Like many employers, John Bailey of Bailey Coach in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, didn’t make too much of the coronavirus when he started hearing of the first reports of cases in January.
Anticipating a supply chain pinch, Bailey told his maintenance staff to stock up on materials for the company’s auto shop and start looking for alternative sources.
“I told my maintenance staff that any part that comes from China that we have, I said order all the parts now, anything you need, order it now — tires, belts, brakes — so we have them in our shop,” Bailey said.
It was a prudent call, as auto-shop services were permitted to continue operations under government-mandated closure of non-life-sustaining operations. But bus service largely relies on the now imperiled airline industry for customers.
Cancellations started coming in March and the week before last government and health officials were ordering non-essential and non-life-sustaining businesses to suspend operations. Suddenly, Bailey found himself having to lay off a 55-person crew, save for himself, his daughter and a couple of members of his shop staff.
“I sat at my desk and asked ‘Lord, what can I do to continue to pay the bills?’” Bailey said. That’s when he noticed the bottle of disinfectant he routinely used to sanitize his buses.
“We’ve been using that thing since 2017, and it’s got no ill effects on anything, and I decided I’m going to offer some services,” he said.
The pH-neutral solution comes from JKDS Solutions of Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, a company Bailey has worked with for three years.
Josh Cook, national sales executive for JKDS Solutions, said the disinfectant solution is 300 times more powerful than bleach, but its pH is neutral, making it safer for human contact but less popular in retail markets because of its shorter shelf life.
“Going to the Atlantic City casinos with a bus full of people, doing all the stuff they do, he [Bailey] realized this is really something that helps him out,” Cook said. “Now that he’s offering it as a service, and I think it’s really cool.”
Demand for sanitization has been booming with private industry and government institutions alike, Bailey said. At a rate of “15,000 square feet in approximately 30 minutes,” Bailey said his company serviced 19 locations for a combined total of 450,000 square feet the weekend before last. And his skeletal crew — of him, his daughter, two full-time sprayers and a shop staff — is growing.
Bailey said he called back one of his furloughed workers to handle scheduling. During an interview Thursday, Bailey eagerly awaited to hear about whether a prospective employee was joining the team. Halfway through the interview, he received confirmation that another employee agreed to join the team as a sprayer.
Liz Johnides, co-owner of York County’s Markets at Hanover, said she’s been using Bailey Coach’s new service on a weekly basis to treat her 52,000-square-foot indoor farmers market.
When the order to temporarily but indefinitely cease non-life-sustaining business operations came two weeks ago, it closed roughly half of merchants, many of whom were gift shop vendors. Now, the market is left with four of nine food court merchants, she said.
“But we have a number of businesses that are life-sustaining — butcher, cheese, bakery — but we also have a number of gift vendors that are not life-sustaining,” she said.
This shift has forced the craft sellers to adapt to the world of online retail or lose business, she said, while the food vendors use a grab-and-go model of service.
“One of the things I recognized was that our customers are very aware of social distancing. We already have protocols on site for how we sanitize the site on a regular basis, especially during flu season,” she said.
“We bring him in once a week to disinfect market area, bathrooms and offices,” Johnides said. “I think it’s just a way of saying we are taking extra precautions and we are adding a level of safeguard for the public.”
Bailey said events like the COVID-19 outbreak force entrepreneurs like him to distinguish wants from needs. “You figure out what is a want really quick and they go by the wayside, and now you have your needs.”
Diversifying his businesses has allowed him to pay the bills and preserve his business for a post-COVID-19 economy, Bailey said. The bus company isn’t just a bus company; it also performs inspections, it’s a warranty center for a bus company based in Basque, Spain, and most recently it just got its dealers license for businesses in Pennsylvania.
“Other people should look at trying to diversify,” Bailey said. “I want to be an octopus; I want to have my tentacles in everything. I have ongoing overhead expenses, I have bills to pay. What this is allowing me to do is at least generate some income so I can cover the essentials.”