This article was written in May, 2020, and our perspective was influenced by news and information relevant to when this was written, but may be somewhat out of date if you’re reading this later in 2020 or beyond.
Additionally, we understand that there are many who have suffered loss as a result of Covid-19. We mourn with those who’ve lost loved ones and are seeking to help those whose businesses were shut down or negatively impacted.
This article focuses on how Coronavirus has forced small business owners to either adapt or close their stores. We hope to help highlight important lessons that can be learned from the epidemic.
Many SMB’s Forced to Adapt or Close your Business
The timeline was rapid
Businesses didn’t have much time to prepare for looming challenges. A full timeline is linked here, but a few key events for the US are listed below.
On February 25th, 2020, the CDC warned that Covid-19 would likely spread to the US, and advised that preparations be made. At this time, however, many of us were still only vaguely aware of what Coronavirus was.
By March 18th, 2020, most US states had declared a state of emergency and had already closed schools and banned gatherings over a certain size.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but at this point, small business owners could have potentially seen the writing on the wall. It wouldn’t be long until other extreme measures were taken to limit the spread of Covid-19.
March 19, 2020, California became the first state to issue a stay-at-home order. At this point, many living on the east coast of the US, or in smaller towns were still operating under normal circumstances.
Those who could work remotely, most likely began to work from home around this time. Many small businesses, however, didn’t have options for such a change.
By March 26th, more than 3.2 million Americans filed unemployment.
Businesses were forced to figure out how to survive the pandemic without much time to prepare.
Many large companies were already familiar with remote work, but smaller companies may not have been ready or able to make this shift so suddenly.
When revenue slowed, or worse – halted, owners had to make tough decisions to keep their business running. Many decided they needed to layoff or furlough staff. Some closed permanently.
This is a harsh reality that many are still facing. While some states are beginning to reopen partially, business as usual may still be a long way off.
Learning to Pivot
Any business that has been around for more than 5-10 years has likely seen new technology enter their industry. Perhaps best practices changed. Either way, it’s common for a business to face the choice of shifting your strategy, product, service, etc. or being left behind.
Pivoting your business could also be described as evolving your business to adapt to current circumstances.
Covid-19 was an unplanned and urgent reason for many small businesses to pivot.
Unfortunately, some businesses either weren’t given the opportunity to adapt, or were unable to. Others had enough resources and time to shift their business model so that they could still provide services and products to customers.
Businesses that had a culture of change, were more successful at shifting their operations to safely serve customers during Covid-19 stay-at-home orders. For others, it was not as straightforward.
3 examples of how businesses successfully adapted to Covid-19 challenges
James Corbett Studio
A hair salon in New York City, one of the hardest hit areas of the US, began offering in-home house calls for clients, as well as video call consultations. For customers who wanted to purchase color-kits, and other hair care products, they began delivering.
In Georgia, a small liquor distillery learned to create hand sanitizer, and freely distributed it to their local community. While not a direct revenue builder for the distillery, this local hero certainly strengthened their brand by building goodwill in their local community. If necessary to stay in business, they could certainly have fairly priced the hand sanitizer
Babe and Butcher
In Charlotte, NC a restaurant, Babe and Butcher, recognized a need in the local community and addressed it. Supporting healthcare workers who are serving on the front lines of the pandemic. Babe and Butcher began providing meals to local healthcare workers, helping to meet their needs, but also helping their brand image in the community. It was a win-win!
Evaluate the new market environment and adapt your business strategy
At the end of the day, you are providing a valuable service or product to your customers and need a way to get them what they want. Just as preferences from customers change, the market environment will inevitably change also.
Do your best to stay ahead of the change, so that you are not left behind. Follow relevant accounts on social media that keep up to date with trends in your space. Subscribe to blogs and new sources that could help your business stay relevant.
During Covid-19, the retail, restaurant and service oriented industries seem to have been most affected. Offering curbside service, delivery, online shopping, and call ahead ordering were just a few of the ways that businesses learned to adapt to the new market conditions coronavirus created.
Prepare for a new normal….. Don’t expect business as usual post-pandemic
You may be thinking, well it’s clear today that in March I should have adjusted to new conditions, but it’s too late!
We don’t think that’s necessarily true. Coronavirus and the government-imposed changes have caused businesses to rethink their strategies, supply chain, and offerings all together.
Even if you haven’t needed to change to survive (or thrive) during covid-19, your competitors may have. In turn, your customers may begin to expect a new normal for how they are served.
Restaurants will need to consider mobile applications
For example, many restaurants have attempted to implement curbside ordering and delivery options to customers, but not all have done it well.
Chick-Fil-A was already well positioned to stay afloat during quarantine restricted operations, due to their partnership with Door Dash and a very well designed mobile app, allowing for faster curbside delivery.
Many small food service businesses started serving customers curbside, but this was often very slow, so repeat business dropped.
Small restaurateurs should consider investing in their marketing, developing tools like a mobile application, that will allow for flexibility to serve customers the best way possible in any given environment. It would also help to continue refining systems and processes that give customers more service options.
Small retail stores investing in ecommerce
Retailers who serve smaller local markets may not have felt a need to invest the time and money required to have an ecommerce channel for their customers, but that’s probably changed.
Covid-19 didn’t totally freeze buyer demand, but it did make it hard for customers to buy what they wanted when they wanted. A brick and mortar retailer that has an online store for their merchandise could easily pivot to offer curbside pickup or delivery. Those without an online store may have had a hard time efficiently taking orders over the phone and fulfilling orders.
Change is not always a bad thing for the small business
In fact, change is basically guaranteed if you remain in business for more than a year or two.
If we can learn from the coronavirus epidemic and evolve our businesses so that they are leaner and more efficient, then it’s likely our businesses will be stronger for it in the long run.
It’s not too late to set up your ecommerce store, implement curbside pickup, or grow your business in other ways, so sit down, draw up a plan, and get to work!
Communicate your changes to existing and past customers
Perhaps you made the changes required by your local government, but customers didn’t keep making purchases.
What if you feel you have taken all possible measures to ensure the safety of your staff and customers, but revenue is still down?
Did you communicate your new procedures and ordering options available to customers? They simply may not be aware of what you’ve changed, or if you’re even open.
Be sure to update your Google My Business listing and hours online. Share the changes on your social media channels. Send an e-newsletter to your mailing list. Put a sign out in front of your store.
The communication methods you choose will depend on your specific business, but when you make improvements or important changes to your business, be sure that your customers know about it.
Still wondering what strategy would be best for your business?
Talk with one of our Business Development team members about how your business can make improvements during this tough time. Send us a message using this link and we’ll set up a call.