RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, LAURA MCFARLAND
Powhatan-based business DRP Collision recently had the opportunity to demonstrate how one local business has responded to COVID-19 in a positive way.
The family-owned business was visited on Aug. 11 by Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, who toured the facility and learned about how owners Kendall and Margo Ickes decided to turn a potentially disastrous situation into an opportunity.
Kendall Ickes said he and his wife try to be inviting about showing off their business on a regular basis but are especially proud of how they have worked to weather the pandemic. He had previously spoken with Spanberger at a Powhatan Chamber of Commerce meeting and then at the Powhatan Freedom Festival and had invited her to see their operation, so he was pleased she took them up on their offer.
“Here is the big thing I wanted to get across on her visit. I have been saying it as the past Chamber president since the beginning – we are not going to recover from this coronavirus by waiting for it to be behind us. The only way we are going to recover is if we are better than ever because we had the time to invest in getting better,” he said.
DRP Collision was having a banner year in early 2020 before the pandemic devastated the United States and had just celebrated its 10th anniversary in February, Kendall Ickes said. They had two record months back to back in January and February 2020. But in March the volume dropped significantly because of the virus.
“We have been running about half on average, but when they first closed schools and everybody was in a panic, our work just disappeared. We were like 10 percent of our normal volume for a couple of weeks,” he said. “It was very scary in the beginning. We knew it wouldn’t last forever, but it was intimidating.”
Like so many businesses, the business owners found themselves in a dire situation. But they hope the decisions they made in the months that followed will give them a much firmer foundation as the country begins the economic climb back.
With volume down, the couple turned the focus of the shop to more training, cleaning, organizing, and strategizing, Margo Ickes said.
“We did a lot more team meetings and brainstorming with folks coming together to say, once this picks back up, where do we want to see ourselves, especially in the fall when volumes increase like they statistically do? How do we want to approach this differently so it is more organized, so you guys feel less stress during times of high volume,” she said.
The company engaged in business process management classes to figure out what their processes are and how they can be improved, identifying defects and eliminating waste within the business, she said.
Those improvements have always been an important focuses for the Ickeses, but it takes so much time to focus on making even small changes incrementally because of the time it takes, Kendall said.
“When we were running at half volume, we were able to take the staff, instead of laying them off, and kind of re-employ them into these other roles and say ‘help us figure out how to improve,’ ” he said.
They always put 1 percent of sales away in case there is an issue, so they didn’t have to lay off any employees, Kendall Ickes said. They also applied for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a program established by the CARES Act to provide small businesses with funds to pay up to eight weeks of payroll costs including benefits.
Kendall Ickes said he long ago realized the potential of networking, and appreciated the opportunity to network with Spanberger to share his thoughts and concerns and those of his employees with her.
“What I told my staff was it doesn’t matter if you are a republican, democrat or independent. It doesn’t matter. She represents you and she is voting on your behalf, so having some kind of connection to even her staff, where we can reach out with a concern, it is very important for us to be able to do that,” he said. “We didn’t have that connection before, and now we do.”
Spanberger said one of the favorite parts of her job is talking to people and businesses about the impact of either ongoing legislative discussions or actual pieces of proposed legislation so she can understand the direct impact at home in Virginia.
DRP Collision is an interesting example of how a local small business used the PPP to keep their employees on the payroll and keep their doors open, she said. As the program is designed, for a brief period of time, the Ickes had the certainty of paying employees and keeping the lights on, and they used that window to invest in the business and its future, she said.
“It was very interesting to hear from Kendall how it is they used the funds. Yes they used it to pay their employees, but more than that, Kendall took it as an opportunity … and in this time of economic uncertainty, they have been able to keep their employees employed, and beyond that they have been able to innovate,” Spanberger said.
Visits like this provide a real-life example for how local businesses are being impacted by COVID-19 and the measures being implemented to try to help them, she said. Not every business has been able to bounce back, and “hearing the array of experiences on the ground has been incredibly important to me as we are looking toward what is necessary in the way of additional COVID-19 relief,” she said.