Like I said last month … Full disclosure: I have looked very deeply into my crystal ball and I can’t see a (bleeping) thing in it. In other words, I don’t know. Nobody knows. My only real reaction to these questions is: I have confidence in Kaua‘i businesspeople. In us. We made it through ‘Iniki. We can, and will, do it again.
How? Well, I’m going to make some concrete suggestions in this column. But it’s really up to you — the business owner/manager. And you know it ain’t gonna be a cakewalk.
We all know the problem. In July of 2020, Kaua‘i’s total visitor days dropped by 96 percent, compared to a year ago! This is far worse than Iniki.
If there are actually any silver linings to COVID-19, one of them is that we finally have a great opportunity to put a temporary full stop to the madness of unbridled tourism — to put a stop to the unintended consequences of uninhibited gentrification — which I call “resortification!”
But then we face a very tough question: Exactly what we are going to do with this “breathing period” that we’ve been gifted with? There are NO easy answers, and we’re in a very difficult position: the government is struggling to save lives, and (in doing so) the unintended consequence is that they are killing MANY businesses! It has been estimated that up to 40% of the businesses in Hawai‘i will not survive COVID.
Many people are working really hard to solve this issue, and all of our problems. There are our two remarkable and determined food banks. And many local people I know are taking it upon themselves to help. The people of Habitat for Humanity may actually be saints working among us, to try to solve our full-blown housing tragedy. We at PAL (Permanently Affordable Living, PAL-Kauai.org) are pedaling as fast as we can, and we recently organized KAHA (Kaua‘i Affordable Housing Alliance, KAHA-Kauai.org), and we are already working on multiple projects together to provide truly affordable housing.
Frankly we are hoping beyond hope that some of our extremely well-heeled new neighbors will have compassion for us and the intense predicament we’re in and pitch in “lunch money” to help us solve some of these problems.
There are other positive signs. Both the county and the state governments are working really hard to try to address almost-impossible questions.
The state is preparing to kick in a cool hundred million pahzoulies — if you need help with your rent, go to hihousinghelp.com — soon. You can get up to $1,500 a month.
And the county is working on a very-powerful and encouraging Economic Recovery Strategy, kauaiforward.com/team-presentation/.
OK, so, having said all of that, just what can YOU DO as a businessperson to increase your chances of survival?
Survival suggestions: You are already on overload. I know. But STOP. Take a hard, cold look at your company’s financial position, direction, clientele, values and mission.
• You are going to need to be flexible. And very creative. If you are in a tourist-oriented business, analyze whether you can pivot. Now. See if you can go local, so you can survive in the now, and end up with a broader client base when the tourists return. Talk to your customers and neighbors. Ask them what they NEED;
• Take good care of your employees as much as possible. Support their social and economic needs. Help reduce their anxiety. It is estimated that 1/3 of Americans are struggling emotionally. That is to be expected, and your stability and reassurance can go a long way toward helping them with these potentially-unbearable issues;
• Treat childcare as an essential service. Tune in and support your employees’ needs in those crucial issues;
• When times get hard, most businesses instinctively cut back. And they cut back on advertising. The wisdom is to actually redouble your advertising efforts. Although, in such a unique situation, that is only wise if you can be sure that your advertising dollar will actually reach your intended customers. Even in normal times, that is hard on Kaua‘i. Now, if you have a tourist-oriented business you either need to re-focus to a more local clientele or target your advertising very carefully;
• Many shoppers will be turning to e-commerce more than ever before. Deloitte forecasts that e-commerce sales will grow by 25% to 35% during 2020–21. So analyze deeply if you can figure out how to take advantage of that sea-change in our markets;
• Keep a cool head. It’s fair to be concerned. But it does not help to worry. Worry is deleterious to your ability to actually solve your problems;
• Exercise and eat well to maintain your health and nerve force so that you will actually be able to deal with issues as they arise;
• Meditate. Start small if you need, and build up over time. You will be amazed at how well it helps you relax, reduces stress and helps you keep a clear head in tough times. It is proven;
• Practice great leadership and careful, precise management. Like it or not, it’s up to you;
• The name of this game is cash preservation. As much as possible, shore up your finances for whatever lies ahead. Like you would for any storm or tsunami, start preparing now! Tighten down;
• Help your community. It is hard to tell, sometimes, but I am living proof that whatever you give you will get back tenfold. It just may not be in the way (or the timing) that you expected.
One thing I do know for sure: Kaua’i will work it out! We are known for a century and a half as a “separate kingdom.” No matter our differences, Kauaians will pull together and work it out! Contact us at PAL-Kauai.org for anything. To help you. To help us get this work done. To help the beleaguered local people of Kaua‘i.
One of the things that I’m focused on is looking for a magic button to get all these problems fixed! Lemmekno if you find it! And take good care of yourself and your loved ones. And stay safe.
Jim Edmonds is president of PAL Kaua‘i, the nonprofit Permanently Affordable Living, and can be reached at Jim@PAL-Kauai.org.