We have all had times when we couldn’t run our businesses ourselves – be it going on vacation, family situations or something else. Last week, one of my close friends Mark Feinberg, owner of Home Theater Advisors in New York City, had to have surgery on his knee for torn cartilage. I felt he handled his situation very well, and so far his clients have been satisfied with the results. This week’s blog is an interview with Mark about how he prepared himself, his business, his customers, and his employees for the surgery and his four- to six-week recovery.
First all, I hope you are feeling OK and recovering well.
Mark Feinberg: Thanks Todd. I feel about as I expected I would six days post-op. A little sore and definitely limited mobility, but things are getting better every day.
Great news. So how did you prepare yourself and your company for this?
Luckily I had control over timing. This wasn’t an urgent surgery, but it needed to be done. So I was able to schedule it the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. That way I only had to take off Tuesday and Wednesday and that gave me six full days to begin recovery. Secondly, I am fortunate enough to have a friend and a partnership with you. You offered (and I quickly took you up on it) to take any urgent calls or emails and help triage them for me, either sending out my one subcontractor or doing service calls with your team. While there were luckily no calls Tuesday or Wednesday, that was a huge stress reliever to me to know that my clients would be taken care of, if necessary. Finally, I obviously crafted professional and informative out-of-office messages for email and voicemail so clients would know to call your office in an emergency.
I’ve preached in my articles about having partnerships in this industry. This is just another example of why you need them. What about your customers? How did you prepare them?
For several weeks leading up to the surgery, I told every client on every consult, site visit, install, or service call what was coming up and that I would be laid low for a few weeks. They all understood. I am very fortunate in that I develop very strong relationships with my clients. I have had some email me already just to check in and see how I’m doing. Home Theater Advisors is a small business; it’s just me and one sub-contractor, and my clients know that. They like the personalized touch that the owner is there on every job, and they also know that entails some level of trade-off when I am on vacation or otherwise unavailable. So they were all very understanding. I also sent an email to all of the clients we had done installs for in the past three months, letting them know I wouldn’t be available until the 8th most likely.
Interesting. I feel like so many integrators are afraid to let their customers know they are a one- or two-man shop. But you feel it works to your advantage?
Don’t get me wrong. Not always. Sometimes people want the security of knowing you’ll be there in 5-10 years so they’ll go with a bigger company or someone with brick and mortar. Not that brick and mortar means anything in terms of survivability, many storefronts have gone out of business too, unfortunately. However, more often than not my clients respond positively to my structure. A lot of what we sell is confidence, trust, and ourselves. Clients want to deal with the owner oftentimes.
So what did you do for your employee/contractor? Was he concerned about not being paid or not having enough work?
Yes, he definitely was when I first broached the subject that I would be out of work for at least a week or two and then on crutches for another 2-4 weeks. But I quickly let him know that I would do my best to book work on smaller jobs he could handle to keep him working throughout that time. I even committed to paying him even if we don’t have work. It wasn’t his fault I screwed up my knee, and he shouldn’t be punished for it. It will likely cost me a little bit, but for good morale, sometimes you have to spend a little. I am also having him come in if even only for an hour or two each day to do something, such as a service call, helping with marketing initiatives, working on items in my home that I use to demo products to clients, etc. He’s got something to do every day. Maybe not a full day’s work, but something to do, and he’s getting paid. We’re all happy.
It’s been about seven days now, three of them business days. Anything you would have done differently or changed?
That’s a really good question. There are a couple of things I may have done differently:
First, I would have made my out-of-office more specific. I just said I was out. But I didn’t realize the sympathy factor I was missing out on. I should have said I was having surgery, just in case people were a little ticked off (fortunately it doesn’t appear anyone is).
Second, I would have given myself a little more time for recovery. I have scheduled some small things this week and am a little concerned I won’t be fully ready. I may have to pull in an extra person to have another set of hands. I’ll be stuck on the client’s sofa, observing and directing and not really able to do much. It’s even tough to sit for a while, so working on control programming will be harder than I thought. Even consults will be tough this week. I have never been on crutches before and didn’t realize how hard it would be to get around!
Third, I would have left my out of office active all weekend, not just Tuesday and Wednesday. A lot of calls and emails came in Friday. I should have known, because that always happens when people are home from work. I could have used the rest, but instead felt obligated to reply since nothing said I was out of the office.
After that last one, I’ll let you go and get some rest. I hope you have a speedy recovery.
Thanks Todd. Time to go do another round of rehab and icing.
+Todd Anthony Pumais president of The Source Home Theater Installation, Powered by Fregosa Design, in New York City.