Our $750,000 Journey into the procurement business that led us from Seattle to Tampa, and on to Honduras in order to deliver 2,000 Covid-19 Safety Kits to Process Servers across the country, so that when the time came to re-start our business, we could be assured we were not spreading the virus.
Every one of us has had to adapt and reinvent ourselves during this unprecedented pandemic-both personally and professionally. On March 27th, we made the very difficult decision to shut down our entire business in order to protect our process servers, the public, and the reputation of ABC Legal and its customers. Many of our largest competitors kept serving throughout the shelter-in-place orders and in fact were carpet-bombing our customers with solicitations offering to serve legal documents pretty much everywhere. We thought this was reckless and irresponsible. Nevertheless, while others were conducting business as usual, putting profits ahead of long-term industry reputation, we sheltered in place, and hunkered down to do some deep work.
Every disaster has a silver-lining playbook. Undistracted by work-in-progress, or any revenue to speak of, we dove deep into our lab, reinventing new processes and new safety procedures for the other side of this pandemic, and the other side of the shelter-in-place orders.
We built a Covid-19 safe service training program for our process servers, re-wrote many features in our mobile app to accommodate this changing world we now live in and while those things are more typical of what we do here at ABC Legal, here is what isn’t typical: we became a procurement company as well.
We thought, if Tesla can make ventilators, what can we do? Well maybe we can procure all the requisite supplies our process servers are going to need to get back out into the field, on the other side of this, but without impacting medical priority supply chains.
So, what does that even look like? What is required to send process servers out into the field with legal documents and ensure, 100% that we are neither exposing them to Covid-19, nor spreading the disease? It looks like these hundreds of boxes pictured here in what used to be our HR department:
Each box contains everything you need to follow our safe service procedure: masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, wipes, and plastic bags for sealing the documents during their 24 hour quarantine and delivery.
The initial building blocks of our Covid-19 safety-first supply chain started about 3 weeks ago in Seattle, when I wandered into our local neighborhood alteration shop to pick up some blue-jeans they had repaired for my 13- year old daughter. At the register, I asked “how was business?” She showed me her sales receipts, $23 for the entire day. She said my jeans along with two other items, would be $50, I asked her to go ahead and ring me up for $150 instead and on my way out to the car, my phone rang, it was my wife, Yukie and she said:
“Why don’t you see if they can make some masks for us and maybe also for some of the remaining staff at ABC Legal?”
I turned back around and went in.
“Hey, do you think you could make…I don’t know maybe 1,000 masks for me and my family?” She replied that if she could source the elastic, she could produce 250 a week and would charge, $1 for materials and $5 for labor, so $6 per mask all-in. At this point in the story, understand that I have been in business 32 years, most of those years scrappily boot-strapping. Countering in a price negotiation is reflexive, compulsory to my DNA, unless Mother Theresa is on the other side. Also, we had furloughed 350/475 employees and our revenue run-rate was at $0/day/week/month just $0 for any time period from March 27th onward…so naturally I replied, “how about I pay you $7.50 a piece instead of $6?” That was a seminal moment for me and for ABC Legal. Because up until that point I was supremely focused on survival, cutting costs, collecting cash, figuring out how to get our life raft to the other side.
But we needed way more masks. We have 2,000 process servers. Later that week, JC Dominguez, whose business we bought last year in Tampa and who heads up East Coast customer service it turns out is quite the man about town in Tampa and he has a relationship with a local manufacturer that got it’s start making cigars in Honduras and can make just about anything it seems and they agreed to make us 5,000 masks with ABC Logos on them. Here is a photo from my desk of both our local Seattle alteration shop alongside the Tampa-based manufactured masks:
Yada, Yada, Yada, we ordered bags, gloves, boxes, JC also knew a grocery store supplier that could get us some Purell, which may have been the hardest thing to secure. We brought back staff to pack and organize the 2,000 boxes which are all being shipped this week and next. The new code in our mobile app is in testing and will go be released later this week. All our account managers and customer service staff have been testing other features around how customers can resume filing and service orders that have been placed on hold.
Anyway, the lesson for me is that I used to always espouse the virtue of “lead with generosity” and would brag about how ABC Legal had built much of its success around that principle. I’d boast from my revenue-cushioned pulpit. But when disaster struck, I sort of lost my way for a week or two. It’s easy to be virtuous in peace time, when things are going well. Much harder during a pandemic when your business has no revenue and the future is so uncertain.
There was a Monday a few weeks back, where I had to lie down in the conference room, in the fetal position for about 20 minutes, I had run out of gas. You can only go so far and run so hard when you’re only running for yourself and your self-interests.
Thanks to Juhee’s Alterations in Bellevue, WA for helping me and ultimately ABC Legal to find a bigger purpose and to see ourselves as even more fortunate than some others, despite our difficult challenges.
And to once again lead with generosity in procuring, curating and distributing safety kits to 2,000 process servers around the country, who are also small businesses people and who also serve process for other companies, not just for ABC Legal. So our $750,000 investment and journey into the procurement business is also helping our competitors, not just our partners.
We often end our customer communication with the phrase “Sleep well Savvy Lawyer”. I’d like to adapt it for the times and say Sleep Sanitized, process servers, partners and competitors. You’ve got not only bulletproof service of process and but also pandemic-proof kits to support it.