Five Pandemic Lessons for Businesses and Communities to Thrive in Times of Uncertainty

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This month marks the third anniversary of the global Covid-19 pandemic and while many of us are keen to move forward, it’s important for businesses to reflect on the takeaways and build on lessons learned through our shared, global experiences.

Our local community connections really matter
Businesses often have strong roots in the communities they serve and have the ability to respond faster to community needs. This is true of our FASTSIGNS franchisees, Mark and Shawn Glenn of Carrollton, Texas, who rose to the occasion and went from printing graphics to producing over 15,000 face shields for local police departments in North Texas. Our franchisee Barry Roufa, in St. Louis, Mo., created St. Louis Strong banners and donated a portion of the proceeds to the St. Louis Area Food Bank. The pandemic changed our perspective of what’s an essential business and for communities, it should be a reminder to look local first.

A network brings advantages

During the height of the pandemic, our meetings went online, and we navigated illness and limited staffing or no staffing across our network. We also faced supply chain shortages in many areas at the same time as we were inundated with production requests. While the pandemic created a collective crisis it also allowed us to share collective responses. We leaned on local and national networks for support. What we learned is that a strong infrastructure is important. If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that you can’t go it alone and online communities and franchise and partner networks kept us connected.

We became more innovative and creative

Business owners have to be creative problem solvers. They’re magicians in many ways. Sign manufacturers aren’t typically asked to create protective equipment for frontline health workers, but our franchisee Todd Helfer in Jacksonville, Fla., stepped up and created sneeze guards, face masks and intubation boxes and donated them to the Florida Mayo Clinic. The pandemic production pivot allowed FASTSIGNS franchisee Larissa Croll in Englewood, Colo., to create desk shields for many essential businesses and yard signs for seniors whose graduation ceremonies were canceled. Whether it was a grommet shortage, or differing health ordinances per state and county, at FASTSIGNS we problem-solved and sourced from within and externally. We innovated because we had to but now it’s important to look back and evaluate new industries, new techniques and new services we can provide. 

It gave us a collective sense of purpose

Our FASTSIGNS franchisees faced the same day-to-day frustrations as their customers. For businesses trying to stay afloat, banner flags, window graphics and parking lot signs that read “open for business” and “curbside pickup” kept the doors open and the bills paid, and the signage reminded customers to value the importance of keeping local communities alive. It’s not just us saying this – in a recent 2022 national poll three-fourths (73%) of Amercians said signage and high-impact graphics made places more noticeable. At a time of uncertainty, it’s important to be a part of greater good, a greater purpose and to take pride in what you do and do it well – you may end up achieving more than you thought possible.

Amplified efficiency

So much of our initial response to the pandemic had to be reactive. But as we adjusted to the immediate crisis, at FASTSIGNS we began to see a need for tightening all around. We looked at costs, at staffing, at wages and pricing. We also looked at equipment needs and square footage and determined key steps moving forward to maintain and improve efficiency. The steps we took are strategic ones the Harvard Business Review recommends businesses take to better capture the lessons learned during Covid and better prepare businesses in the future.

A final note is this — American businesses should be proud of our shared resiliency. We know we were not alone in this collective effort to come together, to work for a greater good, and we are not alone in our shared understanding of what it means to be a community.

The storms we’ve already weathered together have made us better prepared and more agile for what may come. Remember, in times of uncertainty, calmness is power and not overreacting is important. Our stakeholders and our communities are counting on us.

Catherine Monson is the CEO of Propelled Brands, a multi-brand franchise which includes FASTSIGNS, NerdsToGo, MY SALON Suite and Salon Plaza. She is the past chairwoman of the International Franchise Association.