The guy who creates paychecks has an unbiased view of how the economy is doing. He can tell what businesses are surviving during the COVID-19 pandemic and which are not.
Mark Strippy is vice president, sales and services, for the Ahola Corp. in Brecksville, the largest independent, family-owned provider of payroll and human capital management in the country. Strippy saw a 15 percent decline in the number of client payrolls Ahola was processing almost immediately after the state’s mandatory COVID-19 shutdown occurred this spring. Ahola’s clients are broad-based, including first responders, but it also serves many restaurants, bars and hotels in Northeast Ohio.
“When a large restaurant group in Cleveland we all know and love went from 450 employees to 15, that signaled we needed to look internally at what we needed to do, but also at what we could do to help small and mid-sized businesses,” says Strippy. “We are a 53-year-old company. We knew we would weather this. And we are sensitive to our own employees’ needs and concerns.
So “some of the smartest people in the building,” went into action and created:
• Webinars called Ten Minute Tuesdays — concise online tools available at the beginning of the work day that clients and others could view for guidance about applying for government Paycheck Protection Program loans, tax credits, the CARES Act and other lifelines.
• Translations of the lengthy Families First Coronavirus Response Act, so employers have an accurate knowledge of what they should be doing legally to provide for their employees.
• A blitz social media campaign called Takeout Tuesday that highlighted three Ahola client restaurants each week, urging people to order food (like a large pizza) instead of cooking.
All the ideas were successful, says Strippy. But the pandemic has created perhaps permanent and significant changes in how companies do business.
“As businesses call back employees who have been laid off or furloughed, they are really being intentional about the number of people they bring back,” says Strippy. “Businesses are using the opportunity to rethink roles within an organization. Employers are retooling their resources. Many are finding they can get along with less people.”
Strippy also sees “an uptick in the use of automated tools” for business meetings, sales discussions and more. Before COVID-19, not everyone had heard of Zoom, he says. In addition, these tools changed the way businesses recruit.
“Bob the doughnut maker used to put a ‘HELP WANTED’ sign in his window, and 35 people would show up,” says Strippy. “Now, these tools are being used to vet applicants.”
Another change is the use of multiple supply chain vendors by businesses. Even though clients know they may not receive as good of pricing as they would by sticking with just one vendor, employers are looking at multiple sources as a contingency plan and for security.
“For whatever reasons, some vendors couldn’t get the job done but were holding their customers hostage,” says Strippy.
Ahola’s decrease in payroll processing clients is now down to about 3 percent as of June. That’s good news for the company and Northeast Ohio. But very few of the employers Ahola serves came back with their full employee count.
“It is part of our culture to want to help,” says Strippy. “We viewed our role early on in the pandemic as educators. We invited our clients, as well as non-customers, to join us in conversations. At the end of the day, of course we hoped some of those people would say, ‘Ahola really helped me out. Maybe I should give them a shot.’ But we really want to keep the Northeast Ohio business community the best it can be.”