Chris Robinson believes it will ultimately take a COVID-19 vaccination to completely restore society to normal.
“That’s the closest we’ll come to getting back to the way it was,” said Robinson. “It’ll put people’s minds at ease.”
For now, Robinson, owner of Robinson Plumbing in Culpeper, continues to wear boot covers, gloves and a face mask when he makes house calls. He also practices social distancing, carries plenty of hand sanitizer in his vehicles and disinfects his tools after every job.
“I go through this every day, but that’s what keeps the lights on,” said Robinson.
Robinson is like many tradesmen in the area, who have kept their businesses open during the pandemic by making adjustments to try to operate safely. Many of those interviewed said work has slowed, but they’ve managed to stay afloat as people quarantined at home find themselves in need of a plumber, electrician or heating and air specialist.
At the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Robinson, his wife Tamara and his brother Gary came up with a plan to preserve the family plumbing business his father started 32 years ago. Part of that plan included a reassuring response for customers who contacted his business.
“When customers called, we were prepared to tell them what we’re doing to protect ourselves and to protect them,” said Robinson.
But Robinson said he never had to answer those questions because callers simply want to know if his business is open.
“I’ve had multiple customers tell me I’m the only person that’s been to their home since this all started,” Robinson said. “They don’t even let their kids visit, but they need us to get something taken care of right away.”
Matt Hayden owns Professional Plumbing Solutions in King George and, like Robinson, his crew of four plumbers has been welcomed into customers’ homes to render plumbing services throughout the pandemic.
“For the most part, customers don’t mind us being there,” said Hayden. “We’ve had a couple of people ask if we’re wearing masks.”
Hayden said at the outbreak of the pandemic, he sensed some uncertainty and concern among his team regarding the spread of the coronavirus. But overwhelmingly, his team wanted to keep the business open and continue serving customers in the community, he said.
“Now the guys are used to it. It’s part of business, part of going to work now,” said Hayden. “It’s what we have to deal with.”
Hayden said the financial numbers at his 12-year-old business are running similar to last year and said even though the Fredericksburg region largely remains sheltered in place, his crews are doing more work than he thought they would when the pandemic first began.
“With that said, we’re going backwards, we’re kind of bleeding out slowly,” said Hayden. “We’re definitely not going to set a record this year, but I’m surprised to even have the doors open.”
Hayden said he believes people are focused intently on the media’s unending coverage of the coronavirus, which he thinks may be a contributing factor to the economic downturn.
“People are scared,” said Hayden. “People are not spending money and they’re hanging on to what they have.”
Hayden has even cautiously put the brakes on purchases for his own business.
“I’d rather have the money in my possession to pay my guys instead of going out and buying new equipment for the business,” he said. “We’re paying the bills, but finding a profit now is pretty tough.”
Shane Loving felt a drop in his 7-year-old business when the pandemic began, but recently, the heating and air conditioning contractor has seen an increase in calls for service, as area residents continue to adhere to Gov. Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home order.
“People who are normally working right now are getting their systems maintained,” Loving said.
At the outset of the pandemic, Loving met with his team of six field technicians to discuss what he calls, “a book that’s never been written,” and how his team would adapt their business model to continue serving the community.
“It’s my job to keep them busy and their families fed,” said Loving. “At first, I wondered how much would I be putting them in harm’s way to keep the business going.”
The initial drop in calls at the beginning of the pandemic allowed Loving to take a closer look at the way he runs his Fredericksburg business.
“It made me sit back and fine-tune the way we do business,” said Loving. “Training, reviewing technician tickets, contacting customers, looking at our marketing efforts ... . It’s stuff we should have been doing all along.”
Loving also said the pandemic has helped him mold his team into a tighter-knit group that is better prepared to understand and cope with future challenges.
“The difference is, we quit thinking about the virus and just went to work,” said Loving.
Loving is thankful for the pace of his business, but has friends practicing the same trade in New York and New Jersey and said those businesses have been hit hard as a result of the pandemic.
“Their businesses are really in jeopardy and they will hopefully be able to come back,” said Loving. “We probably did three times the revenue they did last month.”
Looking ahead, Robinson said the coronavirus has caused him to pause and look at even the smallest details more closely.
“You can now see the chain, the doorknob to the keypad, all the different surfaces that you come in contact with that you never thought about before,” said Robinson. “I’ll always think of that.”
With many businesses starting to reopen over the next few weeks, Robinson said he believes a healthy rebound for those providing services to homes in the region is imminent.
“Last week, we had 10 new customers,” said Robinson. “I do believe when businesses start to reopen, we’re going to see a surge.”