By Reginald Tucker
The Long Island region of New York was among the last few areas of the country to begin reopening—in a state that largely lagged behind most in starting up their respective economies. (Rightfully so, given the disproportionately high number of COVID-19 cases New York incurred since the outbreak.) No surprise, then, that many local general contractors and flooring specialists are itching to get back to business as quickly as possible—albeit safely—as lockdowns start to lift.
To that end, several notable contractors and flooring installation companies—in conjunction with local chapters of national building associations—are spearheading an effort to get construction approved and up and running again on Long Island. Operating under the hashtag #Ready2GoSafely, these companies are coming together to share information, guidance and best practices to ensure a safe resumption of business.
Greg Sforza, president of Done Right Remodeling, based in Hauppauge, N.Y., recalled how the initiative got started. “The construction industry came together through this pandemic to get masks, supplies and other materials to hospitals, and we also raised money for donations. We spread the word organically through the construction associations and groups, and it resulted in a great effort to help keep the hospitals supplied with materials. I think the industry has a bad name sometimes, and this was a good way of us showing the community that we’re here to help as much as we can.”
An idea becomes an institution
That movement, according to Sforza, morphed into the aforementioned #Ready2GoSafely initiative. “After that happened, we had groups of people in the industry come up with an idea to fly a banner over Long Island with the message, ‘Governor Cuomo, Long Island construction is #Ready2GoSafely.’ Part of it was to create awareness, but we also don’t want people in our industry going out there being cowboys and getting people sick again.”
For Sforza, the key is leading by example. “We’re trying to practice what we preach,” he said. “Some people in the industry might not believe in the math, but they’re wearing the protective gear and they’re doing it because they want people to know that the community is important to us, and their safety is important to us. We want to do things the right way.”
That message is catching on for specialty flooring contractors like Jonathan Gonzalez, owner and operator of Dream Floors, based in West Babylon, N.Y. “#Ready2GoSafely is not so much about trying to step on anybody’s toes, but rather about unity and a show of cooperation with everything that’s going on,” he explained. “Right now you have a very [anxious] society, so we try to make it very safe and clear that all we want to do is abide by the new regulations and keep everybody as safe as possible, while at the same time allow the world to keep going and get back to work responsibly. I personally have been working by myself to make sure I stay far away from everybody else by only doing houses that are vacant. I always have my mask and gloves on. We are showing we can step up to what customers are expecting of us.”
Taking the initiative to keep everyone safe
Several flooring contractors FCNews surveyed for this story bemoaned the lack of specifics in the way of government-mandated safeguards in returning to work. To that end, many are taking the initiative by applying common-sense measures to operating during a pandemic. “We really haven’t had much guidance, other than staying 6 feet apart, wearing a mask, washing your hands, that type of thing,” said Howie Rose, co-owner of Heritage Floor Sanding, based in Commack, N.Y. “We also try to keep our distance from the customer as much as possible.”
As Heritage Floor Sanding begins to resume operations, it’s seeing various comfort levels among homeowners and customers. “In some cases it seems like people are easing up a bit, whereas when the pandemic started everybody was very nervous,” Rose explained. “I don’t think they’re quite as nervous anymore. Everybody’s kind of getting used to it and easing up a bit. Then there are some cases where we’re doing work in someone’s home and they’ll be all the way at the other end of the house. In other situations, they’re not wearing masks at all, so you don’t know what to expect. Every time we go into a house we have our masks on, so we are ready for any situation.”
Preparing for the (eventual) turnaround
For many Long Island contractors, business was humming along prior to the pandemic. Projects were booked out for months, and companies felt comfortable about adding personnel to take on new work. But when the pandemic hit, it was a shock to the system.
“We ran in the red for two months, so we have a hole that we have to dig out of right now,” Done Right Remodeling’s Sforza said. “I’ve been a contractor for over 20 years, and this was probably the most difficult time to do business. You couldn’t transfer money in the bank, you couldn’t go to the bank. If you had to order materials for an essential job, half the people were off, shipments were coming in wrong. It was really, really difficult because nothing worked.”
Heritage Floor Sanding faced challenges of its own. In essence, the business was out of commission for two months. “It’s tough when all the bills keep coming in on top of everything else,” Rose said. “You just couldn’t do much during that time.”
But, the tide is slowly turning. Rose said he is finding some customers who postponed renovation projects are feeling more comfortable in moving forward. “The call volume we’re getting is not overwhelming, but it seems to be picking up,” he said. “More people are reaching out to us to get on the schedule, and more people are closing on houses now. We’re getting a lot of those jobs where people want to get work done before they move in.”
Done Right Remodeling is also seeing positive signs. “As soon as the ban was lifted and we got the green light to do business, the phones were almost ringing off the hooks again,” Sforza said. “I know that’s not the same for everybody in the industry, so I’m trying to do what I can to help people get back to work, even if it’s for other companies. For example, we’ll list jobs through our local organization. We were successful in getting 13 people back to work at another company, so we’re just going to continue to try to help each other and help the community at the same time. I think that’s the way we’re going to get through this.”
The general consensus is contractors are encouraged by what they’re seeing during the early stages of the recovery, but they are proceeding carefully. “I don’t want to get overly excited, but I can say my phone has been ringing a lot more than I expected lately,” Dream Floors’ Gonzalez said. “I don’t know how many people are abiding by the rules, or if the virus is going to come back in a second wave. I will do estimates and jobs, things on the books, but I’m not going to book myself out two or three months because I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m hopeful, but I’m very cautious about how everything is going to play out as a whole.”