Fewer than 12 months ago most Americans first heard about a new virus spreading in China. Like many news stories from other parts of the world, it was easy to dismiss as something that would never affect Americans or most US businesses in a noticeable way. By March 2020 it was clear those assumptions were wrong. And that began a string of difficult months that continued throughout this most painful year now ending.

As 2020 began, we already knew we were facing a year of (1) heightened racial tensions and (2) a Presidential election. When we added COVID-19 to that mix, the result was a series of tests and challenges most of us had never faced. How did you handle your personal life? What about your business decisions?

At Scelzi Enterprises, the past helped to guide the decisions for the future. How did the company handle the last big disruption it faced, the 2008-9 Great Recession? “Back in 2009,” recalls President Mike Scelzi, “we may have overreacted a bit, laying off a substantial number of employees to lower our expenses quickly. It sure seemed logical at the time, but who knows the future? When business began to improve in 2010, ramping back up was far more challenging than we dreamed. We lost some good people and some valuable time we never got back. We also learned a few things.”

So when COVID-19 became a threat to business operations this past Spring, the reaction was different than it could have been. “Our first reaction,” recalls co-owner Gary Scelzi,” was that we thought we would be considered ‘essential business’ due to our construction and municipality customers, including fire fighters and law enforcement. Plus the fact we do repair work on all those vehicles. If the goal was to keep the infrastructure of the country open, we were confident the decision to shut down would be ours and not some government agency.”

“And government bailouts didn’t affect our thinking”, adds Mike Scelzi. “We rely on ourselves, our suppliers, and our people. We thought this virus could disappear as fast as it arrived, so we kept our focus on the long-term. If Ford could keep supplying us with chassis cabs, we were good to go.” That strategy was tested when Ford shut down most production operations for several months, and Scelzi Enterprises scrambled to fill the void.

“We aren’t a one-trick pony,” Gary Scelzi adds with a smile. “We love making high-volume service bodies and contractor bodies and others, but our team relishes the times we can dedicate a little time to one-off custom jobs. When the supply of Ford chassis cabs dried up for a few months, we got creative — and that kept our people busy during those tough months.” Using whatever cabs they and their customers could get their hands on, they focused on more custom jobs that they might usually be tempted to leave for other body builders.

 “We have our routines and procedures that make us efficient, just like everyone else in this industry”, says Mike. “But you have to be able to roll with the punches and adapt for long term success. You can’t just whine about being inconvenienced. Whether that means wearing a mask, increased spacing of work stations, or tighter safety protocols, you do what needs to be done and you move on, a little bit more prepared for the NEXT curveball that comes around the corner.”

At Scelzi Enterprises, 2020 has not been a year they would like to repeat in many ways. But they are convinced they are better prepared for whatever happens in 2021 and beyond. And THAT is a trend they plan to continue. “Steel is forged stronger by extreme heat,” Mike adds, “and sometimes it works with people, too.”


Photos: A few custom Ford jobs completed in 2020