The operations team at one of Lawrence Kouri’s service stations.
Even though I co-founded a small business that became a large company, I did not feel that I had the necessary understanding of exactly what is happening today to small businesses in the midst of the Coronavirus disruption. In order to better understand just what small business owners are going through everyday, I connected and interviewed a small business owner here in San Diego, California via video chat.
He is 32 year old Lawrence Kourie who is the founder and CEO of LK Management which owns 10 full service gas stations in San Diego County that also includes other branded franchise arrangements with AM/PM and Circle K to name a few. Across all of his locations, he has a total of 103 employees most of who work full-time. Lawrence knows what it means to be both an owner and an employee as he worked in the family business for several years starting when he was15 years old.
I wanted to learn from Lawrence about how he, his leadership team and employees are dealing with the current situation. As this crisis has progressed, he made the decision to stay open and serve members of the community including providing special services for first responders. Even though this was an interview, I have summarized his words to accurately reflect his comments and thoughts. So, here is exactly what Lawrence did and has been doing to keep his business viable in what are arguably tough circumstances. Hopefully, this advice will also help other small business owners.
Over communicate to everyone. As a business owner, assume nothing and ensure everyone is on the same page. That means sending a thoughtful message to all employees that provides very clear messages about key business decisions including safety and operation criteria. In addition, communicate to all others that might be impacted including partners, supply chain companies and vendors.
Don’t ignore government officials. Follow all health and policy rules related to this current crisis. Proactively reach out to local county administrators and indicate exactly how you are following the new rules with photos and written descriptions of what you are doing to comply with county, state or federal regulations.
Make sure the business is secure and employees safe. No matter the current level of your business security, double check all security procedures, add precautions and provide counsel and/or training to employees on how to behave and react in certain situations where employees come into contact with the public at large.
Re-examine your product or service mix. While you may believe you know your business inside and out, these are not normal times no mater what you think. People will buy or consume what they need and can afford, not what you think they want. Examine what’s selling and what’s not and make adjustments. Look for ways to meet customer’s needs and don’t take advantage of your customers in this unique time. Treat people fairly.
Data is your friend. This might be the time where you really begin to look at what your data is telling you, good and bad. Use your data to make informed decisions about what people are buying or not buying and adjust your product or service mix. We are in unique times and that calls for calm rational decisions based on data not prior knowledge, emotion or gut instinct.
Everyone is in this together. While you might think it counter-intuitive, now is the time to pro-actively reach out to suppliers, vendors, landlords, and banks to determine the best way for everyone to survive together. Most of your current business dealings were not made with the short-term in mind; they are long-term business partners. Call them and come to amicable decisions that in the long run, benefit everyone. This current crisis will pass and you want to continue to do business with your key business associates, business partners and suppliers.
Takes a village to raise a small business. Remember all the help you had when you started your business? How about those amazing employees that helped get you here? Don’t forget them in these crazy times. Flip your perspective and ask yourself what could you do for them. Their hard work and loyalty is critical to your small business not just as workers but also as humans. Use empathy in all your decision-making.
You will need to make some key business decisions in this market and you don’t have to go it alone. Fire up your network of fellow entrepreneurs, key partners, advisors, consultants, investors, government officials, other similar business owners and use their input and counsel to help make your key decisions. Remember, this crisis will pass but your relationships with everyone in your small business and the local community will still be there tomorrow.