The term “business as usual” is somewhat nostalgic now, an ideal that seems all but impossible in the era of the coronavirus.
But as companies adapt to the new normal of social distancing and mandatory lockdowns, business owners are already looking ahead to see what the long-term effects may be, even as the state’s economy reopens.
In their own words, here are eight local small-businesses taking stock of the months ahead.
Joe Freeman, owner of Duncan’s Home Center
Our sales are up, the traffic is up, but the caveat to that is we are using social distancing as much as possible and taking every precaution. That means cleaning the shelves daily, constantly wiping down the sales counter, spraying and wiping our card reader after every customers comes in. All that makes it more difficult.
We are doing curbside service and home delivery. It’s to the point where we’re constantly on the phone working with the customers and getting stuff ready for them and doing those transactions over the phone.
I’m not going to say what will happen in the future, but I think it will change our business. Some people are only going to be comfortable in the months or years ahead with the delivery system or the curbside service. I think people in general are going to question whether or not they want to walk into a store anymore, not if they don’t have to.
Peter Bouharoun, owner of Bouharoun’s Fine Wines and Spirits
First and foremost we want to make sure our staff is healthy. I told them regardless of whether they’re sick or not, they’re going to get paid. I want them to know that. Secondly, we brought in some chemicals and make sure to wipe everything down and implement social distancing as much as possible.
In the long term, we need our restaurants to be able to survive this. With all the hospitality revenue these restaurants have made for the city, I think the city needs to give that 2% hospitality money back to the owners of the restaurants, at least for the next six months, so they can give that back to their employees. They were the first ones to get burned from the crisis. Restaurants are the city’s golden goose. You need to get the golden goose healthy so they can lay those golden eggs. Until that happens, you can forget about it.
Pete Townley and Chelsi Woodruff, owners of Upstate Performance Project
Since we’re not able to train our teams and group classes, we’ve had to adjust by going online, adapting through virtual training with Skype or Zoom. Things have definitely changed. When people come in for one-on-one training, it’s really easy to hold them accountable. When they’re online, it’s much harder.
We make sure to keep the routine as normal and consistent as possible. If you have a five o’clock class, we’re going to Skype you at five o’clock. The other way we keep our clients accountable is what we call ‘the grade book.’ It’s a score that logs their exercises, their nutrition, but also extraneous things — goals and lifestyle choices — to help us track together how they’re keeping on track with their long-term goals.
As much as we don’t enjoy not seeing our clients, offering more online services has been a long-term goal of ours. That way we could be able to coordinate our clients and work with them remotely, so we can keep growing. Honestly, this has been kind of a trial run for that. It’s been working really well so far and gives us hope that we can expand more online.
Seabrook Marchant, founder of Marchant Real Estate
What we’re seeing most, of course, is many of our sellers are becoming more wary about having their houses shown. Some of them have guidelines in place. They want people taking off their shoes, they want people to wear masks, they’re providing hand sanitizer, they’re keeping 6 feet apart from one another. That’s all new territory for us.
On the buyer side we’ve had some people cancel their contracts out of concern about their jobs. Some have canceled for no apparent reason at all.
For us, having meetings remotely via video chat is something we’ll likely continue doing. It makes things easier for people who would otherwise have to travel awhile to get to the meetings. We’re using software to sign documents remotely as well. It’s showing us what we’re able to do online without any negatives.
Greg McPhee, owner of The Anchorage
Our dynamic has completely changed. That’s the short answer. Basically, it’s impossible for us to conduct business as usual, so we had to take a look at our assets and see what way we could get out to our customer base. Using an e-commerce platform for a curbside pickup marketplace made the most sense.
I don’t want to speculate, but if anyone thinks we’re going back to business as usual anytime soon, that might be wishful thinking. Building out multiple revenue streams, whether that’s a continuation of the marketplace into the foreseeable future, offering a lunch service — nothing is off the table.
Velda Hughes, founder of The Hughes Agency
We’re working from home, we’re doing almost daily Zoom meetings, and I have asked each one of my team members to give 200% to all of our clients. I’ve asked that they be on call 24 hours a day to do anything they can to make our clients’ situation better.
You know, I have to say in my 35 years of business I’ve never had to work harder. As a PR firm, your job is to do everything you can to help your clients deal with a crisis. But right now every client is going through a crisis, at the same time we’re going through a crisis ourselves.
I think we’ll emerge from this a different kind of company. All I can say for now is that I’ve seen incredible devotion and unbelievable hard work from my team, and I won’t ever forget that.
Abbie Pressley and Melanie Moore, franchise owners of Wild Birds Unlimited
In the short term, it’s completely changed the way we do business. With us, so much of it is a face-to-face business. It’s not just for people to come in to make a purchase; it’s also for us to be able to share information and give them ideas about how to better enjoy their backyard.
That’s more of a challenge because we have had to do strictly call-ahead and curbside pickup, along with some online orders. It takes away that personal contact for our customers.
But one thing that we have seen and continue to see is how much support we’ve gotten as a small, local business. When you’re a big corporation, I think it’s a little easier to survive, but as a small business owner, it’s those people who have continued to come who have made it possible for us to still be here. And we are truly grateful.
Mark Johnston, president and CEO of Community Journals
The silver lining in all this is that it really shows you who your partners are. We like to say we’re built on relationships, and we work hard at our partnerships, but in the last few weeks we’ve come to see who is standing with us to support our continued contribution to the community.
Traditionally we’ve been so centered on our extensive print portfolio, but this has allowed us to leverage that and do a better job with expanding our digital offerings, working with our advertisers on very sophisticated target marketing campaigns, so I’m really excited about that. Our business is all about deadlines, but for me and my team, this has allowed us to come up for air, so to speak, and really take the time to evaluate how we do our business, why we’re doing it, and how we can do business differently moving forward.
As far as the future goes, I’m bullish. We’ll emerge from this stronger, as will all the other businesses that make it through this, and I think that’s a testament to the entrepreneurial, can-do spirit that’s unique to Greenville.