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How NARI Milwaukee Is Guiding Members Through the Pandemic

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How NARI Milwaukee Is Guiding Members Through the Pandemic

The chapter's executive director talks COVID-19 impact and response, including event cancellations and communication 

By By James F. McClister May 5, 2020
how nari milwaukee is handling remodeling businesses during coronavirus, covid-19

In three weeks, 101 recorded U.S. cases of COVID-19 ballooned to more than 33,000. As of May 5, the country has about 1.2 million confirmed cases—more than any other single country. Streets are empty, businesses are closed. People can’t go to work, or congregate too closely. Forty-two states have issued statewide stay-at-home orders, according to reporting from The New York Times. Goldman Sachs projects the country’s GDP will drop 24% next quarter as a result. That would be the worst GDP drop in U.S. history, by a lot.

The outbreak’s impact on everyday normalcy in the U.S. is unprecedented, as is it’s impact on the remodeling industry. There’s no guide for how to navigate a remodeling business through a global pandemic the scale that we’re experiencing. With that in mind, we’ve reached out to a number of remodelers and industry organizations to get a better understanding of how COVID-19 has impacted their markets and how they’re responding as a result.

We will be publishing their responses in a series of posts that will extend the length of the crisis, however long that proves to be.

NARI Milwaukee

Responses come from Diane Wellhouse, executive director of NARI Milwaukee 

How has COVID-19 affected your chapter?

NARI Milwaukee began making and acting on strategic decisions for the Chapter on March 12 as the pandemic started ramping up. We cancelled our March Quarterly Business meeting, followed by our After 5 networking events for March, April and May. We offer an educational series called NARI Tech and two of three classes were cancelled and one was able to transition to a webinar. We also cancelled our NARI Aurora Cancer Care House Soirée and Tour of Remodeled Homes scheduled for May. All of these meetings and events draw more than the allotted gathering allowance. Furthermore, we felt it was prudent to save not only our costs, but that of our members’ health. Plus, we want to be responsible to our community (members and consumers) cancelling everything through the end of May.

As a staff, we were prepared and, in a position, to close our office physically and have the team work remotely. For the staff, we are ‘business as usual’ and committed to not disrupting service to our members or consumers. All work teams (committees) and board meetings are being handled individually, depending on the need to meet. All necessary meetings are being held via Zoom conference call.

How and what are you communicating to members about during these times?

What are their big issues and concerns? NARI Milwaukee’s communication continues to evolve as the situation has and does. We started with simply communicating Chapter changes, specifically the physical closing of the office and cancellation of events through May. As serious uncertainty started to evolve, our messaging went to letting members know we were there for them and asking what we could do to help. Then we moved to how we could help our community, asking members to donate PPE and give blood. We have a strong relationship with the Building Inspectors Association of Southeastern Wisconsin and began an immediate dialog with them to share to our members how permitting and inspections were evolving with every municipality. When word broke that Governor Tony Evers was issuing a “Safer at Home” order, our email and phones exploded with members wanting to know what this would mean.

Since then, we’ve provided legal interpretation of the order, suggestions for consumer interaction, a COVID-19 business action plan, providing information on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and CARES Act. We created a COVID-19 resource page on our website with all this information and additional valuable links to other resources. We continue to share information to help with Families First Coronavirus Response Act and CARES Act and fielding calls to address questions. We are writing articles to help our businesses manage their way through this moment and the long-term unknown effects. We are passing on as many free webinars related to small business and COVID-19. All of this communication starts with eblasts, posting to our website, and then fielding calls and emails. Even though we are emailing more now than ever, we know our email open rate and engagement with members via email and telephone has increased.

What is NARI Milwaukee doing to support its members and protect itself?

NARI Milwaukee has been here for the past 59 years. We’re here today and will continue to be here tomorrow to service our members and the local community. NARI Milwaukee’s staff is fully accessible in a remote capacity with a goal to not disrupt the service our members are accustomed to. Half our team is focused on addressing COVID-19 and providing our members with the information they need to know and helpful information to assist members in surviving and thriving through this crisis. The other half focused on preparing to provide our programs and services once the state is back open for business.

written by

James F. McClister

James McClister is managing editor for Professional Remodeler.

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