Small businesses rethink their approach amid the pandemic to serve their customers

With more than 45 million people unemployed and businesses shut down in every state, COVID-19 has taken a crippling toll on America’s economic health.

For many small businesses, which comprise 47% of private-sector payrolls in the U.S., according to the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, the sudden economic downturn has created a full-blown crisis.

MORE: When coronavirus hit, these small businesses got creative, but they still need help

The big-picture concern shared by economists is if businesses don’t survive, many Americans won’t have jobs to return to after the pandemic. That’s why experts have said it’s important to support local businesses, which are struggling to generate reliable income.

Now, salons, restaurants, florists and fitness instructors, among others, are creatively adjusting to the new realities of the coronavirus economy, pivoting to bringing parts of their business online, connecting with communities directly on social media or launching creative side hustles.

“GMA” put out a call to small businesses and service workers to see how they’ve responded to the economic downturn, and we’ll share their stories here, along with ways Americans can support small businesses.

Check back each week to meet more small business owners.

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Ahsaki Baa LaFrance-Chachere explains to “GMA” that in the Navajo language, “Ah-Shi” translates to “This is me, this is mine.” Combined with “Beauty,” it means, “This is my beauty,” which is the name of her beloved company. “We are the first Native American beauty brand to open a beauty studio and official storefront in the country,” she said.

Ah-Shi Beauty is a skin care and cosmetics company operating on and off the Navajo Reservation. The brand specializes in indigenous pigments with up to 35 shades of foundations. “Our skin care is 98% botanical based and our goal is to create effective, yet gentle, skin care products for all skin types,” said LaFrance-Chachere.

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, LaFrance-Chachere had to temporarily close her beauty studio and storefront. This has led to about a 50% drop in sales and production has been delayed as the company is adapting to regulations set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Closing Ah-Shi Beauty stores has also kept makeup artists and sales representatives from working to receive income. “I built Ah-Shi Beauty to create jobs on and off my reservation,” said LaFrance-Chachere. “My people are the ones who inspire me every day to keep fighting for my brand. I have to make sure to become creative to generate sales so when I am able to reopen, my staff has a place to work again.”

LaFrance-Chachere has quickly adapted by operating fully online. “I had to get back into recording more tutorials and be more available on social media to help my customers,” she said. In addition, the company has been offering free shipping for foundation and skin care samples, virtual appointments and consultations to help customers select the best items for them.

How can America support your business: LaFrance-Chachere says that if everyone in America was to purchase one lipstick or any item on Ah-Shi Beauty’s website, the sales would help create more jobs for Navajo people. She adds, “My reservation and other reservations need jobs and my goal is to build Ah-Shi Beauty big enough to create job opportunities for my people on and off the reservation.”

Troy Heard says he ended up in Las Vegas when “my truck broke down” on the way to Los Angeles, “so I stayed here,” but the city is lucky that he did.

Since arriving in Sin City, Heard has worked in local theater. He has since founded and serves as the artistic director of the Majestic Repertory Theatre, a nonprofit, off-Strip venue whose mission “is to find in Las Vegas the voices that will change American Theatre.” To do this, it embraces immersive theater, which was especially reflected in a recent production called “The Garden Party.”

“It was a 1960s ladies’ tea recruitment celebration, if you would, for an audience of 14 and seven performers,” Heard says. “They bring you into a house, they bring into the trailer, they bring you into a greenhouse, and you’re basically getting inducted into a cult. It’s a bit John Waters meets ‘Stepford Wives.’”

Heard says audience members could even experience one-on-one scenes with performers and were given elixirs as part of the performance, but notes just how up-close the experience was and the role physical contact could play in the storytelling.

But as coronavirus cases began rapidly spreading, Heard pulled the plug.

“My co-director and I sat down and said … we’re not going to be able to have guests walk into this imaginary world and make contact with strangers, knowing that there was this virus,” he says. “But we’re creative types and creative types want to create.”

For starters, one actor from “The Garden Party” who played a reverend gave a “Sunday sermon” on Instagram Live for four weeks. Theater staff also hosted “ask me anything” events to keep the team active. The theater also has a retail license and has been able to sell merchandise, such as face masks and T-shirts. It was a combination of that, a back alley, and permissible curbside pickup and drive-by burlesque shows — it is Vegas, after all — that inspired Majestic’s game-changing project.

In the “Majestic Drive-Thru Theatre,” guests enter the “Majestic Decontamination Zone.” Heard and some of the theater’s team don hazmat suits, goggles, gloves and N95 masks, while local performers are on hand for the frightful fun. As vehicles approach, they get asked a slew of questions about their movement, activities, travel and “Have you made bread?” to play into the pandemic.” You can also be asked about your worst fears, which may come to haunt you throughout the act.

“We have a back gate that we covered with plastic. It swings open and there’s your show,” Heard says. “That way, you wouldn’t have to leave your car at all, stay at a safe distance from the performance and [doesn’t require] a mask.”

“There would literally be distance and glass in between you with the car windows,” he adds, noting this process also helps the performers stay safe by keeping them out of normally crowded backstage areas. Additionally, the back alley location has spurred ideas for future drive-thrus.

“Essentially, our business is still shut down,” Heard says. “These are things we’ve done to stay creative and keep those juices flowing, and to engage with our audiences on a level that we’ve never done before.”

“I think the fact that we’ve been stepping out of the theater and the different spaces for years now has really helped us move forward during this.”

How can America support your business: You can order pins, T-shirts and masks through Majestic Repertory Theatre’s website, and if you’re in Las Vegas, you can sign up to experience the drive-thru theater. You can also “support your arts org and buy art from local artists,” Heard adds. “It may not have an immediate effect on us, but it certainly shows an appreciation for what’s out there.”

Corrie Wiedmann of Wonder Crate

Business: Children’s educational subscription box service

If virtual learning has been tough for your child or you’re trying to find ways to keep the learning going this summer, one option is Wonder Crate. The multifaceted, education-based activity box strives to inspire your child’s next adventure.

Corrie Wiedmann, the founder of Wonder Crate and a mother, works out of her own New York City apartment and says the subscriptions service has jumped from 200 to 500 subscribers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“People are looking for educational materials and things to do with their kids at home,” says Wiedmann. “[Wonder Crate] has books and activities, and it’s delivered to your house.”

Starting at $29.95 a month, each box is centered on a different inspirational historical figure that will inspire your kid. With a choice of series ranging from artists to inventors to activists, each box comes with a “Who was?” book, two different activities and a work booklet for continued learning.

“For example, this month, our activist series was a Nelson Mandela box. Our artist series was Walt Disney, and the two activities were a flipbook animation and a claymation activity,” she says. “Our inventor box this month was Harry Houdini, so the kids learned magic tricks.”

“Our Sports Hero box was Jesse Owens,” Wiedmann adds. “Part of the point of [it] is, with everybody stuck in the house, to get kids active [with] jump rope and stopwatch activities.”

If parents don’t want to subscribe, there is a one-time purchase of the “Summer Camp in a Box” that comes with five different bundles of inspirational figures, themed learning and activities for $124.95.

“My background is education. As a parent, [I wanted to] introduce our kids, as well as other kids, to inspirational role models. Each box talks about the different traits that these role models have to make them successful,” Wiedmann says. “We wanted to introduce kids to not only the role models, but the traits that helped them follow their passion and make a difference in the world.”

How you America support your business: Wonder Crate subscription boxes and one-time bundles can be ordered from the website and can be shipped nationally.

Keba Konte of Red Bay Coffee

Business: Specialty coffee roaster and shop

Keba Konte has his career as a visual artist to thank for his entry into the coffee business. “I bought a cafe in Berkeley, California, in order to showcase my artwork,” he tells “Good Morning America.” “It was sort of a gallery and coffee shop.”

But as he learned more about coffee, he “became obsessed with it,” and found that the pursuit of the perfect blend complemented the international travel he was doing as an artist and photojournalist.

Years later, he launched Red Bay Coffee. “We are one of the premier black-owned coffee companies in the United States,” he says. “There’s really just a handful that have established cafes and coffee shops, but very few who actually import and roast our own coffee.”

“Our key differentiator,” he adds, “is that we have a social mission to make coffee, and specialty coffee in particular, more inclusive and accessible to more people.”

His staff is diverse, and includes women in top-level positions, and people who have been incarcerated and people with disabilities, all of whom Konte says are traditionally left out of the specialty coffee industry.

“Our slogan at Red Bay coffee is ‘Beautiful coffee to the people,’” he says, noting the aesthetically beautiful latte art, handcrafted ceramics, and the red cherries that grow in the forests of Ethiopia and Colombia that become coffee beans. Another beautiful aspect is that it’s a certified B Corporation, which, as Konte describes, means that the business “balances purpose and profit,” and commits to practices that take into consideration impacts on the environment, the community and more.

“Beautiful also means … that no one is being exploited, that we’re paying people in our entire value stream a living wage,” he adds.

Red Bay Coffee embraces being in Oakland, California, by featuring vibrant art and performance space, celebrating activism — Oakland is where the Black Panther Party was formed — and serving the tech sector that’s found throughout the Bay Area.

In fact, businesses within that industry were among those who served Red Bay Coffee offerings in their offices before COVID-19 drove many to work from home.

But then, Konte’s e-commerce started to take off, as fans began placing orders so they could roast java at home. And, prior to the coronavirus outbreak, Konte had invested in a “small fleet,” which includes a Mercedes Sprinter van that’s a full-service espresso bar, allowing Red Bay Coffee to commute around the region to reach customers.

“Our business is a very dynamic creature,” Konte says. “We have multiple channels, and as some channels came to a screeching halt, other channels rose to the occasion.”

How can America support your business: Konte says to ask for Red Bay Coffee at your local market, your office or at hotels you stay at, and encourage them to carry it if they don’t already. You can also visit the website and use the code “GMA10” for an exclusive discount. Signing up for its subscription service, or giving a gift card to a friend or family member also helps, and Konte appreciates reviews and videos of fans making the coffee, and tagging Red Bay Coffee on social media.

Dionna Dorsey of District of Clothing

Business: Designer and store owner

Dionna Dorsey’s love for design started as a child with the use of coloring books. That passion has since led her toward entrepreneurial pursuits where she uses simplicity, consistency and inspiring design to support clients in their brand development.

Her unique talents also made way for the creation of her lifestyle brand called District of Clothing, which carries items that inspire action and support self-love.

“District triumphantly embraces the creative, entrepreneurial and community dreamer/doer spirit blossoming throughout the nation,” Dorsey told “GMA.” “It purposefully intends to help spread our message across as many districts as possible.”

During the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March, Dorsey noticed an immediate decrease in client communication and requests from her design business. In an attempt to remain productive and find peace in the midst of the chaos, she pivoted toward being more productive with District of Clothing. “The results have been phenomenal,” she says.

Though she’s faced challenges such as finding mental clarity, fatigue and feelings of doubt, she’s thankful for existing partnerships with companies such as Printful that have allowed her to continue accepting and fulfilling online orders through print-on-demand technology.

And while this is an unusual time for many business owners, Dorsey’s “pandemic pivot” has led her to improve her website, inform customers along the way that orders may be slower to process as its fulfillment company has taken steps to keep staff healthy and safe.

And the brand has seen success from the creation of items inspired by themes reflective of current times, including messages such as “Work From Home” in addition to releasing a “Common Purpose”-inspired collection.

“I was initially planning to release in August or September as a way to encourage people to vote in the 2020 American presidential election, but it occurred to me that there’s no time like now to have a common purpose when we’re only going to get through this pandemic together,” said Dorsey. A portion of proceeds from the Common Purpose collection are donated toward COVID-19 relief, specifically to World Central Kitchen.

Dorsey has also considerably increased Facebook ad buys to attract more customers.

How can America support your business: “Join our community of dreamers, doers and changemakers,” says Dorsey. “Follow us on Instagram, join our email list and, of course, online purchases from are most appreciated.”

Bobby Bournias of Brownstone Pancake Factory

Business: Restaurant with “brunch in a box” and carhop service

One New Jersey-based restaurant is bringing the past to present and your favorite meal to your doorstep.

Bobby Bournias, owner of Brownstone Pancake Factory, used his restaurant’s 1950s-diner nostalgic feel and the internet popularity of its over-the-top food items to pivot amid coronavirus. With three locations across New Jersey but based out of Englewood Cliffs, Bournias has since started running a carhop service on location and started shipping a “Brownstone Brunch Box” nationally.

It’s no secret that restaurants have been hurt during the pandemic, but Bournias said he kept positive and welcomed the creative challenge.

“These last few months have been, and I know this is going to sound crazy, but actually fun. It really got me to sort of think outside the box, and reinvent myself and almost start a new business, because that’s what it feels like,” said Bournias.

Filled with an assortment of pre-cooked pancakes, waffles and brunch toppings, the Brownstone Brunch Box was released in early May and the restaurant has since sold close to 1,200, according to Bournias. Boxes can be picked up curbside for $59.95 or shipped nationally for $95 with shipping included.

For those close to Englewood Cliffs, Brownstone Pancake Factory has started a fun, social-distancing safe carhop service that the whole family can enjoy.

“This past weekend was our fourth weekend … We bought the carhop trays, we have some music outside, we have roller-skate people outside, and it’s been amazing. We sell out every weekend … it’s like out of the movies,” said Bournias.

Bournias says he’s going to complete the nostalgic fun feel with a drive-in movie theater experience on Thursdays and Fridays.

How can America support your business: By purchasing a DIY Brownstone Brunch Box directly on the website or visiting any New Jersey locations for curbside pick-up or carhop dine-in, Bournias said. The Brownstone Brunch Box “was an opportunity for us to create an amazing customer base and respect from our patrons … We’ve always had this mantra of not just being about food, but it’s about being an experience. We want people to enjoy themselves here because it’s a fun and exciting place to be,” said Bournias.

Amanda O’Brien of Eighteen Twenty Wines

Business: Rhubarb-based winery and distributor

Since 2015, Amanda O’Brien has not only been selling rhubarb-based wine through her Eighteen Twenty Wines, but she’s also been trying to sell some consumers on the idea.

“We sell at one glass at a time,” she says. “[To some,] it doesn’t sound good, and I know that, so when people do try it, they’re like, oh, it actually tastes good.”

To get to that point, O’Brien engages with visitors in the tasting room at her Portland, Maine, winery. She says since rhubarb grows well in the state and because of rhubarb’s past history as being an ingredient in wine, it makes sense to use it as a base, supporting local farmers in the process.

“People don’t have to believe me, but it really tastes like a rose or a kind of pinot grigio type of wine,” she said, adding that Eighteen Twenty Wines go great with fatty or spicy foods, and fatty cheeses.

“We also use it a lot for making spritzers,” she said. “So you take rhubarb wine and add soda water and a little bit of juice to make a really refreshing porch cocktail.”

Things for O’Brien changed dramatically amid coronavirus restrictions, as the tasting room — the primary driver of business — had to shut down. There was also another issue.

“We self-distribute to stores and restaurants in the area and those channels are also very different. Restaurants are closed,” she said.

Thankfully, wine and liquor stores have been thriving during the pandemic, “so we do still have a market, but it’s not it’s not the same market we are used to selling to,” O’Brien added.

Eighteen Twenty Wines — named after the year Maine became a state — also teamed up with some other local businesses to offer something fun for customers. O’Brien sells Mill Cove Baking Co.’s handmade crackers at the winery, and the two joined forces with nearby eatery The Cheese Shop to create themed wine, cheese and cracker sets that are available for pickup and delivery.

“People are buying them for their friends,” O’Brien said, noting a group of women who hopped on a Zoom call to do a virtual tasting party with their packages.

How can America support your business: “Check out our website and try a bottle of wine or send one as a gift to someone else that you think should try it,” O’Brien said. She also encourages people to join Eighteen Twenty Wines’ wine club.

Darian Hall & Elisa Shankle of HealHaus

Business: Holistic cafe and wellness company

Darian Hall, who previously worked in the medical field, and Elisa Shankle, who was an interior design entrepreneur, both experienced what they say were enlightening and monumental shifts in their lives related to loss, reuniting with family and learning to cope with anxiety and trauma.

All of this led to the birth of HealHaus, the duo’s holistic cafe and wellness company in Brooklyn, New York, that was founded with the goal of making healing and wellness services accessible to a diverse group of people.

This includes such areas as yoga, meditation, psychotherapy and more. Its cafe also keeps wellness in mind, serving teas, smoothies, elixirs and vegan and gluten-free baked goods.

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, HealHaus was forced to temporarily close and lay off employees.

“This is an extremely tough time now for people in the country and like every other small business, we have been impacted by it,” Hall told “GMA.”

To creatively adapt during these trying times, Hall and Shankle have moved all of their class offerings, workshops and programming online. The business is also offering a digital membership for yoga and meditation classes, practices that they say are especially healing for people of color, who may be more aware than ever about taking care of their mental health.

How can America support your business: Follow HealHaus online and through social media, and consider “purchasing digital and studio memberships,” Hall said.

Jordan Dollard of Esther and Elsa & Front Porch Sundays’ Market in a Box

Business: Curated boxes featuring local goods

Although they’re all about “shopping small,” this events team is making a big impact for local businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jordan Dollard, owner of a small events company, has helped to pivot a local market, known as Front Porch Sundays, into a curated box of goods, all in the pursuit of highlighting the 70 local vendors that sells goods at the seasonal market. Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, the boxes can be shipped nationally.

It’s no secret that small businesses have been hurt during the pandemic and Dollard said she came up with this idea to help her local vendors.

“[Small businesses] truly rely on this [market] to be able to pay their bills and to be able to support their family. Whether it be with [Market in a Box] or somebody else, just shop local,” said Dollard.

Filled with an assortment of treats, it’s easy to find a box for your favorite snackers, for birthday celebrations or for your dad, as Father’s Day is coming up. Shipped nationally, prices of boxes range from $35 to $77, plus $5 shipping.

Established in 2015, Front Porch Sundays has grown into Charlotte’s largest open-air market and typically hosts around 4,000 people in five hours of operation, said Dollard. Generally, the market runs from April through December, but is now looking at abbreviated months and smaller capacity in order to operate safely. During reopening, for those still uncomfortable with public spaces, Dollard says the box can be the solution.

Market in a Box is serving both its customers and local businesses, Dollard said. “They can’t shop in person anymore. They can’t do things to make their loved one feel special. And so we’ve made sure that [they] gets the full experience.”

How you can support the business: You can purchase a Market in a Box gift directly on its website. “You can shop with us, of course, that’s always appreciated, but a lot of people have been asking that question and we’re here to support local businesses, and we just ask that America continue to put the dollars into a locally owned company,” said Dollard.

Do you have a small business that has been impacted by the coronavirus that you’ve adapted to stay afloat? Tell us how America can support your business here.

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