As states across the country begin reopening amid another surge of coronavirus cases, small business owners find themselves at a crossroads. In the video above, we speak with a number of independent business owners to find out how their customers and communities can help them survive this pandemic.
Countless small business owners have faced weeks of uncertainty as lockdown orders shut down all but a few essential services. Some pivoted to selling merchandise online or offering gift cards as a way to cover costs. Others dipped into their personal savings or relied on crowdfunding to try and survive until lockdown orders were lifted—whenever that would be. But as lockdowns stretched from weeks to months, the situation looked dire.
Over the past few weeks, we spoke with five business owners and managers to ask them how their communities can help them get through this pandemic. What can the rest of us do to keep our favorite local spots in business? Their answers boil down into three key ways customers can make a difference.
Spread the word
Small businesses don’t have the massive marketing budgets of large corporations. They live and die on word-of-mouth support.
“If we mention our sale, it’ll fall on the same ears over and over again. If anyone else mentions our sale, it goes a lot further,” said Dimitrios Fragiskatos, owner of Anyone Comics.
Posting on social media or telling friends and family is a cost-free way to help your favorite local spots bring in whatever income they can. Jeff Ayers, manager at Forbidden Planet, saw a massive outpouring of support when he decided to launch a GoFundMe in late April.
“All you have to do is look at the comments section on that GoFundMe and it’ll break your heart,” he said.
At the end of the day, businesses need to make money, and the only way they’ll do that is if customers make purchases. Siobhan Benson, owner of CutLoose BK, has been selling gift cards and hair products online to try and make up for lost appointments. Her salon has been closed since March and her income has plummeted.
“We doubled our business from the first year to the second year. And then this year, we were set to double the business again,” she said. “Now I’m like, oh, I don’t know, we’ll have to see.”
Michaella Blisset Williams, owner of [salon]718, finds herself in a similarly dire situation. She said her online sales don’t even account for 5% of the money her salon normally brings in, and what savings the business had are quickly drying up.
“If we don’t open, our money might run out. And as a company, we did have some sort of a safety net, but the safety net really couldn’t take us more than 60 days. And we’re way past that right now,” she said.
Laura Cox, owner of Acupuncture & Wellness of Wisconsin, just wants her patients to feel safe and comfortable when she reopens. One of her biggest expenses is buying all of the supplies she’ll need to safely reopen and start seeing patients again. A majority of her patients are immunocompromised, and their safety is her biggest concern.
“Just be patient with us as we adapt to the situation as well,” she said.
Many businesses have had to adapt quickly, and that hasn’t always been easy. Shipments might take longer than usual, costs might go up and services might be limited. And like Cox, as businesses begin to reopen, many will be focused on the health and safety of their employees and customers. This could implementing safety measures like mandatory mask-wearing or limiting the number of patrons. Cox hopes people will be respectful of these rules as businesses try to figure out how to reopen.
“Just check in on the businesses and the people that run the businesses that you love. And find out what it is that they specifically would most benefit from,” she said.