Unique Strategies to Cope with COVID-19
As a small business owner, you’ve already been affected by COVID-19. Even as your state allows you to reopen, new rules and regulations will impact your ability to operate normally.
In order to adhere to social distancing guidelines, you’re welcoming fewer customers into your space. Depending on your state and industry, customers may also be required to make appointments, ending your walk-in business. On top of that, there’s the cost of employee training, signs, and supplies like hand sanitizer. Finding ways to communicate with customers and make them feel comfortable in your space during COVID-19 is essential for your business.
How can you continue to cope with COVID-19 as the world awaits a vaccine and the true return of business as usual?
This article will look at some creative ways business owners in industries like retail, restaurants, and beyond are coping with COVID-19 to give you some inspiration.
Food Industry Entrepreneurs are Changing Their Space and Offerings
Restaurants, bars, catering companies, and coffee shops have been severely affected by COVID-19. If you’re a small business owner in one of these industries, you went months without welcoming patrons. Even if your state allows you to reopen, it may be months or longer before you can operate at full capacity.
You’re probably already offering takeout and delivery, but there are several other ways to boost your profits, even with fewer dine-in customers.
Reinvent Your Space
Some restaurants are totally transforming to offer new contactless, in-person service or takeout. In New York, restaurants like Brooklyn Dumpling Shop will switch to an automat model "where customers can order and get food without interacting with anyone.”
While automated technology can be expensive up-front, it’s an option. However, there are other ways for small business owners to change their space and model.
With social distancing guidelines in place, you won’t be using 100% of your tables. What other adjustments can you make to create an inviting physical space? Consider:
- Turning part of your restaurant into a store
- Creating a takeout window at the front of your establishment
Should your city permit it, consider:
- Placing tables outside on the sidewalk
- Reserving part of your parking lot for outdoor seating
Changes in your physical space can free you up to offer new products and services.
Diversify Your Offerings
Even as restaurants, bars, and coffee shops reopen, people are getting used to spending more time at home. Meet your customers where they are by adding new recipes and products to your offerings.
Here are a few creative ways food industry professionals are switching it up:
- Picnic baskets – Adjust your regular menu items to create full-service picnic baskets. Restaurants from Virginia to L.A. are offering baskets with wine and cocktails. An attractive, colorful box or basket also serves as free advertising at the park.
- Stocking staples – While grocery stores have more food on the shelves than they did in late February, people are still looking for ways to get high-quality products without visiting the grocery store. Consider offering staple items like flour, eggs, and other essentials for pick-up and delivery. At reduced capacity, you have the extra space to stock them!
- Producing new products – If you make products from scratch, consider how you can meet people’s current needs. In Connecticut, Litchfield Distillery is making hand sanitizer in addition to liquor.
- Subscriptions – Take your market to the next level. When people “subscribe” to a weekly box of vegetables or a monthly box of wine, you have a stable, predictable source of income. Even better, your subscribers will likely add a few takeout orders to their bill as they come to pick up their subscription box.
Many of these solutions could work for caterers, too.
Retailers Are Adjusting Their Model
Retailers throughout the country are opening for curbside pickup and in-person service. However, customers may be less likely to browse as they seek to maintain social distance. If you don’t already have an eCommerce website that accepts electronic payments, now is the time to start one.
But there’s so much more you can do to meet your customers’ needs. Consider the following:
- New items – Naturally, clothing retailers throughout the country are offering masks. According to CNN, consumers are also picking up new hobbies like:
Consider stocking specialty products like lames for sourdough bread and seed kits to meet new interests and demands.
- Virtual browsing – Some customers may enjoy a curated Zoom walkthrough of your store. You can even curate products that fit their needs. A video chat can provide much more information than an eCommerce website and reduce the chances of a returned item.
- Personal shopping – Offer to do your customers’ shopping for them, whether it’s selecting their next book club pick or finding the perfect birthday gift for a spouse. You can offer this for free for promotional purposes, or charge a small fee.
- Team up with other businesses – Does another local business in a different industry get significant eCommerce traffic? Try listing your goods on their platform. Are you the one with a significant web footprint? Invite other local businesses to use your platform in exchange for promotions on their pages.
Fitness Studios Will Keep Zooming and Adapting
Most fitness studios and gyms transitioned to Zoom classes during the pandemic. You may have partnered with ClassPass or other companies to bring your classes to new customers.
Now, many studios and gyms will begin to reopen at reduced capacity and with new social distancing measures in place. However, if your yoga studio maintained profitability by fitting 40 people into the studio for every weekend class, these new regulations could affect your bottom line.
Demand is on your side—people have been at home and inactive for months. Take advantage of the situation to retool your offerings. Consider the following strategies:
- Continue online classes – Offer a blend of online and in-person classes. This way, your new customers across the country can continue to enjoy your instruction.
- Rent out exercise equipment – If you’re operating at half capacity, you may not need as much equipment as before. Consider long-term rentals of fitness equipment, from small items like weights to larger items like pilates reformers for clients who have plenty of space. In Austin, a new startup is facilitating such rentals.
- Continue coaching and private instruction – One-on-one services are more profitable than group classes, and don’t present as many social distancing challenges. Consider offering discounted packages of online and in-person training sessions.
- Offer perks to boost your membership model – Many gyms and fitness studios depend on monthly income from memberships. However, with the ever-present threat of shutting down again months (or weeks) after reopening, it’s no surprise that people are reluctant to sign up for 6-month and year-long memberships. To combat this, consider offering perks with your membership model. Add financial protections if shelter-in-place orders reappear. Or offer complimentary gym swag as a thank you. Whatever you can do to quickly jumpstart monthly revenue will help.
Build Community Connections
Now more than ever, your neighbors are grateful for the community that’s helped them weather the pandemic so far. As a small business owner, you’ve relied on your community’s support, too.
Now is the time to build on and strengthen those connections.
Local businesses around the country are finding ways to uplift each other. For example, in Portland, interior design firm City Home has partnered with Old Town Florist to give their customers free bouquets. This enhances City Home’s product, and also serves as marketing for Old Town Florist.
Stocking items from local vendors, cross-marketing, and creating other partnerships can help your business and your community thrive.
Connect With Businesses and Customers on Nextdoor
Where can you find new businesses to partner with? Nextdoor, the neighborhood hub, is the best place to connect with your neighbors, from other small business owners to new potential customers.
It’s free to sign up for a Business Page. From there, you can:
- Customize your free page with photos, images, and your unique story
- Run promotions directly on Nextdoor using Local Deals
- Interact with neighbors 1:1 in the newsfeed with free Business Posts
Once you create your free Business Page, you’ll start to show up in local search results as soon as you receive one recommendation from a neighbor. Plus, all members are verified with their address, which means the people you’re connecting with actually live close to your business and are accessible immediately. That also means you don’t have to build a following like other social media platforms.
In addition to Nextdoor, look to see if your city or neighborhood has a database for connecting and uplifting local businesses. For example, Asheville, NC now has Asheville Strong, a nonprofit directory dedicated to supporting local businesses.
Important Steps for Every Business
Just like you, your customers are continuing to adjust to life during the COVID-19 crisis. As you reopen and make changes to your business model, remember that community is what’s most important. Small gestures can mean the world to your customers:
- Offer thank yous in the form of sales and deals
- Offer literal “thank you”s when you see them in-person
- Give back and donate to your community when you can afford to
- Keep communication lines open
Doing these things will foster trust in your business at a time when it’s needed most.
The Optimist Daily. The clever strategies small businesses use to survive during quarantine. https://www.optimistdaily.com/2020/04/the-clever-strategies-small-businesses-are-using-to-survive-quarantine/
Kxan. Rental platform wants Austenites to rent gyms’ equipment during pandemic. https://www.kxan.com/news/coronavirus/rental-platform-wants-austinites-to-rent-gyms-equipment-during-pandemic/
CNN. The long lost hobbies people around the world are revisiting during the coronavirus pandemic. https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/05/world/old-hobbies-quarantine-coronavirus-wellness-trnd/index.html
Fast Company. 5 creative ways small businesses are succeeding during the COVID-19 quarantine. https://www.fastcompany.com/90489203/5-creative-ways-small-businesses-are-succeeding-during-the-covid-19-quarantine
Northern Virginia Mag. 3 Alexandria restaurants offering special to-go picnic packages for Memorial Day. https://www.northernvirginiamag.com/food/food-features/2020/05/19/3-alexandria-restaurants-offering-special-to-go-picnic-packages-for-memorial-day/
Eater. New East Village Restaurant is Betting on the Automat.https://ny.eater.com/2020/5/18/21262154/nyc-automat-east-village-coronavirus-brooklyn-dumpling-shop