In the normal course of events, it’s understandable for business owners to ask what their Chamber can do for them, but with the additional stresses and challenges associated with the COVID pandemic, there seems to be a sense of desperation attached to that question, and all the other questions business owners ask themselves and others about how to successfully navigate this very difficult time.
Every business owner, in one way or another, has been impacted by the ever-changing COVID restrictions. Many were hit hard, right from the onset. I remember well, that kicked- in-the-gut feeling I got when I heard that everything was going to be shutting down “for a few weeks.” About 30 seconds later, I received hundreds of emails from event planners canceling our Kona bookings. Within 30 minutes, our bookings for the entire summer were canceled. For me, (and so many others,) hundreds of thousands of dollars vanished into thin air, in less than an hour. As this crisis impacted our families as well as our businesses, like most people, I sat at home, taking inventory of the cleaning products and food items I had, and only went out to the stores to stock up when necessary. I, too, was taken off guard by the lack of toilet paper!
All that sitting around, staring the problem in the face wasn’t helping me much. I still had no revenue coming in, and no idea when I would! At that point, PPP wasn’t even mentioned. There was no financial assistance in sight. After a few weeks of that, I knew I had to do SOMETHING!
Fortunately, my Kona business was considered “critical” since it provided food. So, we decided to try doing “curbside” deliveries! It was cumbersome, tiring and very inefficient. Before ever going out, it took several hours to get the orders organized and sorted, and plan the routes. But at least it was some money coming in. It was nowhere near the amount we had lost, but we were out doing something. We were no longer completely helpless to our own survival! Looking back, it may just have saved my business!
Many businesses had to find ways to offer their goods and services to consumers in ways they never imagined before. The term “curbside” was invented, and with drive-thru service became the only way many restaurants could stay in business. Delivery services like Amazon, Grub Hub, Door Dash and Shipt became the “normal” way we got goods into our homes, at least until grocery and retail chains added curbside service as well. I did grow increasingly disturbed by the term “our new normal,” mostly because I refused to believe that “this” was how things were going to remain.
Other businesses had to get a little more creative. Many of them were hit the hardest because they depended solely on people coming into their stores for purchases, and they were not considered “critical.” I know the owner of one of those stores, personally, because I sell my artwork (my 2nd business) in her store.
I remember a conversation with her at the beginning of the pandemic. She was understandably devastated and lost as to how she was ever going to recover. Bills weren’t being paid; rent was due; she had to lay off workers because there wasn’t any money to pay them – since no one was allowed to come into the store to shop. She was a little teary-eyed, and was worried about whether her lifelong dream would come to an abrupt end. I reassured her that, somehow, we would all make it through this… but I honestly didn’t know how. I’m not even sure if I believed we would, myself! I restocked my inventory, not really knowing if I would sell another item there again and went on my way. As I got into my truck and drove off, I felt once again, that I had been punched in the gut. The anger and frustration I felt was not just for me but for her and others like us that felt helpless to do anything about the circumstances that could end our businesses when it had absolutely nothing to do with how we managed them!
About 2 weeks later, I received an email from her saying that they were going to try the Facebook live home shopping program each Thursday evening. She had several hundred followers on Facebook. She didn’t know what to expect, but, like I had felt, she also felt she had to do SOMETHING! She had decided to take matters back into her own hands!
I tuned in and watched her and her business partner stumble around, showing items for sale. They added in their own humor and as I watched, items were selling. It was funny, entertaining and it appeared that some people were buying her items. In all honesty, that was the only time I had tuned in, and I wasn’t entirely sure that her idea was going to work!
About a month or so later, she sent me an email asking if I could come in to restock my inventory. I was a little surprised. I showed up on Monday morning, and I immediately noticed that right by the front door, sat hundreds of shopping bags filled with items from her store, ready for pick up. I asked her if this was from all the nights that she had been selling online. She laughed a little and explained that all of those orders were from the previous Thursday, and that they sold more on the live Thursday night shopping shows than they had on any other day of customers coming into the store. It just goes to show that what may seem like an unfortunate situation, can end up being one of the most beneficial!
As I go about making visits, I see so many business owners like myself and like the lady that I mentioned. We are all still struggling to survive. We’re all struggling to get people in the door, struggling to pay the bills and struggling to figure out how to move on. I do believe that things will eventually return to what we think of as normal. It is already showing signs of doing so. But what do we do until then? Do we just keep hanging on, or do we need to try something new and innovative?
Maybe we should be collaborating with other business owners…maybe hearing their “struggle” stories, and what they’ve been doing about it, will inspire us to do SOMETHING as well…maybe it would be worth getting out from behind the counter, attending a networking event, meeting like-minded business owners who just might give us our next big idea!
So…What can your Chamber do for you? Maybe offer the connections you need to bring about the next chapter in your business!