Reopening Your Business with a Little Help from Your Friends

Now is the Time for Trade Associations to Come to the Aid of Their Members               

4/23/2020 – – The responsibility for our nation’s economic recovery from the coronavirus shutdown has been placed squarely on the shoulders of America’s entrepreneurs. Businesses must rebuild consumer trust in the absence of an “all clear” or uniform regulations from the White House or any State House. With a vaccine at best a year away, will consumers feel safe enough to open their front doors and wallets?   

Recently Carolyn Goodman, the Mayor of Las Vegas, assured CNN’s Anderson Cooper that “free enterprise” will make things right: “I would have the cleanest hotel with six feet figured out for every human being who comes in.”

I share Mayor Goodman’s faith in the power of entrepreneurial ingenuity and resilience. Self-reliance is embedded in the American spirit. And we’ve seen plenty of evidence that restaurateurs, hoteliers, retailers, builders, hair dressers, manufacturers, airlines and theatre owners are laser-focused on making their environments safe for employees and customers.

But going it alone in a crisis — especially this one — is a lousy strategy.

One of the seven elements measured by the Crisis Preparedness Quotient to predict your readiness to weather a crisis is “Allies.” In assessing your preparedness, the Quotient asks: “Through your actions and commitments, have you nurtured alliances and earned the friendship of influential organizations and individuals who could help you in a pinch?”

Among the allies who can help you now as you reopen for on-premises business are industry/trade associations.

The safety innovations an individual restaurant owner can introduce in his or her space — heightened hygiene protocols, social distancing, daily temperature testing of staff — will only comfort the consumer so much. Imagine how much more compelling those policies would be to diners if a certificate in the front widow read: “This Restaurant Meets or Exceeds All Health Safety Regulations of the National Restaurant Association.”

Schools and colleges depending on the full-pay tuition of foreign students (many from China) are dealing with ever-changing international travel restrictions (will their students be able to get to campus in the fall?) and the fears of U.S. students and faculty concerned about the chances of infection from non-U.S. students. Every institution can try to tackle these issues alone, but The American Council on Education, with an influential Washington office, is far better positioned to track and influence relevant legislation and regulation on travel and establish a uniform policy regarding safely welcoming students in September. If, for example, all ACE member schools required a 14-day on-campus “orientation” (and health screening) for foreign students prior to domestic students arriving, everyone could be more comfortable.

Even being a member of a single-city merchants’ association or a single-state alliance of schools is far better than trying to recover solo. Your fellow members will have ideas you hadn’t thought about, have resources for advertising and promotion, and have relationships that strengthen your clout. Aligning your policies with others also provides an added level of legal protection. When the economy reopens we can expect a tsunami of lawsuits by people infected by the coronavirus. It is harder to prove negligence when a company is following practices established by a broader association.

Hopefully you are a member of an association or alliance that is working hard to get you through this storm. Now is the time for them to earn your dues. Chambers of Commerce and regional economic development associations also may be able to give you valuable information and assistance. And remember, if you don’t set standards for operating in the “new normal,” your local health inspector will!  

It’s never too late to make friends.        

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