“These are the times that test the souls of men.” This is what Thomas Paine said during the crisis of the American Revolution. The current economic crisis caused by the COVID pandemic is now straining the souls of American entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Certain industries suffer in general, such as restaurants and cinemas. At the same time, some individual restaurants are experiencing a boom as they quickly shifted to curbside collection, take-out and delivery, and ghost cooking restaurants (more on that in a minute). There is no doubt that there is an explosion in video streaming services. The collapse of one industry is the boom of another.
Home office furniture sales are at an all time high. According to Timberly Hall, owner of Jodac Office Outfitters in Longview, their sales have increased during the COVID pandemic. “There was more demand for contemporary desks and office chairs as people worked from home,” says Hall. “We also stored and sold a lot of sanitation products. When asked how they have succeeded where other small businesses have not, she replies, “We saw a need and we prepared for that need.”
The extermination services are becoming gangbusters. It seems that the bugs and the business don’t get mixed up anymore now that more and more people are working from home. Speaking of the effects of the COVID pandemic on his 13-year-old business, Daren Horten, owner of Gecko Pest Control in Marshall, says, “Pest control has been a vibrant and recession-resistant industry. As a core business, we stayed open during quarantine. The industry as a whole grew 10% in 2020. “My business has seen 20% sales growth in 2020 and a 17% increase so far in 2021.”
One of the reasons companies like Jodac and Gecko have survived and even thrived during the pandemic is because they are ready to innovate and change direction as market conditions change. More importantly, these businesses have focused on customer service and built a loyal customer base who will do whatever they can to help these businesses survive. Stellar Customer Service builds a strong community of followers who will support a business through tough times.
So the outlook is not all bad. But he must continue to improve. In the past year of containment and pandemic, American entrepreneurs have shown what they are known for, taking a bad situation and innovating around it. Restaurant owners are the perfect example. Some took him on the chin and quickly closed the shop, while others held him tenaciously and fired back.
One of the most innovative concepts that took off in the restaurant industry during the pandemic are virtual restaurants. Virtual restaurants, sometimes referred to as ghost kitchens, are restaurants that only offer curbside pickup or delivery with ordering made possible through digital apps and websites. While this concept is not new, it has become popular during the pandemic lockdown now that curbside delivery and pickup has become an exceptional way of life, even at high-end restaurants.
Virtual restaurants can be based on a shared kitchen with another company preparing the food. Or, a virtual restaurant can operate out of a commissary kitchen, a commercial kitchen where food service providers can store ingredients and prepare the food themselves. Commissioners’ kitchens are under construction in East Texas and are often used by catering truck companies for food preparation.
Some restaurants are now creating virtual restaurants from their own kitchens. This way a restaurant can create a whole new brand with a separate website and menu. For example, a local Italian restaurant might open a separate Tex Mex take-out restaurant and cook meals in an already established kitchen. Their skilled employees prepare food only for curbside pickup or delivery. In this way, restaurateurs leverage their resources while generating additional income streams from people who prefer Tex Mex to Italian. These are the types of innovations that are changing the industry.
To paraphrase Tom Paine, the summer entrepreneur and owner of a sunny small business will shrink in this time of the COVID crisis, but the truly innovators will survive and thrive when the economy recovers. Your local SBDC is here to help you do just that!
Day Shelmire is the director of UT Tyler-Longview SBDC, which covers Gregg, Harrison, Marion, Panola, Rusk and Upshur counties in East Texas. Entrepreneurs and small business owners can contact their local SBDC for advice on how to start, grow or repair their small business. Call (903) 757-5857 for an appointment with an experienced business advisor.