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Keeping the Doors Open Part 1 - Parr Lumber is Open for Business

RCS Keeping Doors Open
April 21, 2020 at 6:00 p.m.

By Lauren White, RCS Reporter.

Even though the Bureau of Development Services closed its doors, sales are still strong for the Oregon-based building materials supplier.

Editor’s note: The information in this article is accurate as of the day it was written, March 30, 2020.

Contractors still have work to do, and they want to work!  However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, cities and states are shutting down, which means no permits and no inspections.  Parr Lumber in Portland, Oregon still has strong sales and is offering their products and services to those who are relying on them to stay open. 

Craig Webb, the President of Webb Analytics LLC, reached out to specific people across the country to ask how business is going in their area for a special edition of his Webb Analytics Report newsletter.  In his email to Mike Howell, the President and CEO of Parr Lumber, Craig states, “Given how Seattle is [one of] the most affected part of the U.S., your health and safety— and your business— immediately came to mind.”  

For the most part, business is continuing as usual, however Mike shares that everyone is on high alert.  As of now, showrooms are open and Parr is letting customers decide whether they want to enter the buildings or not.  Their seven cabinet design centers already do most of their business over the phone and computer, so they haven’t been impacted significantly.  According to Mike, “We have already seen a slight slowdown in normal traffic, however our business is still strong.”

Prior to the coronavirus, Parr Lumber had strong sales in the first quarter that exceeded their budget goals.  Mike explains, “As of yet we are not seeing any effects to sales, however there is bound to be some sort of impact in the weeks or months to come.  It’s too soon to tell how much.” Mike does believe there is potential for increased business from homeowners in the next few months. “Seems like people are not spending money on a cruise or vacation, [so there] should be more money and time for a home project,” Mike surmises.

One significant increase has been the amount of phone calls they get each day.  They have adjusted some of their workers to help answer these calls. In a message from one phone receptionist team member to her supervisor, she explains, “A LOT of calls to place orders.  Some asking if we are open and are we planning on staying open, but the biggest percentage were for orders...One customer said he still has work to do so he needs us.”

Craig asked Parr Lumber and 18 other dealers to share how they’re communicating with customers, stating this information has helped his readers decide what they’re going to tell their own customers.  Parr Lumber has taken this opportunity to increase their communication with the public. In addition to having a phone receptionist team, they have a message posted on their website, they have a document posted at each location, and they wrote a letter to their customers.  

In the letter they state, “The Parr Company’s intention is to remain open and serve your needs with your health and safety as our first priority.”  The company is taking safety precautions and following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition to disinfecting surfaces, they are requiring employees exhibiting any coronavirus symptoms to stay home, and are following social distancing requirements.  They are asking their customers to place orders over the phone and refrain from shaking hands with workers. Additionally, if plans are dropped off in person, Parr will follow up with a phone call instead of having an in-person conversation.

Internally, they communicate constantly.  Mike explains, “With the furious pace of change that everyone is experiencing and the social distancing measures and closures being implemented, it’s a moving target.  Seems like whatever we decided to do in the morning, we are changing by the end of the day.”

As cities and states are ordering businesses to shut down, Mike worries about facing a forced shut down by state officials.  He shares, “I don’t think we are heading there, however it’s too soon to say. Bottom line, our customers are busy and are relying on us to keep open...and several have said so!”

When asked what he’s hearing from permitting officials and building inspectors in the Pacific Northwest, Mike shared, “This is a concern for sure.  The City of Portland announced they are suspending the submission of new permits. The Oregon Home Builders Association is all over this, however I am not sure yet the impact.”  Craig wonders if the closing of those facilities will cause longer waits for permitting and inspections once the coronavirus passes. In Portland, “Most of the residential subdivision work is outside of the city so I do not think this will have a big impact on us,” Mike explains.

While construction still continues in Portland, on March 17, the Development Services Center and Permitting Services temporarily closed until further notice.  The Bureau of Development Services (BDS) for Portland, Oregon posted a notice explaining the changes to plan reviews, permits, inspections, and more.  

Most plan review staff for the City are teleworking and still performing plan review.  The City is asking customers to be patient with the process since there is possibility of a slowdown in their review timelines.  

The Permit Center is no longer open for walk-in services and permits are being issued based on priority.  The highest priority permits are for “emergency permitting and inspection for projects concerning healthcare, life safety, wireless facilities, and essential City services,” according to the BDS.  Next are projects that already had permits issued, are under construction, and need revisions or deferred submittals reviewed. The third level of priority for permits are for projects that have a permit application being reviewed but not yet issued.  New permit applications are not being accepted. The only exceptions are for New Single Family Residential and Batch Permits.  

BDS is utilizing different outlets, such as email, fax, and phone call, to remain connected to their clients.  Since walk-in services are suspended, questions about projects and property are being taken via phone and email.  BDS is offering online and remote access to services for customers, which include Development Hub PDX (DevHub).  This online tool allows customers to apply for and schedule inspections for trade permits (mechanical, plumbing, electrical) and some forestry permits.  According to BDS, they also offer a “remote video re-inspection service for simple on-site inspections involving minor corrections.”  

Permit-related inspections are being scheduled through the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system.  BDS explains, “...We are exploring options for postponing non-essential inspections (including enforcement-related housing inspections) as well as conducting some inspections remotely.”  To keep their workers safe, they’re asking customers who exhibit signs of illness to wait on scheduling their inspection until at least 72 hours after their symptoms have subsided.

Even though the Bureau of Development Services in Portland has closed, some inspections and permits are still being issued, meaning some contractors are still able to work!  Parr Lumber has not noticed a significant drop in sales and is taking the necessary precautions to help limit their customers’ and their employees’ exposure to one another.  

For the latest information related to COVID-19, visit the RCS coronavirus page. 

Read part two to learn about how others are responding to cities shutting down.



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