‘We Don’t Get a Pause Button Often’

Today’s Highlights: Why Disneyland will look different when it reopens. The grant program for event venues fails to launch. And business owners discuss small changes that have had a big impact.

MANAGEMENT

Here are some of the interesting responses the president of Shopify, got when he asked his Twitter followers to name a small change that has had a big impact on their business:

  • “Asked for customer feedback via SMS.”

  • “Actively killing ‘mandatory video.’ People are tired and stressed, and have plenty to worry about already... Openly communicating that I have no need for my team to ‘look good enough for work’ has made for a much lighter team environment.”

  • “Give myself permission to make decisions i’m 75-80 percent sure about rather than wait for that 99 percent certainty (that rarely if ever comes.)”

  • “Adding a B2B channel for a beloved B2C product. Gonna be a serious game changer.”

  • “Switched our in-store format to ‘appointment only’ instead of ‘appointments encouraged’. The structure ensures better customer experience from end-to-end and far more predictable (and better) results with a much leaner operation. Everyone is happier!”

GOVERNMENT SUPPORT

The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program was supposed to launch yesterday: “As the government prepared on Thursday to start taking applications for a $16 billion relief fund for music clubs, theaters and other live event businesses, thousands of desperate applicants waited eagerly to submit their paperwork right at noon, when the system was scheduled to open. And then they waited. And waited. Nearly four hours later, the system was still not working at all, sending applicants into spasms of anxiety.”

  • “Shortly after 4 p.m., the Small Business Administration abandoned its effort to salvage the broken system and shut it down for the day. No applications were processed.”

  • “For businesses like Crowbar, a music club in Tampa, Fla., getting a grant is a matter of survival. Tom DeGeorge, Crowbar’s primary owner, took out more than $200,000 in personal loans to keep the business afloat after it shut down last year, including one using its liquor license as collateral.”

  • “‘We lost an entire year of concerts in the blink of an eye, which was close to $1 million in revenue,’ Mr. DeGeorge said. ‘That’s why we need this grant so badly.’” READ MORE

HUMAN RESOURCES

Salt Lake City is the fastest growing job market in the U.S.: “As the pandemic raged through the U.S. in 2020, no metropolitan area in the country expanded the size of its labor force more on a percentage basis than Utah’s capital. It also had the lowest average unemployment rate and the highest share of people working or looking for jobs. … Other cities that emerged as beacons to job seekers and businesses during the pandemic were, like Salt Lake City, located far from the coasts. Hubs in the Southwest and Midwest such as Austin, Denver, Indianapolis and Kansas City minimized employment losses, kept unemployment relatively low and retained and attracted workers in a year when the U.S. lost more than 9 million jobs.”

  • “Workers gravitated to these places due to the job opportunities, lower costs and a quieter lifestyle that appealed to some migrants from bigger population centers who were now allowed to work remotely.”

  • “The losers were tourist hot spots such as Las Vegas or densely populated cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago that lost workers as the coronavirus spread. Even once-hot tech hubs of San Francisco, Raleigh, N.C., and Boston suffered declines.” READ MORE

Amazon is leading in the Alabama unionization vote: “Federal officials will resume counting votes Friday morning in a closely watched union election in which a large margin of Alabama warehouse workers for Amazon have so far sided against unionization. After about half the ballots were counted by federal officials as of Thursday, roughly 70 percent of the Amazon employees had voted not to unionize, according to a Wall Street Journal tally.” READ MORE

Amazon has an employee-review system that can force managers to give bad reviews to good employees: “Internal Amazon documents show the company has a five-tiered ranking system for employee performance reviews and expects managers to rank 20 percent of employees at the top level, 75 percent in the middle tiers, and 5 percent in the bottom tier. More than half a dozen employees who spoke with Insider said the tier system was evidence of stack ranking, a controversial performance-review system in which employees are evaluated on a curve and a certain percentage must rank at the bottom — which could hurt both an employee's compensation and their future at the company.”

  • “Employees who have been part of the performance-review process told Insider the ratings had to be distributed across teams.”

  • “One person involved in Amazon's review process told Insider the curve could force people whose performance is generally acceptable into the bottom.” READ MORE

REOPENING

As restaurants reopen, they face stiff competition for workers: “All Day, a downtown [Miami] coffee shop and restaurant, started the year on a high note. January was its busiest month since the start of the pandemic. ‘It was like turning on a light switch,’ said Camila Ramos, an owner. Business was so good, it pushed All Day’s staff to a near-breaking point, Ms. Ramos said. When she had trouble hiring reinforcements to help with the increased traffic, she was forced to make a counterintuitive decision: She closed All Day for the month of February.”

  • “‘I don’t think anything like this has ever happened,’ said Katie Button, the chef and a co-owner of two restaurants in Asheville, N.C. ‘Everybody in the world is hiring at the same time.’”

  • “The chef Jeremy Fox recently advertised job openings at his three restaurants in Santa Monica, Calif., on Instagram. The ad includes a photo of Mr. Fox in an empty restaurant, beneath the headline: ‘When you’re hiring cooks, but so is every restaurant.’”

  • “A spokeswoman for Crafted Hospitality, the company that operates the chef Tom Colicchio’s restaurants, said that 80 to 85 percent of the group’s kitchen employees have moved out of New York City.” READ MORE

Disneyland used its pandemic break to rethink some things: “California officials only recently lifted restrictions that cleared the way for Disneyland to reopen on April 30. On a recent afternoon, [Josh] D’Amaro [head of Walt Disney Co.’s theme park division] walked the barren streets of a park that will look and feel significantly different when it reopens in a few weeks—and for reasons that go beyond the pandemic. ‘We don’t get a pause button often,’ he said in an interview conducted on the empty, yet still pristine, Disneyland grounds … Mr. D’Amaro’s message: The lost time has been an opportunity to update Disney’s theme-park business beyond paint touch-ups and polishing the statue of Mickey Mouse.”

  • “The yearlong hiatus has allowed Disney to re-evaluate some park traditions deemed anachronistic or problematic, including some older rides at both domestic locations with outdated cultural representations or racist connotations.”

  • “He said one goal is to introduce more technological elements to the park’s offerings that might pull in nontraditional customers—even speculating at one point during the interview about a virtual-reality experience that takes place on Disneyland’s Main Street.”

  • “Disney now offers contactless park entry through Apple iPhones and Watches, and the use of mobile ordering for food at its parks has risen from 9 percent of transactions before the pandemic to more than 84 percent.” READ MORE

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FINANCE

This week we published a comment from C. Earl Peek, who took Victor Hwang to task for—in Mr. Peek’s interpretation—suggesting that State Small Business Credit Initiative funds should be “managed by the same white people from the same white firms from the same Ivy League schools” in a piece we highlighted. Mr. Hwang responds: 

“SSBCI should absolutely engage diverse fund managers who understand the communities they are investing in. When I wrote ‘they should know how capital works at the earliest stages of a business,’ I meant SSBCI should be managed by those with intimate knowledge about how capital works at the ground-level in the entrepreneurial gaps they are trying to reach. That means fund managers who know their communities' needs first-hand. SSBCI provides a huge chance to level the playing field, and we should capitalize on this opportunity to strengthen diverse fund managers.”

LOGISTICS

The ship that blocked the Suez Canal still isn’t free to go: “Egypt won’t release the massive container ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week in March until its owners agree to pay as much as a billion dollars in compensation, according to local authorities, as they investigate how the Ever Given got stuck and shut down one of the world’s most important waterways. ‘The vessel will remain here until investigations are complete and compensation is paid,’ Osama Rabie, chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, told state television in Egypt on Thursday.” READ MORE

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THE 21 HATS PODCAST

Episode 56: God, Loren, You Are Such a Jerk: This week with Paul Downs, William Vanderbloemen, and Laura Zander, the talk leaps from one plague to another—floods, power outages, cyber crime, employee churn, supplier price hikes, and vanished shipping containers—not to mention the actual plague. For Laura, whose wholesale yarn business keeps falling further behind on its orders, these events have necessitated a series of difficult conversations with customers: “They can't get mad about the pandemic,” she tells us. “And they're not going to get mad about the fact that we're moving. And they're not going to get mad about the fact that there's a deep freeze. But at some point, they're going to get tired, whether it's consciously or subconsciously.”