W.S. Jenks & Son owner Jerry Siegel always compared a small business to a small boat, said his son, Mike, now the store’s General Manager, likening larger businesses to huge ocean liners like the Titanic. “It’s a lot easier to miss the iceberg when you’re driving around on a 25-foot [boat] than it is when you’re trying to steer a cruise liner,” the younger Siegel said. “It’s a lot easier to turn, depending on the situation.”
That ability to make sudden adjustments is important during the current COVID-19 crisis, he said. The situation changes daily, and the stakes are high. “Everything happened so fast,” Siegel said. “It didn’t seem like this was going to be a big deal—and then the next day it was, and we’re all trying to play catch-up and try to figure out what the best way is to operate.”
Siegel said that the crisis is a huge challenge, but that it is teaching the Jenks team how to be more resourceful as a company. Located in a former car dealership at 910 Bladensburg Rd. NE, W.S. Jenks & Son has taken the unusual step of adapting to the COVID-19 crisis by limiting, rather than expanding, their business.
Before the COVID-19 crisis, the lion’s share of their sales were commercial accounts, including the DC Convention Center, Pepco and federal government agencies. These have dried up, as has work for the two employees dedicated to Genie lifts sales and maintenance.
Siegel knows that W.S. Jenks was fortunate to have established an online ordering system about two-and-a-half years before the COVID-19 crisis hit. Usually, the company ships all over the nation, and even the world. But the company is no longer taking orders outside of DC. “What inventory we have, it’s more important to us that our local customers have it,” Siegel said.
“I’m confident that we’ll be able to get through this, and a lot of it is because of the support of neighbors to come and shop with us. On the community side, this has actually been a positive.”
Customers can order online for delivery or pick-up, but he is fielding many orders via email, mobile or text message. “There’s definitely an added value in knowing the person who you’re buying from,” he said. “I’m getting text messages from customers; I’m getting emails from customers –and we’re confirming orders that way.”
Siegel believes the crisis is causing people to realize anew the value in having a personal relationship with the people they do business with. Small business owners, he said, can be more responsive and are more familiar with available inventory. “It’s another vital role that small businesses play in the overall structure of the economy.”
He said the biggest challenge has been confirming that the items ordered are available on the floor, and confirming the details requested by customers for delivery or pick-up conditions. He said the customers have been very understanding of the strain inventory is under, and the employees are very concerned about keeping everyone safe. “We’re just trying to do everything we can to make the transaction as fast as possible at a rate that the customer will feel comfortable, taking into consideration the needs of our staff,” Siegel said.
“I’m very proud of the way that we’ve been able to weather the storm.”
Place orders online at www.wsjenks.com or by phone at 202-529-6020.