Editor's note: In early March, Inc. reported on how small companies across the U.S. were preparing for disruptions related to the coronavirus outbreak. Here's an update on the steps they're taking to respond to the rapidly changing business environment.

Penguin Patch Holiday Shop: Equipping workers at home and in the office

A tumultuous month got crazier for CEO Jennifer Randklev when she and two of her children came down with an everyday case of the flu. Healthy now, Randklev forecasts her March sales will hit just 40 percent of her original projections because of coronavirus-related economic conditions: Her Fort Worth-based company provides materials for gift-selling events at schools, which are all being canceled. "That's understandable," she says. "But it's a tough pill to swallow." Still, she's staying busy:

  • Randklev says she's not a fan of remote work, but she spent $20,000 on phones and computers to enable most of her staff to work from home. Randklev declined to specify the size of her workforce, noting that she employs fewer than 50 people.

  • Roughly 20 percent of her staffers have inventory, building maintenance, or administrative jobs that can't be done remotely. For those workers, Randklev stocked her office with hand sanitizer, tissues, and disinfectant wipes. Four times per day, an employee wipes down office-wide touch points like doorknobs and fridge handles.

  • Randklev has close relationships with her manufacturers in China--and recently they reached out to her about making and selling protective masks for U.S. health care workers. She quickly set up pricing sheets and incorporated a new business entity called Vita Persona, and is currently looking for potential clients in need of masks.

Cool Beauty Consulting/Nova Salon: Planning following layoffs

For Bennie Pollard, the worst-case scenario has come to life. Last week, his home state of Kentucky ordered all barbershops and hair salons to close. His company, Cool Beauty Consulting, which works primarily with salons, felt that pain acutely. With no clients, the company, which landed at No. 2,722 on Inc.'s list of the fastest-growing companies in 2018, with $4.7 million in 2017 revenue, was forced to lay off all 20 of its employees. His two salon locations also shut down, putting nearly 30 more people out of work. Pollard, who declined to provide 2019 revenue information, intends to hire everyone back as soon as he can, and is spending his time planning for that future:

  • Pollard and two other principals are left, ready to answer phones in case any clients call to check in. He's also still paying rent and power bills at the salons, at least for now.

  • Meanwhile, Pollard is hoping to reopen both businesses within 30 days, but acknowledges a "nebulous" timeline. Financially, the companies are essentially in neutral--no revenue, but very little spend--and Pollard is prepared to remain in that limbo for the foreseeable future.

  • He plans to use this downtime focusing on organizational and strategic planning--which, he notes, often gets overlooked when his business is active. "We're going to plan as if this is not happening," he says, noting that he and the other two principals are "looking at this time as the opportunity to sit still and actually lay out the next several years' worth of business."

MBX Systems: Dealing with decreased demand

Three weeks ago, the 180-employee hardware manufacturer's biggest problem was its supply chain. Now, chief strategy officer Justin Formella says, supply is back to normal--but demand is falling, and the Libertyville, Illinois-based company is working with a reduced crew on the warehouse floor. Sales, which clocked in at $100 million last year, are impossible to project right now, says Formella. "Our customers are scrambling to readjust their projections. Once they have that, it trickles down to us." Here's how the company is staying active in the meantime:

  • Roughly 60 percent of employees are now working from home.

  • The remaining staffers, who primarily work in divisions like manufacturing and distribution, now share space with an all-day cleaning and sterilization crew. The company has instituted physical distancing policies, including the removal of chairs from the lunchroom so employees have to eat in their cubicles. It also added temperature-check stations at the front door.

  • About 20 percent of those in-office employees are currently using their paid time off or family leave. So the company is incentivizing the other 80 percent by raising wages by $2 per hour and increasing overtime to double-time.

  • Formella also says he's scoping out manufacturing plants in other states and countries to keep business going in case his Illinois facility is forced to close.

PMsquare: Finding new business

PMsquare's staff of 33 is now mostly remote, with two employees maintaining physical distancing from each other across their 4,600-square-foot workplace, but managing partner Dustin Adkison notes that nobody at his Oak Brook, Illinois-based data and analytics firm has slowed down. The company generated $10.8 million in annual revenue in 2018, putting it at No. 3,647 on last year's Inc. 5000--and despite initial projections showing the company would take a financial hit this year, Adkison expects that to change: His clients in the health care industry are suddenly expressing an urgent need for PMsquare's services.

"It's hard to call anything a positive, but it's a fortunate side effect of everything that's going on," says Adkison, who declined to provide 2019 revenue information. "While we're losing other projects that should be starting, we're gaining some additional projects that we weren't expecting." Here's what else is happening at the company: 

  • The company has a new Slack channel specifically for coronavirus-related information and advice--like tips for dealing with stress or keeping your children busy while you're working from home. Adkison's favorite tip so far: Only check the news twice per day.

  • Adkison says he's learned to avoid being overly reactive to new developments, simply because the landscape seems to be dramatically changing each week. "We need to know what the new normal might look like before we start to make any projections or maintain our financial planning activity," he says.

  • Some employees currently without billable projects are gathering and studying coronavirus-related metrics like infection and mortality rates, and they've built an online dashboard to publicly display their findings.

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