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Show Highlights Well, it’s been over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic and we know what you’ve been thinking: What have those Float On boys been up to? Well worry not! Graham and Ashkahn share all the big changes happening with restrictions lifting and life returning to a semblance of normalcy. If you’ve been following our shop operations at all, some of these changes might surprise you.
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Transcription of this episode… (in case you prefer reading) Graham: Okay. Back again.
Ashkahn: Back at it. Back with it, back on track.
Graham: And back for you, back for you.
Ashkahn: Let’s put on some Burt Bacharach.
Graham: All right. We have some stuff to talk about. Turns out who knew there was a global pandemic going on. A bunch of us just had to change every single way about how we operated our entire business. And in some areas, things are lightening it up, back at it getting back more towards normal-ish operations.
Ashkahn: Yeah. We just had here in Oregon, June 30th was the no more stuff date. Official no more stuff day.
Graham: So that’s it. Now there’s no cases of COVID anymore here and we’re all good to go. Yeah, everything’s perfect.
Ashkahn: I’ve just been licking almost any surface I can come.
Graham: Yeah. As a result though of all of this, we’re now rolling back a lot of those changes that we made, right? We’re not making people sit in their car anymore before they actually come into the shop. We are not actually taking people’s temperature when they walk in. We’re not making them answer a quick survey of all of the questions that we were asking everyone.
Ashkahn: Perhaps many of you have not been doing this for awhile, but that’s the Oregon rules going until very recently.
Graham: We had to do it and it’s nice. Part of the cool thing is having gone through this now, it actually feels like just running a regular float center, which we’ve always over the years drilled in, is not the easiest thing in the world, now actually feels a little easier. A little less stressful, which is cool. Also a plus, is that some of the things that we did adopt as a result of the global pandemic we’re actually keeping on and we’ve decided are either better for our operations or even actually just improve life for staff, or make it easier to run Float On.
Ashkahn: Yeah. We came out of it a little different than we went into it. We’re changed. We’re new people now.
Graham: We’re reformed. We don’t make silly jokes anymore. That was one of the things, just totally serious across the board now with our employees, that was something that they expressed.
Ashkahn: Yeah. Float Off. That’s what we’ve changed our float center name to–
Graham: That was a little too silly actually.
Ashkahn: We thought we’d come here today and talk to you all about some of the stuff that… basically now that we’re opening our shop back for sort of normal, what have we decided to change from the way that our shop operated before. Cause it’s pretty different. This is all still pretty new. We’re just about to actually pull the trigger and make these changes. We’re still going to come out of this whole pandemic into a new schedule and form of running our shop. That’s probably the most different from anything we decided to do in the entire 10 years leading up to the pandemic.
Graham: Everything’s in pantomime now. We’ve decided to put our entire shop into silence rather than just the inside the float tank experience. No, let’s start with the small things. Let’s start with the pantomiming is obviously a large thing. What are some of the small things that we decided to keep in place?
Ashkahn: Small things. We up until this point had been giving people in-person walkthrough speeches every time they’ve come in.
Graham: Every single time.
Ashkahn: Obviously during this whole thing, we made a video so that people could watch it in their cars or before they came in and minimize that whole human interaction thing. You know, it’s been kind of cool.
Graham: [crosstalk 00:04:28] Get off our high horse. We were a little against videos. A lot of people throughout the years have been like, “videos, pretty nice actually”, and we habitually have just not allowed our staff to-
Ashkahn: They steal your soul. You can’t be recording images of yourself–
Graham: Otherwise what’s left. We’ve changed our tune.
Ashkahn: We’re more open now. We’re more open people.
Graham: Maybe videos don’t actually steal the souls of the people who are pictured in them.
Ashkahn: Mostly it does just make the transition easier on your staff. It’s just less time consuming thing that you’re trying to do during that crunch time experience.
Graham: We just got feedback from customers really actually liking the video intro too. I’ve heard from at least a couple of people who said they watched it multiple times before coming in just to make sure they had everything down and felt comfortable with the experience and realizing that we can still do in-person walk throughs if we want, but certainly having the video walkthrough available is just so nice. We’re probably not going to be doing in-person walkthroughs, at least not a lot for other reasons that we’ll get to in just a second.
Ashkahn: Maybe this is all news to a lot of people out there have videos already, but just something that we came out of this whole experience, a little different.
Graham: If like us, you were previously a video curmudgeon. Give it a second thought, okay. Videos. We also did some cool upgrades to our HVAC unit, which we didn’t know were possible really before the pandemic. I think we actually talked about this on one of our last podcasts that we did, which was a while ago now. It’s cool and a really nice addition, which is adding a UV light to your HVAC unit. What that does is of course helps scrub the air, helps clean it, make viruses and bacteria not able to reproduce and helps keep your shop healthy. But it also is great for controlling mold and mildew, which I promise in the wet environments are going up into the air and through your HVAC unit all the time. So honestly, had we done the research beforehand or even realized that was an option or how well it did with mold control, I really think that the UV lights inside the HVAC is just a really great solid float center upgrade.
Graham: No regrets, I’m not looking back.
Ashkahn: Certainly it’d be really silly to go in there and rip it out at this point now that we have it. It’s sticking with us.
Graham: I would have gotten it even before the pandemic is what I’m saying.
Ashkahn: Well, I mean, we all would’ve gotten all sorts of things…
Graham: I’m telling the truth, don’t you come at me like that. It’s a really good upgrade. It’s not just that it would cost us time to tear it out. I would have had it there voluntarily, even if it wasn’t already there.
Ashkahn: We also ended up picking up one of those electrostatic sprayers.
Graham: Yeah. If you don’t know where to get them, almost every big city has some kind of bridge with someone dealing them under it.
Ashkahn: The whole sort of idea is that it adds a sort of electrical, you put your disinfectant spray into it and it adds an electrical charge, a static electrical charge that makes the mist cling to t hings even at a slight curve behind the surface you directly sprayed to that. So if you sprayed it like a grab bar, it would be able to actually adhere to even the back of the grab bars is the idea behind it.
Graham: Yeah. It uses less disinfectant, gets a really even coding. Kind of the same principle as a powder coating if you’ve ever seen how that works, but like powder coating a surface, same thing, electrical charge, and this paint just kind of flies onto it and evenly distributes. Same thing but with disinfectant.
Ashkahn: Yeah. One of the things we didn’t realize thinking about it before that once we had it, it’s just a little nicer than using a spray bottle. You’re doing just a whole bunch of actual manual spraying if you work in a float center and that’s just a lot of wrist action. Our staff was like, it’s kind of nice to be able to have an automated sprayer. You can even turn off the electrostatic part of it. You can just use it as a auto mister spray gun. That alone actually turned out to be a nice little upgrade.
Graham: Just a quick word of warning. Definitely look into actual safety protocols with those and protective gear that you should be wearing, because part of being electrostatically charged is of course it wants to clean to you and your eyeballs and everything like that too. Very important you’re using upgraded protection if you’re using the electrostatic sprayer, but even with that seems just so much more convenient for our staff. It’s definitely staying on board.
Ashkahn: Probably the biggest thing we’ve done is the way our schedule, and staff, and transition, timing looks now is pretty different than it did beforehand, or than ever in the history of us running our float center.
Graham: Yeah. Big changes brewin’. A lot of it came from the fact that when we switched over to this lengthened pandemic schedule, we were only running about half the floats that we normally run. And we’d actually switched down from a two-person schedule to a one-person schedule to both, keep our staff more separated and also keep the fewer interactions going on in the space in general. I think that one-person’s schedule is something we’re going to try to keep.
Ashkahn: Yeah. Essentially, the short version is just that we decided to lose a couple of float spots over the course of a day in favor of longer transitions that could make it so that just a single person could run our entire shop.
Graham: Yeah. Prior to the pandemic, we were doing half an hour transitions with two people on shift and six tanks, and now we’re going to be doing–
Ashkahn: Those are all six running on the same schedule. So we would do a full six tank turnover in 30 minutes.
Graham: Now for most of our turnovers, we’re going to be doing about an hour and we’re actually staggering things by a little bit. So we’re doing groups of two and then staggered by five minutes start times. So not everyone is going to be getting in at exactly the same time, but for the most part it’s going to be within the same 15 minute window everyone is still arriving. But hopefully just with that understanding that we don’t have kind of that order of people getting in and people waiting and stuff like that, we can make them a little more smooth for that transition.
Ashkahn: Yeah. Essentially we like okay, if we have one person running, we talked about more significant staggering and three tanks on the even hours, three tanks on the odd hours, stuff like that. We have a little bit of trouble with the level of soundproofing between certain rooms and certain other rooms in our shop that were between this room and that room. You can kind of hear the pump from room five and to room three type of situation.
Graham: Just for example!
Ashkahn: Not to name names here, but as a result, it was really hard for us to strategically figure out that full stagger. And also it was a little bit harder with a one-person operation to not have the day feel nonstop if you’re doing a turnover constantly, and there’s always people floating and you never have any amount of downtime periods.
So we switched to that idea of let’s just do our normal all tanks on the same schedule and a longer transition so that we could do it with one person. Then tried to figure out where we could make slight strategic gains in that. We’re like, okay, well, if we can just start the appointments just a little bit of a stagger, like five minutes off from each other, that little bit is enough to make it just a little bit calmer when people come in to check in or when we’re going to clean up afterwards. It’s such a small tweak, but it will actually help make things more manageable. We might’ve had to do something more like an hour and 10, hour and 15 minute transition or something if we were not trying to get those little, little, extra staggering gains in there.
Graham: Yeah. Another one of those too is when we’re switching out staff members. It’s going to be mainly one person at a time in the shop. But of course we do have to have this employee changeover. We have different shifts throughout the day. And during that transition time, we’re actually going to go down from an hour long transition to 40 minutes because we will have a second person on hand to help with that process. So again, squeezing out those little extra minutes in the day wherever we can. Considering that for the most part, it’s going to be this length and transition, just one person going down from the shortest possible transition we can manage and two people constantly on shift.
Ashkahn: For us it’s still made a little bit more sense to keep all of our tanks tight together in terms of their timing. The transitions are a little bit easier when you can make a bunch of noise and get everything done and there’s not other people really coming in and out of the shop that you have to worry about too much. It also means that you have this sort of concentrated time while people are floating without something else going on where people could still take a break or eat their lunch or something like that, as opposed to just, you only ever have 23 minutes between some event happening throughout the entire day, which, stuff like that’s easier with two people when one person can leave or do something for a minute while the other person is still holding down the fort. But with one person we wanted to still find those sorts of comfortable spots in the schedule for people to not feel like the whole day is just a marathon.
Graham: Obviously we’ve had to do some contortions to make this work. It’s probably the single biggest change that we’ve made to our schedule in all of our years of being open, and we’re doing it because there are some notable benefits to it. For sure. Probably the biggest one is the lowered cost of having one person on shift versus two people on shift, actually means that we can keep up a little more with what we believe our pay rates should be.
Ashkahn: Yeah. We ran the numbers and one person is half of two people. It’s pretty significant, huge difference.
Graham: So it just helps. Being on the very profitable side for a float center is challenging and to me one of the worst parts of that is that it means you can’t pay your staff as well as you’d like sometimes. Especially when you need to be saving up for salt damage and everything that can go wrong with float tanks as well. This is one of the ways that we’re trying to get at that goal of both having a sustainable float center that has a good nest egg that’s growing and also that we’re treating our employees in a way where we feel like they’re getting paid what they deserve for the type of work that is entailed in actually running and managing a float tank center.
Ashkahn: Honestly, it’s easier having a smaller crew for running a business. We get really caught up in this growth mindset and there’s almost a point of pride about having more and more employees, but the more people you have in your business, the harder everything gets, right? Like communication–
Graham: More people, more problems.
Ashkahn: Interpersonal relations. There’s all sorts of different interactions and people to deal with and people’s personal situations, all that sort of stuff the more people that you get. When you have less people and not only is it a little simpler and people can more easily be on the same page as each other, but you can treat people a little bit nicer. With the Float Conference coming up.
Graham: You and I are not going to be treating people nicer.
Jake and Marshall our shop manager can treat people a little nicer, yeah.
Ashkahn: With the float conference coming up, we could offer our entire shop staff virtual tickets to the Float Conference if they want to come. That’s six people as opposed to 12 to 13 people that we used to have. So you can make decisions like that to do something nice for people. Significantly easier than we used to be able to.
Graham: It was especially awkward with 13 people, because a lot of the Popsicle containers come with only 12 popsicles. We didn’t have enough money for two of them. So it’s like, oh, sorry.
Ashkahn: Yeah, there was dark times.
Graham: So that’s it, that probably is the single biggest thing that we’re keeping out of this, which is kind of wild. For a long time, it really seemed we were going to carry on forever with this two-person schedule. I’m kind of shocked that we have made that shift.
Ashkahn: We are losing floats. I guess we should mention that part too. We used to be able to do a maximum of 10 slots over the course of a day.
Graham: Running 60 total floats.
Ashkahn: Yeah. That was running at 24 hours a day. Right now with our current schedule that would drop to eight slots. So we lost 12 floats to 20% of our total capacity for making this switch.
Graham: We just kind of think, that’s okay.
Ashkahn: Or at least hopefully at the end of the day, the numbers will work out better. We will be able to, in terms of the income above expenses, make the same or if not more, and be able to pay the staff that we have more.
Graham: We weren’t into the 100% capacity. Our customers might not be able to find as convenient times all the time for them specifically to get into float. But I would expect that for the most part, if people still want to schedule a float a few days ahead of time or anything like that, it should still be a few open slots. Maybe just requires a little bit of extra scheduling ahead, like we mentioned.
Ashkahn: Yeah. I mean, if you want to float more, just bring your own staff member with you. That’ll be our new program.
Graham: Yeah. Anything else that we want to share for coming out of the pandemic?
Ashkahn: We’ll see how this goes.
Graham: Yeah, that’s true. We haven’t actually done this. We have been on a one-person shop schedule for the last year.
Ashkahn: Yeah. Honestly it even made it so that during all the restrictions and the greatly reduced schedule we had during the pandemic, our finances were able to sort of make sense still.
Graham: Yeah, and our schedule especially for the last about six or seven months has actually been pretty packed. Again, half capacity. You can only pat yourself on the back so much for that, but certainly the one person’s schedule seems tenable. Even if there’s six people going in, six people coming out, six people going in, six people coming out. Even when it’s slammed with a long enough transition time, I think one person can definitely get through that.
Ashkahn: If it goes well, I think our plan is probably to have our six remaining staff members form together like a Voltron into one single super staff member.
Graham: You were going to share that with them, huh?
Ashkahn: Oh, sorry. The patent pending. Don’t get any ideas about the Voltron thing.
Graham: Just pretend that the last part of this podcast didn’t happen. One person shifts schedule though, that’s exciting. I guess let’s just wind it down there and run down to the patent office real quick. Make sure that thing gets pushed through. We got to go. We got to go.
Ashkahn: We’ll we’ll talk to you guys later.
Graham: Bye, everyone.
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