During times of crisis, it can be a comfort to hear and learn from industry professionals who’ve weathered challenging times in the past.

The NewGround Public Relations team has spoken a number of industry pros respected for their thoughtful approach to business and their strong characters. Below they’ve shared ideas and thoughts as varied as change, diversifying under adversity, leading and not just managing, searching within yourself, and relying on personal faith.

Challenges Bring Opportunity

Gina Nixon, vice president of sales and marketing, Thomas James Homes

1991 was my personal launch into our industry, selling homes all over the Irvine Ranch for then- Standard Pacific. They were pretty trying times. They say ignorance is bliss, but honestly, I believe the challenges the market delivered during this time allowed me to grow my knowledge base, expand into construction processes and product knowledge, and learn new resources for dealing with objections. Youth definitely fueled my positive attitude and energy to give just a bit more. I learned that staying genuine and gracious goes a long way towards building trust, both with consumers and with co-workers.

In 2001 we hit another recession, but it seemed more like a bump than a bulldoze. Anyone who was putting in the slightest extra effort experienced the benefits. We built urgency as fast as we could build homes. Finding ways to make homebuyers feel special, like family, built loyalty that was immeasurable. It was simple things like cooking breakfast for phase releases – not catering, literally cooking for them. Efforts equated to revenue.

2007 hit like an 8.0 on the Richter scale. The great recession was the earthquake and tsunami that nearly wiped out our industry. We watched people we sold to, people we worked with, and people we built businesses with destroyed – financially, emotionally, and some physically. The heartbreak still clouds our industry. Those who have survived have completely re-invented themselves and how they work with others and invested a more soulful approach as to who they want to work with.

Taking a step back allowed me to find ways to reconnect with the passion of our industry. I pushed creativity to bigger, maybe riskier, levels and stood behind the risk with solid means to measure the results. Never before have I worked more agile and chameleon-like, ready for anything but not losing the personal touch that is compassionate, thankful and still fun.

Today is very different. We are experiencing a social crisis that will fuel an economic crisis. We are self-isolating and lonely. It is a disconnect from how our business normally functions. We live in an experience-driven and very social industry. The typical builder and home buying experiences spark dreams and push the goals and motivations of consumers. Today, our “experience” factor has been somewhat fire hosed. Yet we still have people who need homes.

I believe there is an incredible opportunity to embrace and use the technologies that we as an industry have been ignoring. Get uncomfortable without losing our compassion. Take some chances and use the opportunity to test some big new ideas in ways that provide solutions for those who need them now. The most challenging times have always pushed me to be my best self. It is my hope to see our industry grow during this time of isolation to become even closer to our consumers and ultimately bettering ourselves.

Take Immediate Action

Randy Jackson, president/principal, Orange County, PlaceWorks

You’re either going to win or lose the battle to protect your company and your people in the first 48 hours – a lesson learned from past downturns in our industry and the economy. While the Great Recession was a long time coming, we’re going to be experiencing more immediate crises, such as pandemics, earthquakes and wildfires, moving forward. It’s even more imperative now to take immediate action.

Be prepared with the kind of technology that will allow your people to work remotely so there is little to no downtime in business operations. In the first few hours, meet with your senior team and talk to them about acting as field lieutenants. Take a census of where they are in time, projects and personnel. Then talk to the troops, who will naturally be nervous. Let them know their jobs are safe in the interim and impress upon them that you are in charge and have a plan in place. If they are forced to work remotely, let them know you will be flexible with their schedules, knowing they may have to spread out their 40 hours per week over a seven-day period, for example.

Call your bank the first day, ask for an increase in your line of credit, and keep in touch with them weekly. Send out a letter to your clients letting them know you are well and available to them for anything they need, whether that’s slowing down on a project or accelerating it.

Cancel all unnecessary travel, both business and personal, while the crisis is in full swing. Perception is important and your people need to be assured you are in this with them. Call your landlord, let them know you’re good for now but that you may have to spread some future months’ payments out over a year-long period, then ask for a 10-year lease extension at your current rate. It’ll help your bottom line in the long term. Then get the rhythm back in your company as soon as possible.

Personally, I’ve learned to take advantage of downturns to find the next big idea or opportunity. I’ve done some of my most creative work when business has slowed and I have the time to think deeply about what the future of our industry will look like and how I can help inform what it will become. It’s also an opportune time to remind yourself that you have made it to where you are with no one handing it to you, and you’ll do it again.

Challenges Represent Opportunities and Lessons

Bob Musa, president, CPS, inc.

What I’ve learned from our previous experiences, such as the 2008 recession, is that each challenge presents both an opportunity and a lesson. The primary lesson we learned in 2008 was that our business needed more diversification. During the recession many of our clients either failed or were acquired.

That same lesson is being applied today. We’re reevaluating our marketing efforts. There have been two major trade show cancellations. No tradeshows means no shipping costs or booth costs—and we still have the budget and income, so now we need to assess where we’ll spend the money. These cancellations have freed up a substantial portion of our marketing budget and have given us an opportunity to experiment with new marketing channels.

Another big lesson from 2008 was learning how to diversify not only our client base but also our products—which we did—and we’re now in the position to help customers and clients get through this time. Our customers are now more than ever using our products to sell homes through virtual tours and touch screen presentations to their home shoppers.

As far as our current crisis is concerned, I'm optimistic. Our business has not been as severely impacted as others. People will always need a place to call home.

On a personal level, last weekend, shops in our town along the main street offered “honor shopping” by placing goods on card tables out on the sidewalk. You took what you needed and paid with your phone. The restaurant owners who I’ve talked to have told me that take out business has been surprisingly good. These businesses have all adapted.

I’ve also been taking photos of Corona-related things and signs around town. My children and their children will be interested from a historical standpoint to see what happened in 2020. I’m taking this opportunity to educate them.

So, adapt, look for the opportunity, and help educate—the same theme we developed in 2008 works just as well today.