COVID-19 Crisis: Leading VARs and ISVs are Taking Action – Today

By: Jim Roddy, VP of Sales & Marketing at the RSPA

To help retail IT VARs and ISVs effectively deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, the RSPA reached out to several members asking them for ideas and business best practices related to this crisis. Our community has responded generously with several executives sharing helpful information. Our first RSPA Blog post shared examples of how two VAR/ISV hybrids are communicating with their constituents (How VARs are Communicating with Employees, Merchants).

The following article offers a range of thoughts, activities, and perspectives from RSPA VAR and ISV members related to COVID-19. Comments have been edited for length and grammar, and some members wished to remain anonymous.

Before we dive into to the emails I received, I need to frame this situation with my own perspective and insights from a respected retail IT VAR executive I talked with while I was assembling this post. His advice was that today VARs need to (1) ask themselves “What will happen to my business if I have zero revenue the next 30 days? The next 60-90 days?” and then (2) act accordingly today.

How you behave today will determine the fate of your business. As I wrote in this post last week (Channel Traveler’s Notebook: NCC Conference, RSPA Canada – and Coronavirus), “What would we do?” is a healthy question to ask. “It can’t happen here” is a dangerous attitude to have. For 11 years prior to becoming a VAR and ISV business coach, I was President of Jameson Publishing, best known in the channel as the publisher of Business Solutions Magazine. Our business grew head count, sales, and profits every year – usually by double digits – until 2008 and the Great Recession. My most painful memories of my Jameson tenure were the multiple rounds of layoffs we conducted in 2008-09 along with significant reductions in pay, benefits, and other resources.

But you know what would have been worse? If we hadn’t acted as quickly and cut as deeply as we did. If we had underreacted and lulled ourselves into thinking everything would work itself out, we would have lost the entire business. Everyone would have been out of a job – no pay, no benefits, no customers, no culture, no career, no future, no nothing.

If you’re a VAR executive, you need to act seriously and swiftly today. I don’t know what that means to your organization in particular, but I know from experience if you misstep today, if you drag your feet and underreact today, you can lose everything tomorrow. Repeating for emphasis what that VAR told me on the phone: expect to have zero revenue for 30-60-90 days, then act accordingly. Today.

Now to that RSPA VAR and ISV feedback I promised:

Anonymous VAR Executive
“Wow!” is all I can say right now. We are closing and staying open only for emergencies. The techs are all afraid to go on service calls and even afraid to come into the office. Everyone here is doing the same, since restaurants soon are going to takeout and delivery only. I hope this clears up in a couple of weeks, but nobody has a clue.

Michelle MacKeith, Pinnacle Hospitality Systems (VAR – headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, FL)
We are obviously in uncharted territory with how to continue to run a business during the Coronavirus situation. We have had hurricanes to plan and go through, but this is like a hurricane X 100 and not sure when it will blow through. I find the #1 thing with the team is transparency and communication. And to let them know we care deeply for everyone’s safety and at the same time we need to strive to keep business going and have customers that depend on us.

Anonymous VAR Executive
The disruption of credit card residuals for the next several weeks (if not longer) will be harmful to many resellers. I don’t think many resellers are thinking about the situation in that way – they’re either in denial or shellshocked. I’m terrified. We’re going from 60 mph to 0 overnight.

Anonymous VAR Executive
As of tonight, our state shut down restaurants except for takeout. Not sure exactly what that means but it will have an impact for sure. We’ve already signed up a customer for OLO integration (online ordering). [Redacted software company] has already waived a month’s worth of software fees, etc. I’m told.

Jason Cowan, Spark Solutions Group (VAR – headquartered in Salt Lake City, UT)
We are having employees work from home mostly but we are staggering hours for employees for tasks that need to be done at the office. We are also evaluating any and all expense reductions and going to take quick actions. We learned through the great recession that the sooner action is taken the better. Lots of communication with our customers asking them what they need.

Kevin McGrath, Value Systems (VAR – Myrtle Beach, SC)
I have seen a few of our customers offering curbside pickup. I was considering pushing online ordering, but I want to do it in such a way that we are not fearmongering. We are also reposting our customers’ statuses on social media, especially if they are offering curbside pickup. One pizza location is offering free pizza slices and a drink to all kids K-12 for as long as the schools are closed.

Anonymous VAR Executive
We are seeing a noticeable drop in engagement with restaurateurs. Delaying/cancelling meetings. Not receptive to cold calling. All in just the last week. It appears restaurant business here is down 75%. It’s dead. We are spending time disinfecting, sharpening our training, doing deeper dives and reviewing what we know, working and reviewing marketing plans, reviewing target accounts.

Anonymous ISV executive
We are asking anyone with any kind of illness to stay home and work remotely if they feel up to it. Additionally, we are allowing anyone who is uncomfortable with being out in the world to work from home using our remote tools. To try to keep up connectivity and productivity as much as possible, we are holding daily team meetings via video conference to start each day and get everyone on the same page and reminding each team that all the regular call metrics apply when working from home.

For our merchants, we’re looking into ways to be flexible with SaaS billing and support billing to help businesses that may be severely impacted or even shut down for a period of time. So, we may let businesses put their services “on hold” for 30-60 days, rather than having them cancel if they think they won’t need support, etc. for a while.

Paul Leduc, Globe POS Systems (VAR – Brampton, ON)
I am never sure what the right thing to do is, but we did the normal stuff (whatever that is), meaning, everyone works from home except one employee that does the receiving and staging of equipment. Then all equipment is cleaned with Lysol wipes and boxed again. The road technicians are wearing gloves, changing at every site, and the rest of the time working from home. We limit the people in the office to two maximum. When technicians need parts and products, they stop in and we set up in the reception area so again limited contact.

Scott Doody, Interstate Cash Register (VAR – Norfolk, VA)
We have separated everyone in the office and our help desk team is split up between offices and some are working from home. We have boxed up spare terminals and printers to ship out to customers with installation instructions. With many restaurants closing, we are scheduling upgrades while they are closed. In office, we are doing cross-training (at a distance) and reorganizing parts, equipment, etc.

Anonymous VAR Executive
Our team is talking about this situation in three phases:

  • Shutdown phase: How long that will be is unknown. Knowing how long it would be would totally change my strategy.
  • Restart phase: Customers will re-open and we need to be ready to support them. But those customers won’t be back to 100% for a while.
  • Return to normal phase.

Kalon Welch, FastSensor (ISV – headquartered in Wilmington, DE)
For us, we are focused on alternative lines of business outside of that which is being most immediately impacted (tradeshows/events) and looking at retail, security, healthcare. We are also looking at general diversification in the application of our tech and finding new problems to solve! Secondly, we are using the “desk time” to reach out to other home and desk-bound workers to further explore business and partnership opportunities with less travel and other events monopolizing our time. Business is just happening in alternative ways but, after the initial shock wears off, people want to stay productive and mitigate losses to their businesses overall.

Anonymous ISV Executive
I am helping fill in for other departments as we work on creating new procedures, and some people are out sick (so far just colds). Here we are working to get things set up so that more employees can work from home – ordering extra laptops and headsets. We use an online time clock system and are looking to adjust that to denote if an employee is working remotely or home due to the items that congress is currently proposing in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. We of course also sent out an email with the general guidelines of stay home when you are sick, wash your hands, etc.

As far as our sales calls, our music (instrument) stores are scrambling to see if customers will accept online lessons instead of just canceling. Our gun/firearm stores are all too busy to chat with us.   

Anonymous ISV/VAR Hybrid Executive
We just sent an email about best practices for cleaning and caring for your technology since we have had a few clients asking in the last two weeks.

Lynn Skurla and Thomas Greenman, Skurla’s POS Solutions (VAR – Anchorage, AK)
We saw early on that online ordering, pickup/drive through, and delivery ordering was going to be the way that most restaurateurs and retailers might combat the current crisis. We’ve already been pushing out information and assistance to our customers on how to use these new technologies but today we received word that our restaurants would be closed to dine-in service. We hope it will help make a difference to them and our community. We sent out an email asking how we can help and also created a landing page for resources – and are actively calling our customers:

We are also fully utilizing our communications tools like Zoom, Slack, and Office 365 to keep ourselves up to speed and anticipate using these tools to help our customers as well. At this point, we’re trying to stay flexible so we can adapt to the situation.

Conor Salcido, CityCheers Media (ISV – headquartered in San Jose, CA)
We think what we have with ExpressCheck could help restaurants and bars show their customers they are taking steps to ensure their health and safety by eliminating another form of contact of handling cards or cash. This is a scary and unprecedented time, and all of our partnered dealers have had their accounts ask about a contactless form of payment/curbside pickup, during this pandemic. We are already integrated with Micros, Squirrel, Focus, Dinerware, Digital Dining, Restaurant Pro Express, but obviously getting more integrations and being able to offer our solutions nationwide could help a lot of struggling bar and restaurant owners during this time!

Rick Feuling, RITE Enterprises (VAR/ISV Hybrid – Sartell, MN)
Here are excerpts of a memo I just sent out to our team:

  • We are spending some time thinking about contingency plans in a worst-case scenario. Our phone systems are capable of being used remotely. The ERRT team is already using them this way. They make calls from the Philippines/Nepal that originate from our Sartell offices.
  • Basically all of our computer systems can all be used remotely in some capacity. This is also a great Cloud Retailer selling point. ?
  • Most importantly, the admin team is saving all misprinted invoices and cutting them into conveniently sized squares for bathroom use.
  • The good news is that being an agile tech company has put us in a good position to deal with many of the challenges without much effort.

Jeremy Julian, CBS NorthStar (VAR/ISV Hybrid – headquartered in Irvine, CA)
Here are excerpts of an email to our team:

  • Thankfully, CBS has been prepared for quite some time to work remotely. We often have members of the team working from home on a regular basis. Some things to consider are use of collaboration tools such as MS Teams and Skype for Business. Each work-from-home member can install MS Office as part of your login to the system. You can install these collaboration apps on your tablets, phones and PCs.
  • We also have remote desktop sessions available for each team member to allow you to “work” at your desktop in the office from a remote PC outside of the office. If you are not already set up, please work with your leadership team to ensure that it can be set up. We will continue to monitor productivity away from the office.
  • The business and our CBS family will be stronger on the other side of this situation. No one knows how long this will last or what impact it will have but what I can assure you is that CBS cares for the people that work to care for our clients each and every day and that we will get through this situation together.

Jim Roddy is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA). He has been active in the POS channel since 1998, including 11 years as the President of Business Solutions Magazine, six years as an RSPA board member, one term as RSPA Chairman of the Board, and several years as a business coach for VARs, ISVs, and MSPs. Jim is regularly requested to speak at industry conferences and he is author of Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer. For more information, contact