NARI Atlanta: How Atlanta Professional Associations are Helping Businesses Adapt to the New Normal

Monday, May 4th, 2020

Businesses everywhere have had to quickly develop innovative new procedures for safe and effective operation during the COVID-19 pandemic.  For some small mom-and-pop enterprises to large corporations, the need to re-think operations has been overwhelming.  Thankfully, professional associations across the country have taken the lead by providing members with the latest information, best practice ideas, technical support and education, helping companies of all sizes quickly put procedures in place for the “new normal”.

One example of a professional organization that has quickly reached out to help its members is NARI Atlanta, the local chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.  “The remodeling industry is a highly personal profession,” said Mark Galey, CEO of Sandy Springs-based Master Home Remodelers and 2019-2020 board president of NARI Atlanta.  “When you are working in someone’s home, the contractor and crew work in partnership with the homeowner to fulfill the homeowner’s vision.  This involves numerous conversations, decisions, demonstrations, work and product review and more.  Prior to March 1, most of these conversations took place in person, in the home.  Obviously, you cannot build or remodel a home remotely, and most homeowners can’t move out for the duration of the project, so our industry had to quickly develop and implement new ways of interacting and doing business that protect both the customer and the workers.”

Kathryn Stempler, executive director of NARI Atlanta, immediately went to work researching and providing information for the organization’s 240 members on subjects as varied as the latest CDC safety guidelines to using teleconferencing technology or putting procedures in place for administrative staff working from home.  “As a professional organization, it is our responsibility to provide the latest information to our members as quickly and accurately as possible,” said Stempler.  “We have posted tutorials, articles, best practices and other information daily on the website.  Our members are generous in sharing ideas with each other, so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  I believe some of the new procedures will work so well, they will be used moving forward once social distancing is no longer required.”

In addition to increased daily sanitation of surfaces and materials and wearing protective gear such as masks and booties, many builders and remodelers have implemented the following:

Enhancing their websites so customers can more easily see examples of other projects, read client reviews and get general cost estimates.

Creating varying staging areas and budgeting time for delivered materials to sit outside for 48 hours to decontaminate prior to bringing them inside the home

Interacting with clients virtually through all phases of the project via FaceTime and teleconferencing

Enabling remote document signing

Creating online estimates and bill paying

Limiting the number of workers in the home at any one time

Creating  a clear physical separation with plastic sheeting and other materials (when possible) of work areas and living space

Moving administrative and sales personnel to in-home offices

Eliminating large, in-person team meetings

“It’s been interesting to discover which of our new procedures are actually so efficient, many builders will most likely continue them after the pandemic has subsided,” said Galey.  “For example, as customers become more used to virtual meetings, we are able to schedule them more quickly and efficiently, since the contractor doesn’t have to travel and the homeowner doesn’t have to wait at home.  We have successfully had our homeowners use their smart phones or tablets at the earliest stages of a project to show us areas of the home and to discuss their home improvement wish list.  We can ask questions, clarify the scope of work and even work up a preliminary budget before we visit the home, which is a tremendous time-saver.  Another unexpected benefit of the current situation is that nearly all of our clients are now working at home.  That means our crew can ask questions and get direction in real time because the homeowner is right there.  There are so many details that come up during the work – does the homeowner like this shade of paint, or that?  Do they want the drawer pulls in the center or at the top?  Which color of tile grout do they prefer?

“At the same time, there are new delays,” Galey continued.  “We are no longer scheduling different groups of workers in the house at the same time.  Up until February, it wasn’t unusual to have the electrician, plumber, painter, roofer, etc. all working at the same time, but now to safely maintain social distancing for our clients and crew, we are spreading out the work and allowing fewer workers in the home on any given day.  It means each project takes a little longer, but I believe everyone involved appreciates the extra safety measures.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is a fluid situation, and businesses will be making continued adjustments as time goes on.  With the help of professional organizations like NARI Atlanta, members can focus on running their business, while their professional organization focuses on providing the tools and learning opportunities necessary to help the businesses stay on track.