Surviving Road Construction
Road construction can present challenges for businesses, but with the right information, proper coordination and strategic planning, your business cannot only endure the process, but also prosper during it.
The stronger your business is, the less likely it is to be affected by risks. Every business, to some degree needs a plan for uncontrollable events such as road construction, short-term down-turns in the economy, or even a competitor moving into the neighborhood. Strengthening your business doesn't just involve financial management. It also includes strategies to retain and broaden your customer base, market your business affordably, keep morale high among your staff and improve business practices. You should also look for opportunities to network and form alliances. This will help minimize your exposure to risks.
Tips for your Business
1. Build a dedicated cash reserve. The reality of construction is that your walk-in sales may be cut. You'll also probably need more advertising and promotions to sweeten the shopping experience. So once you learn a roadwork project is scheduled for your area, start setting aside funds.
2. Create or modify your marketing and business plan prior to construction. Gather customer contact information before construction begins. This is a perfect time, of any, to begin a social media campaign for your business. Consumers are already online; you must go to where they are.
3. Evaluate or Increase your Advertising and Marketing Budget. Consider how you might promote your store or brand. Consider what is most effective in reaching your target audience. Consider a television commercial, radio ad, print ad, billboard ad and all electronic media, like Facebook and Twitter and text messaging. Don’t forget about event sponsorship with a local charity or chamber. Whatever you decide, make sure it complements your current marketing and communication efforts for brand building.
4. Secure a good line of credit while times are good. It’s important to get a line of credit during a good time when sales are up. That way you’ll have it when and if there’s an emergency.
5. Increase your company’s cash flow. It's critical for a small business. Consider a change in credit terms from your vendors and to your customers. For example, if your competitor pays their suppliers in 45 days and you pay in 30 days, you are leaving money on the table. Conversely, if your sales terms are overly generous, you will need to finance cash needs that could be met by better billing and collection practices.
6. Keep your staff lean. It’s an unfortunate reality, but if you expect a significant decrease in customers once construction begins, you may need to consider keeping a lean staff. If someone quits in the spring, you may decide to keep the position vacant if there’s a construction project coming up that summer. Other options might include job sharing, reducing hours, freelancers, etc. Remember, don't skimp on service and quality if your understaffed.
7. Reduce inventory. When possible, reducing inventory can be a useful strategy to respond to slower periods due to construction.
8. You may need to rework your budget. For instance, more money might be required for cleaning. While there’s little you can do to reduce the dust and noise of a construction site, you can focus on keeping your own business as dust-free as possible. If you only clean your windows once a week right now, you might consider increasing that during the construction period. You may also decide to allocate more time or money for general cleaning and upkeep to keep construction dust to a minimum.
9. Relocation. Occasionally businesses facing lease renewals consider moving to avoid construction. Be mindful of a quick decision to relocate. You don’t want a short-term decrease in sales to have a negative impact if you currently have a successful location. Pre- and post-construction considerations: Street visibility if your product/service depends on impulse buyers. How will traffic flow change, or car counts change, on a daily basis? Does your business have a loyal customer base?
10. Historically, many businesses reduce advertising and promotional expenditures rather than slash fixed costs during hard times. However, studies have shown that those maintaining or increasing ad outlays during slowdowns wind up outselling rivals who cut back. Here are some tips for driving customers to you business:
- If you haven't already started a customer loyalty rewards program, website or text marketing program, this is a good time to do it.
- Consider passing out copies of alternative routes to the business before the project to all your customers.
- Consider sending weekly emails to customers — if you keep them informed and in the loop, they may not be as likely to change their buying habits during construction.
- Drive traffic to your business by hosting events for local charities or business groups like the Surprise Regional Chamber of Commerce; consider having your own event with a band, craft events, sidewalk sales, etc.
- Provide curb service or other convenience-oriented services.
- Ask suppliers and vendors for information about special giveaways, cooperative advertising or other promotional opportunities.
- Work with your business neighbors to run special promotions such as cookouts, sidewalk sales, block parties, street dances or prize drawings.
11. Is now is the time to be prudently aggressive in the marketplace? Actively seek out new business, and perhaps add a salesperson or two or an extra service to give you an edge over competition.
12. Three Signage Tips:
- Make sure signage is clear. Do you need to improve your signage? Now is the time to do it. Beware of having too much signage in your window, sign/window clutter can make your storefront hard to read.
- Are there are signs directing your customers to the right entrance to reach your business? See what sort of signs are going up to direct traffic and make sure they make sense for your customers.
- Can you benefit from a temporary sign permit from the city? (Driveway signs, A-frame signs, alternate business access signs and directional signs).
- Remember, permits may be required and some access signs are installed by the contractors. The signs state “Alternate Business Access” and have an arrow on them. They’re placed in advance of intersections to inform motorists where to turn. The business provides its name placard, which the project’s contractor installs below the alternate business access sign.
13. Developing innovative practices. Developing innovative practices may help you adapt to changing market conditions and stay ahead of your competitors. As part of this process you should review if using technology will increase efficiency, reduce costs and make your business more competitive, for example, installing a customer management system, doing business online.
14. Can you sponsor an event to gain exposure? A sponsorship is a relationship between a program or event host, and advertisers who support the program or event in exchange for an agreed-upon amount of exposure. Charities, local chambers, etc., offer sponsorship packages. Can you set up a booth, place your company logo on promotional materials, post a link on their website? Is there an opportunity in insert or distribute coupons to participants?
15. Deliver products to your customers, to reach customers unable or unwilling to navigate the construction area.
16. Keep on message. Consider keeping a script next to your phone so you and your employees have quick and easy directions to provide to customers. Make sure all your employees know what to say and how to say it.
17. Extend business hours. Consider staying open later in the evening after construction crews are finished for the day. Be flexible to accommodate customer demands and other perceived needs.
18. Make the construction work for you. If you’ve been considering a remodel for your business, why not do it during the construction period? Use this slower period to get things done that you haven’t had time to address.
19. Stay informed and engaged. Communicate with local officials and the Arizona Department of Transportation as needs arise. When possible, stay informed by attending public hearings, workshops, meetings, and Chamber events. Inquire about any construction mitigation programs. For example, some cities relax zoning laws to permit business signs in places normally off-limits; others relax parking requirements. Be sure to open all correspondence from the city and Chamber
20. Remember as a business you can contribute ideas and make concerns known by attending public hearings and meetings, filling out comment forms, communicating with council members, and attending meetings of neighborhood associations and the Chamber of Commerce.
21. Now is the time to join the Surprise Regional Chamber Commerce. Network with other businesses and make new contacts. The Chamber is your best business advocate.
Acknowledgements: This document used several documents as reference material including, but not limited to: Inc., www.inc.com/guides/2010; California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) District 3, 703 B Street, Marysville, CA 95901; The GMCC Small Business Advisory Council, Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce and City of Madison staff, Madison Central Business Improvement District, Heather Skyler