How to Thrive When Your Business Becomes a Construction Zone

Don't let the bulldozer or backhoe cause sales to plummet.
Construction projects can annoy customers and hurt businesses, but there are ways to soften the blow while the work is going on. (Photo: Dmitry Kalinovsky/Shutterstock)

Even the most confident business owners will feel a twinge when construction equipment creeps up outside their door for some prolonged roadwork. Will it keep customers away? A business’ own planned renovation or upgrade project can also cause enough disruption to impact sales.

When backhoes or cranes become part of your picture, it takes some planning, promotion and careful communication to keep customers coming in.

Have a plan

Mark Kantola, region communications manager for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, sees two common mistakes owners make: not getting involved early in the design phase of construction, and lacking a plan for when the construction begins.

“Highway projects are projected out in Wisconsin on our six-year plan, meaning many businesses will know years in advance of a highway project in its location.” During that time, he says, a business can work with the city/county/state and the local chamber of commerce or business association to develop a plan to ensure its customers know the business is open.

Kantola shared these steps to take prior to construction:

  • Get to know the project manager and contractor to find out how long the construction will take and what to expect in terms of noise, dirt, etc.
  • Notify customers and suppliers well ahead of time of any construction that may affect the way they reach the business.
  • If you know when and how long the road or sidewalk outside the business will be torn up, inform customers so they can plan alternate routes (if there are any).
  • Hold a special event or sale prior to construction to draw in customers. Assure them the business will still operate during the work.

Kantola also suggested promotional ideas to use when the jackhammering starts:

  • If construction surrounds the storefront, consider making the back entrance the front.
  • Look for ways to expand the business during construction. For example, offer delivery service as a customer convenience or extend to “off-construction” hours with special events and sales.
  • Develop reciprocal, cross-selling promotions with other area businesses: With any $25 purchase at Store ABC, receive a 20 percent discount at XYZ Shop.
  • Offer 10 percent discounts to construction workers.

Staying open during a renovation

Laura Zorn, co-owner of Rebounderz in Jacksonville, Florida, completed a major renovation of her family fun center earlier this year. Items on her lengthy checklist included a lobby remodel, party room upgrade and the addition of a laser tag arena. Zorn couldn’t afford to close down completely during the five-month job, but she took as many steps as possible to mitigate any headaches for staff and customers.

For example, months before construction began she had a clear plan, down to where to put electrical outlets, in order to minimize any changes that would delay completion of the work. Zorn recommended the owner or a manager push for daily walkthroughs with the contractors to make sure the project stays on task.

To keep her operation running smoothly, she had workers focus on one area at a time and do most of the heavy lifting when guests weren’t inside the facility. That couldn’t always be achieved, so to keep up appearances, the maintenance team would constantly clean the facility and tarp off demoed areas.

Zorn, knowing the massive coverings didn’t exactly please the eye, used artistic renderings to show patrons what the new facility would eventually look like. This simple act generated much interest and positive feedback. In addition, she sent an email blast to customers to describe the renovations and ask for their patience.

Navigating a temporary move


“We wanted to keep our employees working and our customers happy. It was essential to take care of both of them, even if we lost money in the short run.” -Todd Mulbarger (Photo: Todd Mulbarger)

Last spring, one of Todd Mulbarger’s landlords told him he would need to temporarily vacate his store for structural work to the 50-year-old building. Rather than shut down completely, the franchisee of Great Clips in Modesto, California (along with seven other locations) relocated to another space in the shopping center.

“The decision was easy,” Mulbarger said. “We wanted to keep our employees working and our customers happy. It was essential to take care of both of them, even if we lost money in the short run.”

Despite the planned four-week project stretching to four months, his sales dropped only 1.1 percent, thanks in large part to proactive steps he took.

“Communication with employees was essential,” he said. “We let our team know very early in the process.” Then, for the six weeks before the move, staff told customers they would be heading to a different space and where exactly it would be. They shared the news several times a day on social media as well.

When the work began, Mulbarger hired a high school student for the first month to greet customers at the original space and direct them to the new one. They put up signage to guide the way, too. “It was costly and we went a bit overboard, but it was worth it to help our customers find us,” he said.

In one unexpected setback, his business interruption insurance declined the claim because it wasn’t a “sudden or catastrophic” event that caused the move.

“I would advise all owners to review their business interruption insurance as part of their liability insurance,” Mulbarger said. “Sadly, we discovered this too late.”

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