would visit us. I still remember the kasha varnishkes (picture below).
There’s a New York State National Guard command center inside New Rochelle now. It’s commanded by a full colonel or one-star general who has done this work before after floods, storms and other localized disruptions. Whoever is in there commanding the operation has tremendous resources at their disposal. I haven’t seen this command center, but I know it’s there. And it’s a model of organizational precision. Brought in to make sure of one thing: that this area of just over three square miles has all its needs met until these people are safe to walk among us again.
The goings on in these command centers are remarkable to watch. I spent six-days in one once. Everything you learned while getting your Masters in organizational management....was day one!
It was the single greatest learning experience of my life and I am thinking about it often lately, as I see pictures of New Rochelle and other parts of my home state being supported by the National Guard. It’s never good news when those olive green trucks start to roll in.
But people are always happy to see them!
I wish that there was a National Guard command post to come in and meet dealer's needs.
Dealers all around the United States and Canada right now are making some very difficult decisions about their businesses. And they're doing it on more topics than I could ever get to in a month of blogs!
But there is no command post coming to help you sort through it all so let me boil down those six days of learning I had into a single bit of emergency guidance:
There are two things that you can do in a crisis to ensure that your decisions are effective in resolving the issues you’re dealing with.
Act quickly and be bold.
After all this is over and you are sitting in your stores, you will get a chance to look back on all the decisions you are making now. The mistakes you make (and you will make many) will most likely be instances where you did not take strong enough action or waited too long to act. There will be few times when you say "I over-reacted" causing yourself a bigger problem.
So be bold today and act quickly with decisions you are making about your stores in response to this crisis. In a few months as the dust starts to settle, you'll thank yourself!