There are over 32 million small businesses in the US today, and those businesses are responsible for generating 43% of US GDP.
2020 was heading toward a record breaking year of growth and nearly every sector of the economy was growing.
Until it all came to a sudden stop.
On March 17, the first of many shelter-in-place orders were given. Over the coming weeks, these continued city by city, region by region, across the country, with only essential services remaining open.
Restaurants were forced to close their dining rooms. Coffee shops saw their food traffic dry up overnight. And small clothing stores and major national brands lost 100% of foot traffic.
Electronic devices and fashionable accessories were no longer the hot commodity. Toilet paper and hand sanitizer were instead.
Small businesses considered “non-essential” began to immediately feel the pain.
How should small businesses proceed?
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How businesses are pivoting to survive the pandemic
Some small business owners have immediately begun to look at options for pivoting their businesses.
Some are finding success while some will have to try again.
But the marketplace may be changed forever. How will businesses pivot, adapt, and grow again?
The answer lies in understanding the unique needs of the marketplace today—a marketplace of people largely limited to their homes and neighborhoods—and finding the right way to serve that audience.
Entrepreneurs still can (and are) making it happen today. Here are 10 of their inspiring stories:
- A Top Chef alumni pivots fine dining into takeout and doing good
- A New York casual diner transforms into a traveling date-spot
- A Utah yoga studio turns to their community and the honor system
- Texas real estate agents dive into virtual tours
- A Portland brewery gets physical with beer delivery by bike
- A nightclub throws a virtual party to keep the party alive
- A college town consignment store embraces community-driven ecommerce
- A Tennessee chef pivots into cooking classes
- A popular online design and lifestyle products brand leans heavily into its work-from-home products
- Independent children’s bookstore finds new life by diversifying sales and giving back
1. A Top Chef alumni pivots fine dining into takeout and doing good
For chef’s and restaurant owners, having an ecommerce store isn’t an option when the product is best when it’s “hot and fresh,” so in Portland, Oregon, Doug Adams of Top Chef fame took his knowledge of smoked meat and created weekly menus for pick up while helping the local food bank.
Adams’ restaurant Bullard is known for their Pacific Northwest meets East Texas fare, and each Friday a new menu goes out with daily specials using the Tock ordering platform, with Friday specials often having the bonus of a Saturday brunch option like cinnamon rolls.
Capitalizing on the ease of Tock’s platform, Adams quickly also began adding on “extras” that patrons can tack on to their order such as cocktail kits, pies, and other baked goods. Tock also has the option of adding a tip, which is helping sustain the jobs of wait staff unable to work during the crisis.
Speaking of restaurants, here’s a tip from Ryan Cole (named Restauranteur of the Year by San Francisco Magazine) on what to look out for during tough times if you’re in the food business:
2. A New York casual diner transforms into a traveling date-spot
Johnny D’s of Watertown, NY, is a casual dining spot that amid the coronavirus outbreak had to shut its doors, but owner David Barlett decided to get creative and use a bus he’s had to cook private meals for couples.
He plans on using the bus to deliver dinner so as to keep this business alive and give folks a chance to continue to celebrate special occasions even while staying quarantined.
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3. A Utah yoga studio turns to their community and the honor system
Lucy Dillon of 21st Yoga Studio in Utah believes that what made their studio different is the community that they had built in an age of “online everything.”
But in times where keeping the livelihood of the staff was of the utmost importance, they put up live streamed classes at noon and 6:00 p.m.:
Those who can pay, do—and everything is on the honor system.
4. Texas real estate agents dive into virtual tours
With real estate being a mostly in-person experience, real estate agents in the DFW area are adapting by doing online tours via FaceTime.
“I have many buyers and sellers that just can’t pause because they have immediate housing needs,” Franklin said. “Also many that don’t want to miss the low interest-rate opportunity.”
Whether it’s touring properties in smaller groups, using FaceTime to take a virtual walk-through of a property or setting up virtual meetings while directing clients to specific properties online, the real estate industry is doing their best to pivot.
“Our professionals, working hand-in-hand with our clients, are finding ways to manage through these difficult days by modifying meeting protocols, touring properties with smaller groups and finding ways to keep moving forward,” Brett White, Executive Chairman and CEO of Cushman & Wakefield, said in a letter to clients.
5. A Portland brewery gets physical with beer delivery by bike
Ross Putnam, General Manager of Base Camp Brewing knew that with traffic coming to a complete stop, it was time to get creative. And boy did he get creative. After a quick chat with the Oregon Brewer’s Guild and paperwork for off-premises sales, Putnam loaded up his custom-built cargo bike and started dropping off brewskies at people’s doorsteps.
“We kind of see this as the beginning of a long program for us,” Putnam says. “The best thing we can do is work directly with our consumer, and what better way to show up to somebody’s house than with beer on a bicycle?”
While he admits that this tactic is not getting them the sales they are used to, Putnam is happy to try something different during quarantine for the sake of business, beer, and a little bike riding.
6. A nightclub throws a virtual party to keep the party alive
Nightclubs are obviously going to be at a loss when no one can come and party, but that didn’t stop the Holocene Night Club from finding a way to still keep the party going.
The Holocene staff threw a virtual club night and live streamed the party through YouTube, asking for donations via the YouTube stream’s description box:
The YouTube club night drew 700 people to the live stream, which is twice the capacity of the club, and the donations they received covered the cost of running the stream with extra income that will go toward the staff.
7. A college town consignment store embraces community-driven ecommerce
While larger clothing brands are no stranger to ecommerce and even smaller boutiques have repeated pieces in stock that can be listed online, consignment and vintage stores often only have one of each piece, which is why foot traffic is so important to the success of these stores.
Austin Storm of The Storm Cellar in Moscow, Idaho, is no stranger to innovation as he and his wife Laura started the consignment store and then began meeting other needs they found in the consignment space with their consignment-specific software, ConsignCloud.
While listing individual pieces is still a challenge, the virus lit a fire under the Storms that made their online store a reality. Austin says:
“It’s expensive to list things online, which is why we haven’t had a big ecommerce presence. We started with private shopping, which lasted three days, and then everyone who was nonessential got shut down, so we had to adapt to new things, which is when the ecom site was launched.”
Austin credits the active social media presence that they built over the years with helping to launch website sales and is grateful that his team had finished a month before COVID made landfall in the US.
Austin and Laura upload new items every day to the website, including gifts, overstock items, and rare designer finds, and then throw a unique sampling up on Instagram with the option to be redirected to the website. With this approach, the items that they list on Instagram stories go the fastest with customers lingering on the website for curiosities they would have never otherwise discovered.
8. A Tennessee chef pivots into cooking classes
It’s no surprise that ecommerce businesses are better suited to a pivot, while brick-and-mortar businesses have a harder go-of-it, but this has left an opportunity for businesses to get creative when listing their goods online isn’t an option.
For example, outside Nashville, Tennessee, in Murfreesboro, chef and restaurateur Alex Belew has taken to social media to keep his restaurant afloat. Dallas & Jane, an upscale comfort food eatery had to close its doors due to the virus outbreak, but Belew quickly jumped online and told his Instagram followers that he’d be teaching kids who are out of school and parents who are stuck at home together how to make some of the chef’s signature dishes.
His classes were held on Facebook Live and Belew took donations via the Venmo app. Belew later also took to Tock and is offering a select portion of his menu available for carry out.
9. A popular online design and lifestyle products brand leans heavily into its work-from-home products
Lifestyle brand Ugmonk launched by Jeff Sheldon has been predominantly an ecommerce store since 2009, where he has sold high-quality t-shirts, journals, and other lifestyle products. And while COVID-19 hasn’t forced him shut his doors, it has made him consider the new needs of what people are needing now.
With the work-from-home population rising, their landing page now focuses less on their apparel and more on desk organizers, mouse pads, and other goods in an entire section titled “shop work from home.”
Jeff Sheldon recently spoke with website optimization agency The Good and detailed that during the crisis he began to lean heavily on his loyal community and email list, writing a thoughtful email about the current events, and his loyal customers rallied to support. Now his desk accessories are flying off the shelf. For more on Sheldon’s thoughts on thriving during economic uncertainty, you can see here.
10. Independent children’s bookstore finds new life by diversifying sales and giving back
Local bookstores have been hit particularly hard from the COVID-19 crisis, but that has given smaller stores like Green Bean Books in Portland, Oregon, a chance to find multiple avenues of revenue.
Their online store has been recently launched, but you can also call and have them make recommendations and have those books delivered to your door for free if you spend $25 or more and live in the area.
They are selling gift cards, offering audiobook sales, wrapping surprise gifts, and dropping it off on doorsteps. In addition, they will happily ship any sales that are not local and are giving patrons a chance to pay it forward by buying book bundles that they can donate to the Children’s Book Bank, a nonprofit giving books to children in the area.
Takeaways from savvy businesses pivoting during quarantine
Obviously it’s no surprise that most businesses have seen a downtick in overall revenue, but if there’s anything that most businesses are learning, it’s that:
- Having a social media presence helps you stay in touch with your client community.
- Listing your wares online so that your customers can still access your merchandise helps keep your business alive even when foot traffic isn’t possible.
- Businesses not initially set up for working from home are finding new and innovative ways to stay in touch and still keep production moving forward.
Learning to adapt to the new normal, businesses are surviving and even thriving during the pandemic. If your business is one of the many that has had to adapt quickly to a new work-from-home reality, check out our Remote Work Playbook.
Originally published Apr 29, 2020, updated Feb 24, 2022