COVID-19: Impact on the plumbing industry
We have been keeping up with news surrounding this virus, but this feature will take a deeper look at the manufacturers, distributors, specifying engineers and contractors.
In 2019, the WHO started monitoring the outbreak of a new coronavirus which ultimately was named COVID-19. Coronaviruses are so named because, when viewed under a microscope, they have protrusions that resemble a crown.
Today is March 23, 2020 and it is important to note that all numbers and data is only relevant up to that date.
On March 18, President Donald Trump signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R.6201). NECA was able to work with members of Congress to address many of the concerns related to paid sick leave and paid family leave. H.R. 6201 states that the paid sick and family leave mandate is optional for businesses with less than 50 employees and makes no mandate or credit for businesses with more than 500 employees. The new provision ensures that no business will be saddled with a financial liability larger than the payroll tax credit it receives. More information is available in NECA’s full summary.
On March 20, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division hosted a virtual town hall meeting for the opportunity to hear questions from stakeholders regarding the implementation of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The majority of the time was spent hearing questions from stakeholders, but the DOL stated they will not be providing answers to those questions at this time. The DOL is still in the process of issuing guidance on implementation of this new law, which goes into effect on April 2.
The purpose of the town hall was to understand concerns business owners had on implementing this, such as “how does a small business with less than 50 employees demonstrate that offering leave would jeopardize their business viability to be exempt from providing paid leave?” This question was not answered, but guidance issued by the DOL in the coming days will address this question and many others that contractors have.
The DOL will continue to post guidelines as it works through the implementation process of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act on their website.
On March 23, U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Jovita Carranza announced changes to help borrowers still paying back SBA loans from previous disasters. By making this change, deferments through Dec. 31, 2020, will be automatic. Now, borrowers of home and business disaster loans do not have to contact SBA to request deferment.
“The SBA is looking at every option and taking every action to cut red tape to make it easier for small businesses to stay in business,” Carranza said “Automatically deferring existing SBA disaster loans through the end of the year will help borrowers during this unprecedented time.
“Today’s announcement adds a list of growing actions the SBA is taking to support small businesses,” she continued. “These actions include making it easier for states and territories to request a declaration so small businesses statewide can now apply for economic injury disaster loans, and changing the terms of new economic injury loans to allow for one-year deferments. We are working around the clock to find ways to assist small businesses and today’s action is one step in this process.”
CONTRACTOR AND REP CONCERNS
• “COVID-19 has challenged our business to think outside of our normal, day-to-day operations,” said Thomas Dougherty, president of bluefrog Plumbing + Drain. “Since people are being confined to their homes, call volume has significantly increased. Serving our customers is still our top priority, but we have added new precautions in this environment. For example, we are now offering virtual diagnostic processes via Skype and FaceTime for easy-to-fix issues as well as to serve customers who want our advice while avoiding extra traffic into their home. This protects both our customers and our team.
“All of our plumbing professionals have been fitted with gloves, shoe covers and respiratory masks,” he added. “We are also making sure our employees are building confidence with all homeowners and communicating that our focus is on fixing plumbing problems while also keeping their well-being and our own team safe.”
“At the end of the day, we have a business to run and it’s our responsibility to adjust and adapt to the uncontrollable as it relates to our business,” said Eric Carter, owner of bluefrog Plumbing + Drain San Antonio. “As plumbing professionals, we have an obligation to take every precaution we can to protect our employees and customers and their family members. Their health and safety is our priority.”
• “Without a doubt, the biggest problem facing all of us right now is the uncertainty,” said Scott A. Cooper, principal at Cooper New England Sales. “As a sales organization, with events changing so fast it is challenging to sustain any kind of a plan. I am now [March 18] meeting with my outside sales people as a group regularly via video conferencing as I believe it is more important than ever that we stay connected as a team. Similarly, we are leveraging the same technology wherever possible to stay connected with our customers and our principals. As a manufacturer’s representative we feel it is imperative that we keep in close contact with all of our partners and reassure them that we are still here and ready to help them in any way we can.”
• “Here at AA Service, our client’s safety and comfort has always been foremost,” said Glenn Weintraub with AA Service Co. “Equally important, however, is the safety of our team members. During the current COVID-19 virus outbreak, those concerns have never been more important. We want to ensure our clients that we are doing everything possible to be able to provide service during these times, while ensuring their homes’ and our team’s safety and comfort. We are using all of the recommended PPE, keeping our distance from the customers, washing our hands and minimizing our unnecessary human contact.
“Our goal is to continue working through this unpredictable time,” he added. “[The COVID-19 pandemic] has greatly reduced our call volume and caused many customers to cancel/postpone their maintenance work. It has changed people’s attitude related to spending money. It will cause a major downturn related to discretionary purchases. ‘No heats’ will still get fixed, but old equipment that is working will likely age in place for a longer period of time.
“We are trying to remain as positive as we can,” he continued. “We are all washing our hands as much as we can. We are maintaining the social distance. We are telling our employees to be fiscally conservative. We are working in uncharted waters. We think it will get worse before it gets better. I think companies better prepare for a rough couple of months.”
• “The biggest impact has been overall uncertainty with our team and with our customers,” said Chad Peterman, president of Peterman Heating, Cooling & Plumbing in Indianapolis. “We have customers understandably cancel maintenance visits, our team has moved to working remotely when possible, etc.
“Constant communication is key,” he added. “As the leader of the company, I am sending out daily emails as to how we are handling things based on the changing circumstances. We have moved to post our stance on all social media platforms and instructed our CSR and dispatch teams to confirm and then reconfirm that no one in the house is or has been sick. We have also moved to not shaking hands when entering the home, keeping our distance from homeowners and recorded verbal authorizations for work to be complete rather than signing the iPad.”
• “Most of our members report that business is at or slightly above levels from this time last year,” said David Heimer, senior vice president of Service Nation. “The supply chain remains strong, with an interesting increase in demand for toilet-seat bidet systems.
“We support our members as we always have. We will have a small team in the office to print and mail member rebate checks at the end of the month. Our team rallied to support our members; I’m proud of their efforts.
“We moved quickly to publish immediately-useful content for our members: communications and infographics for customer communications, guidelines for a ‘clean’ service call, relevant direct mail and other marketing pieces,” he added. “We’ll continue to publish relevant pieces for our members to use. Our members are sharing best practices, internal policies, and communications that have worked well for them. Our vendor-partners have also stepped up and are working with us to provide incremental information and resources to our members, including an industry-focused virtual conference.”
Service Nation is offering webinars during its Service Nation Online Summit which is a free event on March 26th, Critical Information for ALL Residential Contractors. Also available to members is a COVID-19 update and client protocol document, as well as resource download center — including public statements, infographics, digital flyers and more — to help members effectively communicate with their customers and be a reliable resource for them during this time.
• “The IAPMO Group sends its best wishes to plumbers everywhere as we work in concert with the global efforts to defeat COVID 19,” said Pete DeMarco, executive vice president of advocacy, IAPMO. “We urge all plumbers to take extreme precautions while providing essential services. Remember to wear all PPE properly and to keep tools and PPE clean, and avoid sharing of tools with co-workers. By carefully following excellent workplace and personal hygiene practices, we can help contain the spread of the virus. Remember, “Plumbers protect the health of the
“With regard to training, professional certification and testing, we are working to extend deadlines, reschedule in-person classes and make more on-line programming available,” noted GP Russ Chaney, CEO, The IAPMO Group. “We are working diligently to remain as flexible and accommodating as the rapidly changing circumstances allow. Please give us a call or check the website if you have any questions or concerns.”
• “Our primary focus to this point has been health and safety,” said Steve Lane, communications manager, Armstrong. “Armstrong has responded to that challenge with a variety of actions. The company has asked many employees to work remotely as one step in observing the prescribed social distancing practices. We also identified some key aspects of operations that represented potential risks and implemented immediate changes.
“All persons entering Armstrong facilities are now asked to have their body temperature checked and recorded,” he continued. “Any employees with an elevated temperature or any flu or cold symptoms are asked to go home and self-isolate immediately. We’ve established new protocols for on-site service to ensure the safety of employees and customers. We also completed an extremely careful review of the recent travel history of all employees to identify any risks, and asked a number of employees to self-quarantine as a precaution. All business continues to serve our customer base as we pull together while keeping safe distance.”
• “Aquatherm has taken several precautionary measures and has enacted a plan to ensure that we can continue all business operations (e.g. shipping, fabrication, drafting, etc.),” said Jordan Hardy, CEO, Aquatherm North America. “While there may be some delays, Aquatherm is striving to continue to meet the needs of our customers and partners the best we can. Like other companies, Aquatherm is currently limiting travel to essential travel only for the next two weeks as we continue to monitor the situation. Aquatherm has also established a protocol for those coming to visit our place of business.”
• “In most regions, as of March 20, work on commercial and residential job sites is continuing as are home repair services; these are considered essential,” said James Mullady, vice president of sales for the building solutions division of REHAU. “Our customers are in the field and we are standing by to provide technical service to them by phone, WebEx and FaceTime. For example, this week when one of our contractors was having trouble balancing a radiant floor heating system, our sales manager used FaceTime to visit the jobsite and help solve the problem.
“Things will change very quickly if city inspectors are ordered to stay at home,” he noted. “Construction will halt. We already expect projects slated to start next month to be delayed. Through the uncertainty that lies ahead, we will continue to work transparently and creativity to support our valued customers and users.”
“All signs point to physical distancing being the new normal for quite a while,” added Max Rohr, manager of REHAU Academy. “Whether our customers are on jobsite or in home offices, we have many ways to support them with digital resources and tools. Now might be a good time to catch up on training with our online recorded webinars and YouTube hands-on videos or browse our reference database to see what other companies are doing. You may also consider requesting a virtual Lunch & Learn at our REHAU Academy site. We’re eager to hear from our customers how we can help them use this time well, so they can hit the ground running smarter, faster, stronger when life returns to normal.”
• “All Uponor employees who can work from home are doing so, as our IT contingency plans are enabling seamless connectivity to our networks,” said Bill Gray, president of Uponor North America. “New policies are in place to restrict in-person meetings, non-employee visits to our campuses and travel.
“And, our operations team is doing an outstanding job by continuing to run our manufacturing plants and distribution centers in both the U.S. and Canada,” he added. “While taking special precautions to keep employees safe through social distancing, deep cleaning and more, we are building up inventory of primary products to meet customers’ demand today and into the future.”
• “Due to the current coronavirus pandemic, many buildings are being vacated,” noted Audie Kranz, president of Utility Chemicals. “There will be problems when these buildings are reoccupied. One problem is the loss of the septic seal in the traps. This is caused by the evaporation of water. This will likely result in septic system gases, odors and vermin entering the habitable spaces of the building. You must ensure that these traps remain filled with liquid. The easiest, most effective and least costly way to do this is with an application of a trap seal. We have inventory and we are producing more to address this need caused by the pandemic.”
• “Because General is not on the Governor’s list of manufacturing companies ordered to close under the emergency orders that went into effect March 20, and because many of our customers are considered essential businesses, we made the decision to resume operations,” General Pipe National Sales Manager Dave Dunbar said.
“The fact that we manufacture machines that are sorely needed at this time and that we have been given the green light to operate means that we have to do our part to stay open and stay healthy,” he added. “To that end, many of our workers, for various reasons related to compromised health risks, will not be reporting to work during this crisis. This will limit our abilities to ship product,” Dunbar cautioned.
• Viega has a website that is constantly updated in regards to how they are handling quality assurance, supply chain, seminar centers and more. It can be found here: https://info.viega.us/covid19.
“As the situation continues to evolve, many uncertainties remain,” said Mark Brodie, senior director of marketing at Viega. “Viega will continue to pay close attention to the latest developments and the potential impact to our supply chain and overall operations. Any changes of significance will be communicated. We appreciate your understanding of this developing situation and our goal of putting safety and health first.”
• “In recent weeks, we’ve seen the pandemic spread of Coronavirus, or COVID-19, spur shortages in everything from hand sanitizer to packaged pasta,” said Steven Scheer, Brondell’s president. “As fears of quarantine orders hit major metropolitan areas, toilet paper continues to be the one item consistently in short supply, and as the toilet paper scarcity continues, many are looking to bidets for smarter solutions in toilet paper replacements, and demand is growing rapidly.
“Brondell has seen a dramatic spike in sales volume since this pandemic hit the US during the last couple of weeks,” he added. “Sales of all bidet products have increased exponentially with sales through some channels up more than 10 times on average, and they are expected to surge even further as big box stores and grocery chains become inundated with what are shaping up to be the ‘toilet paper wars’ of 2020.
“We’ve seen incredible demand for our bidet products in light of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent toilet paper scarcity that it has prompted,” Scheer continued. “The transactions we’ve completed in just the last few days have dwarfed even our biggest sales holidays such as Black Friday or Cyber Monday, even during our best years. We’re not thrilled about the circumstances under which this spike in demand has evolved, but we’re happy to be able to provide the public with these toilet paper alternatives and are doing our best to make sure we’re able to fulfill as many orders as possible.”
• “The health and safety of all of our employees is our top priority and we are very proud of the proactive steps we’re taking to maintain their well-being,” said Parthiv Amin, chief sales and marketing officer, Sloan. “With that in mind, we decided to proactively suspend manufacturing operations from March 20 – April 5 to provide our plant employees with two weeks paid time off. All office employees are working remotely from home. The Sloan employees diligently working are practicing social distancing. Sloan is also providing disinfectants throughout our facilities. We realize that our products are an essential part of the recovery process, and Sloan is maintaining the ability to ship critical orders.”
“Sloan employees that voluntarily remain on-site to assist with critical orders will have continued access to our on-site Sloan Family Health Clinic where we can diagnose and treat any number of illnesses, including conducting drive-by COVID-19 testing, should any employee report exposure or symptoms,” said Graham Allen, co-president and CEO, Sloan. “Our leadership team meets daily and is delivering communications to our entire workforce via email, phone, text and posted on our operations bulletin boards. We continue to share corporate policy, information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), legislation, and other credible sources that we subscribe to.”
“Unfortunately, COVID-19 has accentuated the need for [touch-free and sensor-operated products],” said Kirk Allen, co-president and CEO, Sloan. “With healthcare operations now extending into remote locations such as convention centers, sports arenas, and school gymnasiums, those facilities can certainly benefit from touch-free restroom fixtures. While there has already been an increased demand for sensor-operated products, that transition from manual to touch-free fixtures will only continue to grow.”
• “Our goal is to maintain as close to normal operations as possible during this time of uncertainty,” said Kim Frechette, national sales manager, Americh Tubs. “As all of our products are made in the U.S. and none of our materials are procured overseas, we do not anticipate any interruption. Our priority, however, is the safety of our teams. We have taken all the recommended steps to keep everyone working, but safe.”
• “As an importer and distributor of products from Europe, and one with a showroom in NYC, this is a particularly trying time; we are in constant contact with our suppliers and our customers to keep everyone apprised of shipments and concerns about lead times,” said Bob Gifford, director of business development, Hastings Tile & Bath. “At the same time, we have closed our NYC showroom for the week to ensure the safety of our employees.”
• “As a manufacturer whose goal is customer satisfaction, we are able to comply with CDC rules for the reduction of the spread of the COVID-19,” said Mitch Altman, CEO, ThermaSol. “We have our support staff working from home, and have enacted safety precautions for our factory staff. We are doing everything we can to keep our supply chain open without sacrificing our responsibility to the public well-being.”
• “While we all pull together to tackle various unforeseen challenges, we are assisting customers in various ways since not everyone has a reliable supply chain,” said Nick Manning, president, PRIER Products. “We have purposely built redundancies into our supply chain network to mitigate the risk of prolonged delays. We are not experiencing any service delays resulting from the Coronavirus [as of March 17]. We are actively monitoring potential impact of this virus on our domestic suppliers. Our products are manufactured and stocked in Kansas City, with multiple warehouses across North America. Our goal has always been to ship orders within 8 working hours.”
“For more than 135 years, PHCC’s commitment has been to fulfill our organization’s proud mission to protect public health, safety and the environment,” said PHCC President Jonathan Moyer. “This enduring value guides us as we face the difficult challenge of responding to COVID-19. Like you, we’re navigating uncharted territory — but we remain laser focused on implementing procedures that will protect our employees and volunteer leaders and providing resources that will support you, our valued members.”
PHCC has developed a COVID-19 website, where they are posting:
• Resources for Contractors: Including those from OSHA, the CDC, and insurance and legal experts.
Of note, they’ve developed a “message to clients” template that members can customize and send to customers today.
• Resources for PHCC Chapters: Contractors Talk, where members can ask questions of their peers and post their own tips on how they’re handling business issues related to COVID-19.
• Status at PHCC—National: an ongoing update of PHCC news and events impacted by COVID-19.
“In addition, we are putting together an exclusive COVID-19 Webinar,” Moyer said. “Featuring a well-rounded panel of speakers, this can’t-miss webinar will answer many of your questions on how to best manage your business and keep your employees safe through this ever-changing situation. We will let you know when a date and time have been confirmed. In the meantime, please visit phccweb.org/webinars for upcoming information.
“The beauty of technology is that we can ‘virtually’ meet with our members and respond to your needs as they arise, so please check in frequently to our special COVID-19 website and to our social media channels for constant updates,” he added. “Plus, don’t hesitate to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know what else would be helpful to you as you manage your workers and serve your clients. We are literally a click away!“PHCC’s history has shown that situations like this only strengthen our resolve, skills and experience as business leaders and our commitment to protecting our communities,” he continued. “I have personally witnessed so much ‘good’ from my professional peers during the past week, and I am confident that we’ll continue to leverage the expertise and passion of our PHCC family in the coming weeks and months and come through this stronger than ever. We’re all in this together!”
PMI OFFERS GUIDANCE TO MEMBERS
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Plumbing Manufacturers International (PMI) has been making ongoing efforts to serve PMI members while also protecting the health and safety of its staff and volunteer leaders. PMI staff is working remotely and is 100% operational.
“We are in unprecedented times, but we are confident in the resilience of our community and know that we will weather this crisis together,” stated PMI CEO/Executive Director Kerry Stackpole.
Many PMI members have reached out for resources and guidance on manufacturing, office operations, and other issues related to COVID-19, Stackpole said. Members have also responded to a series of confidential surveys issued by PMI about the impact the companies expect the crisis to have on manufacturing operations, supply chains, financial results and travel.
“As you would expect, our members do expect adverse impacts but are doing everything possible to maintain operating while protecting the health and safety of workers and their families and communities,” he explained.
Toward the goal of keeping plumbing manufacturers contributing during the pandemic, PMI issued a letter to Vice President Mike Pence to urge the Trump administration to identify plumbing manufacturing workers as “essential” and allowed to work as shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders go into effect.
“Plumbing infrastructure is critical for public health and sanitation,” Stackpole wrote. “Plumbing manufacturers produce key products and components for our drinking water and wastewater systems,” which has been identified by the administration as a critical sector. In addition, plumbers have been identified as critical essential infrastructure workers, and “plumbers need access to products our members produce,” he stated.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), issued guidance late last week regarding how to carve out exceptions to stay-in-place orders for critical infrastructure sectors, including critical manufacturing and water systems, and their workers, including plumbers, essential for the support of these industries. Several governors have already referenced the DHS CISA guidance in their state’s recent stay-in-place orders, including California, Connecticut and Illinois. PMI is weighing in with additional states where members have manufacturing facilities.
“We believe reliance upon common standards as outlined in the DHS CISA guidance is critical at this time for the plumbing manufacturing sector and manufacturing in general,” Stackpole said.
The National Association of Manufacturers is continually updating a summary of state and county declarations and resources to stop the spread of COVID-19, help manufacturers understand the implications of these orders, and emphasize the essential role manufacturers play in leading the response against coronavirus.
PMI also has published an article on its website titled “Safe Plumbing, Hand Hygiene and Worker Safety Crucial During COVID-19 Crisis“ that covers what the EPA, CDC, other governmental authorities and PMI members are doing in response to the pandemic. Also directing readers to additional resources, this article will be updated frequently.
“PMI will continue to look from input from PMI members about the challenges they are facing and will respond in any way we can,” Stackpole said. He encouraged members to reach out to him and his staff recently for assistance. “We’re here to help,” he emphasized.
ASPE CONTINUES OPERATIONS
Considering the continuing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and the current environment, ASPE is taking additional steps in protecting the health, welfare and safety of its members, partners and staff.
The ASPE staff is equipped to work remotely and will do so to safeguard their individual and family members’ health for a period of time, yet to be determined considering this fluid situation, the organization announced.
As a staff, ASPE is also taking steps to minimize any impacts on its operations as it strives to maintain all member services during this period as best as possible. “We are all on the same team — we are in this together and pulling in the same direction,” said Billy Smith, FASPE, ASPE executive director and CEO. ”Patience and perseverance are the focal points as we all steer our Society through these tumultuous times.”
During this time of working remotely and “social distancing,” the best way to communicate with staff is via email, ASPE noted. All staff contact information is available by visiting aspe.org/about/staff. Should people need to phone, leave a voicemail and staff members will follow up as soon as possible.
Additionally, for members needing to renew their membership, or for someone wanting to join ASPE, they may do so online at aspe.org/membership-global-community/join.
To help its members stay safe and also productive wherever and however you are conducting business during this time, ASPE staff has developed a proactive guidance webpage with resources to help address many of the needs and concerns of its members: aspe.org/coronavirus-covid-19-preparedness-resources.
“I thank each of you for being an ASPE member and serving as a steward of our Society as we work together to move onward and upward,” Smith said. “Please know that we will continue to monitor the situation and work for and with you during this time.”
ASA CONDUCTS MEMBER SURVEY
A survey conducted earlier this week by the American Supply Association and business intelligence partner Industry Insights shows the current COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis is having negative financial implications for ASA member businesses.
The survey not only includes ASA member companies, but companies from 25 different trade associations that span manufacturing, distribution, retail and professional services organizations — representing a diverse set of industries, Industry Insights notes.
A total of 2,762 surveys were received regarding company COVID-19 impact and implementation strategies.
Only 1.4% of ASA member respondents has an employee with a confirmed case of the coronavirus, while 9.6% of respondents have employees that have had known contact with a confirmed case of the virus. Those figures trend slightly higher than the 1% (employee with virus) and 7% (contact with confirmed case) numbers from the overall 25-association survey.
When asked if their company already has experienced a direct financial impact from the crisis, 45.3% of ASA member respondents say they have endured a negative financial impact (51.7% in the overall survey) with 66.7% of ASA member manufacturer survey respondents and 44.9% of ASA distributor member respondents noting they seen a negative financial impact.
In terms of forward-thinking, ASA members were asked what level of impact they expect the virus will ultimately have on their company this year. In terms of revenue, 70.7% of ASA respondents say it will have a somewhat negative impact, while 24% say it will have a very negative impact. Within that 24% data point, it spikes to 41.7% for manufacturers that responded and lowers to 20.4% for ASA member distributor respondents in terms of revenue impact.
On the subject of workforce, 44% of ASA member survey respondents say they expect moderate staff reductions due to the crisis.
ASA members were asked how long do they anticipate the COVID-19 crisis will impact day-to-day operations. Along those lines, 34.7% say one to two months, while 30.7% say two to three months, and 20% responded in the three- to six-month range.
At the same time, 47.3% of ASA member respondents say they have mild concerns about the long-term viability of their companies due to the coronavirus, while 44.6% have no concerns.
Twenty percent of ASA member respondents say they have experienced delays in getting materials/products from suppliers due to the crisis. That number spikes to 33.3% on the member manufacturer front and lowers to 16.3% with ASA member distributors that responded to the survey.