It seems like 10 years ago when the ball dropped in NYC’s Times Square to signal the end of 2019, and to welcome in a new decade. As small business owners, many of us were excited to hit the ground running in 2020. The fears of a recession had subsided, all economic indicators looked strong, and we were ready to execute our respective plans.
We didn’t even make it out of the first quarter before the entire world went sideways. Not even the wildest prognosticators could have predicted COVID-19. Economies shut down, customers stayed home, and small business owners asked, “What now?”
It’s been almost 10 weeks since the U.S. government went into lockdown mode. Essential businesses remained open, but with restricted hours, and strong precautionary measures to ensure public safety. Non-essential businesses closed their doors and waited…and waited some more.
Thankfully, we are now seeing business owners slowly start to reopen, but they know things will be different. Consumers are rightfully concerned about safety issues. There are government and industry guidelines to follow, and then there’s the questions of having access to inventory, capital, and will employees return to work?
I asked small business owners around the country what they are doing to get ready to reopen their doors, and to let their customers know that it’s safe to come inside. Here’s what some of them had to say:
Stacey’s Naturals, a veteran-owned small business, sells soaps, candles, and creams. According to Stacey, a sale usually requires “a lot of touching, people picking up the product to smell, and try the creams to see how it feels.” It’s been a real struggle to make the shift to selling our products online. Thankfully, we are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. I hope my customers come back, but I’m also learning as much as I can to continue talking to them and marketing to them online.
Dawn Mathis of Express Auto Tag & Title in Maryland is following all the necessary safety procedures when it comes to her customers. “Before accepting walk-in customers, we posted several signs that facemasks were required. In addition, we allow one customer in our lobby at a time and they must wait to be called. This gives us some time to sterilize the area before the next customer comes in. We have posted signs outside our building, on Facebook, and reached out to local groups to let everyone know that we are open for business.”
Lastly, Eugene Choi, a Dentist Dentist in Arizona, knows that he must take additional measures now when seeing patients. “We made changes to our protocol. We added medical grade HETA air filters. We measure patient’s temperatures and have them all fill out questionnaires. Our staff wears N95 masks along with disposable gowns and face shields. I’ve sent an email to all our patients. We communicate with each one before they come in for an appointment.”
Many retail small business owners expressed concerns about not having enough inventory to stock their shelves; some are also worried about having money to pay for their inventory as well as the monthly bills that have piled up during the lockdown.
Restaurant owners are primarily worried about their employees. They are battling against an unemployment stimulus package that is paying their employees more NOT to work than they can pay them TO work.
And then there were the small business owners who shared with me that they will not be reopening their doors. The pandemic pushed their businesses over the edge, and with an uncertain future, namely a second wave of COVID-19 potentially coming in the fall, they decided to not reopen their stores.
The lessons we learned from COVID-19 have been painful, but many small business owners figured out ways to survive. We are stronger than the coronavirus. Let’s use those lessons, and the courage we displayed, as the foundation for future success stories.