Palm Springs area home repair businesses hope for bounceback

Tim Esser might be one of the few people in the Coachella Valley who wasn’t upset that temperatures in the desert reached the 100s earlier this month. People needed to stay cool in their homes, after all.

“I’m not saying business is booming,” said Tim Esser, owner of Esser Air Conditioning and Heating in Palm Springs. “If it wasn’t for the heat, we would be like everyone else. Business has been down. People have been hesitant about us being in their homes.”

Esser never had to completely close his Cathedral City-based company during the coronavirus pandemic, because state stay-at-home orders listed home maintenance and repair as an essential business. 

More: Riverside County downgraded face mask order to a ‘recommendation.’ Some businesses ran with it, others didn’t

More: California governor allows some retail reopening with limits

The economic slowdown that has resulted from statewide closure orders, however, has hit the home improvement and maintenance sector like other businesses. Tim Esser and his son and General Manager Michael Esser hope that as the state slowly works its way toward reopening of retail and other businesses, their business will pick up.

“The only thing I hope is that the unemployment number doesn’t stay as high as it is,” said Michael Esser. “People have to make money to spend money.”

For Michael Balian, owner of Carpet Empire Plus in Cathedral City and Indio, the economic slowdown prompted him to close his satellite Indio store for two months. He has recently reopened. The main Cathedral City store has also undergone changes.

“We saw a substantial drop in our foot traffic because everyone was staying at home because of the orders,” Balian said. “So we limited our hours to 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and we closed on the weekends.”

Carpet Empire Plus did see one area of its business grow in recent months.

“The shop at home, where we bring samples to people’s homes and they can look at them in their homes, I would say that has gone up 500%, five-fold. I’m not joking,” Balian said.

Balian anticipates his carpet and tile business will pick up in the coming weeks as the state moves closer to Stage 3 of reopening the economy. He predicts some people will have more money because they haven’t been spending as they usually would over the past two months. But he’s not willing to say that business will be back to normal any time soon.

Expecting a slow return

“If we turn the faucet, is the water going to be flowing like it was last year?” asked Balian, whose business has been in the desert since 1996. “Most likely not. People may not be ready to leave their homes and get out right away. I don’t think we will see an immediate bounce back in the first couple of months.”

Balian said only about 5% of his customers delayed installations over fears of having someone come into their homes during the pandemic. 

For Micahel Esser, whose wife is an emergency room nurse, the idea of implementing increased safety precautions for employees and customers is a given. 

“In a sense it’s a kind of wake-up call for things we should have been doing anyway in terms of sanitation,” Michael Esser said. “Like washing your hands, that has been pressed and pressed and pressed into us.” 

Good time to do-it-yourself

While small businesses in the home maintenance and improvement sector have felt the sting of the shutdown orders, do-it-your-selfers have been busy.

Large home repair and improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s have been open, and that has meant long lines — with people buying everything from paint to home gardening equipment —  to give themselves something to do during the long, empty hours at home.

Tim Esser said the pandemic and resulting economic slowdown are a good reminder for everyone to step back and reconsider both support for the business community and the desert community at large.

“I feel during this time when everyone is struggling, we need to reach out even more,” Tim Esser said. “Usually when people get down, times get down like this, people have to hold onto resources, money, they don’t know how much rent they will be able to pay. But these are times we need to reach out to the community even more.”

Home repair, maintenance tips

  • Explore online shopping: Many companies have either started or enhanced online shopping options to allow people to stay at home and remain safe. Less traditional methods of shopping, including shop-at-home options with salespeople, are also available. If shopping in store, the business will likely require social distancing for customers and employees.
  • Demand protective measures from workers: Companies that do any kind of home installations should by now require face masks and gloves for employees and sanitation measures both inside and outside installations at homes. That can include sanitizing anything in the house that workers might touch. Customers can ask that such measure be in place before an installations or can request a rain check on an installation until the customers feels safer with workers coming into their homes.
  • There could be delays: It is possible that some installations might be delayed a day or two because some businesses have had to furlough workers or have them working in split shifts, meaning that installations can’t be done as quickly as before. When the workers do show up for the installations, you can make the decision to stay in the house with the workers or perhaps stay outside of the house to promote better social distancing. 

— to www.desertsun.com

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