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posted: 7/16/2020 1:00 AM

Tips to minimize the fallout of COVID-19

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A family business has many assets to draw upon in a crisis, even one as challenging as a pandemic-triggered economic backslide.

At Roscoe, a fourth generation work uniform company founded by my grandfather, one of the most valuable assets is the close relationships among long-tenured team members. We are a second family that speaks candidly with one another. Decades of trust built between leadership and front line team members helped us get through the uncertainty and fear of the last few months.

Although the risks are still with us, we have benefitted from some key strategies before and during the pandemic including:

1. Communication: When the reality of the COVID-19 crisis became apparent, we instituted daily team leader meetings to implement a divide-and-conquer approach to tackling the implications for every aspect of our company. But our communications process was still inadequate to the threat. I was approached by team members who said, "I don't know if I should be here." People were afraid. I realized that -- especially in a culture where we are all so close -- we sometimes assume everyone is on the same page. We broadened our communication plan to include ongoing dialogue with customers, suppliers and our entire team. Our transparency about what we knew and what we did not know earned us across-the-board respect.

2. Planning: Every year, we put a lot of time and effort into strategic planning. We had no way of knowing how great a disruption the pandemic was going to be, but as counterintuitive as it may seem, our planning process was critical to our ability to change our plans. It's my experience that just the exercise of planning puts you in a better position to pivot when a crisis presents itself.

3. Certifications: Third-party reviews of our business processes, customer service, safety, hygiene, and environmental practices have instilled a rigor that continually ups our game. Family businesses often lack the discipline or desire to document every process and procedure. From ISO 9001 to our industry association's Hygienically Clean certification to OSHA's SHARP worksite safety criteria, the accountability these programs impose has made us stronger at every level.

4. Collaboration: In the early days of the threat, there was so much we did not know. We reached out to our network, including Chicago's Business Executives Association (BEA), my YPO Gold forum and industry associations like the Textile Rental Service Association (TRSA) and Six Disciplines, an independent operator group. I have always valued the collaboration and networking these groups provide, but the last few months have shown them to be so much more. As a family business owner, I do not have an epidemiologist or risk management expert on staff. At the BEA, weekly Zoom meetings became an invaluable source of information and expertise for getting through. There were also some great stress relievers like a virtual cocktail hour where a bartender took us through the steps of making the perfect Old-Fashioned.

5. The perfect Old-Fashioned: The secret is rye, not bourbon. But seriously, these are difficult times and it will take courage to move forward again. I encourage everyone to keep your spirits up and not to lose sight of the horizon. If your practices have not served you well so far, focus on two or three improvements that would make the biggest difference and dedicate your best resources toward making them happen. Like the perfect Old-Fashioned, a family business is a recipe that relies on the contributions of different ingredients muddling together to create something bigger and better than any one of them alone.

• Jim Buik is the president and CEO of Roscoe, a Chicago-based, family-owned work uniform supplier that will celebrate a century in business in 2021.

Jim also chairs the national industry association TRSA and is a past president of the Business Executives Association of Chicago.