Lessons from other small businesses on how to survive through the pandemic
With consumers increasingly becoming interested in the diverse range of unique products available from small businesses, 2020 was on track to be a banner year. Flash forward to today, where nationwide, 7.5 million small companies are at risk of closing for good, according to a Main Street America study.
Despite the current uncertainty, many small businesses are getting creative with what they have and using these resources to pivot into new opportunities and markets. Shopify and Amazon are reporting record small business sales – which in turn is fueling entrepreneurs to engage GS1 US to obtain new U.P.C. barcodes. These are all key indicators that persistent small business owners are finding their own silver linings amid the turmoil of COVID-19.
Here are few lessons small businesses recently shared that have ultimately led to their survival during the pandemic.
Lori Stewart and her husband, Art, are veterans of the tradeshow industry, focused specifically on dental industry events. Their company, DCIManagement, usually makes tradeshow exhibits for about 50 shows a year. After COVID-19 spread throughout the country and more events were being canceled for safety reasons, the DCIM team discovered a way to pivot their business into a completely new product line and industry.
“One minute we were working on our growth strategy and about to hire more people and the next, we are thinking we might have to claim bankruptcy within a month,” said Stewart.
As the demand for partitions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in public places rose, the DCIM team worked quickly to launch a new product line--sneeze guards--that would use the materials previously used to construct tradeshow exhibits.
“We started to think “OK, how do we do this?” So, we researched how to get products setup for retail sales, including the use of U.P.C. barcodes for each product variation, and started selling immediately through our website and through major online marketplaces,” explained Stewart.
Due to the DCIM team’s nimble thinking and quick action at the beginning of the pandemic, the company’s sales grew, and their product offering has expanded to include signage and face shields. Stewart believes their partition business will continue to be in high demand for the foreseeable future.
“I believe everybody's going to be more conscientious of our health and being safe. So even after things improve with the current pandemic, we still think there will be demand for these structures for our safety.”
Shift Sales Channels
Silver Spring Foods, a horseradish and condiment company based in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, relied on the foodservice industry for about 20 percent of its business until mid-March.
“When shelter-in-place orders across the country closed restaurants and other foodservice operations, we moved quickly to expand online sales channels and increase retail capacity,” said Eric Rygg, president and CEO of the company.
Rygg and his team analyzed the shift in consumer behavior. As more food is consumed at home, there may be more stress on the home chef to enhance it with different flavors.
“Knowing that consumers would be looking for a way to make their meals more exciting and that our products go well with summer staples like burgers and brats, we saw a space for us in this pandemic, despite the uncertainty,” said Rygg.
Since March, Silver Spring Foods has seen an increase of almost 40% in the company’s retail sales. Moreover, e-commerce sales have dramatically increased since the pandemic started, growing at a whopping 130%. Continuing to find ways to shift, Rygg is eyeing meal kits too as a profitable way to support creative cooking at home, as the company provides smaller “portion-controlled” pouches, also used for foodservice delivery and curbside pickup.
“We have a lot of versatility in our manufacturing and see it as an opportunity to provide sauces, mayonnaises, marinades, horseradish, mustard and more to homebound consumers,” added Rygg.
Get the Word Out
Kris Maynard, a diabetic firefighter and EMT from Spokane, Washington, launched his company Glucose Revival, in June of last year. Well before the spread of COVID-19 began, Maynard had his own experience with hypoglycemia, which inspired him to launch wearable emergency glucose gel.
“There are 30 million Americans out there with diabetes,” said Maynard. “I feel like I’m working for all of them.”
Once Maynard learned about how COVID-19 could impact diabetics, he decided to do anything he could to get the word out about his product. He donated $80,000 worth of product to frontline healthcare workers while they fight COVID-19. As an EMT, Maynard has a particular understanding of the effects high stress can have on the human body. Plus, the healthcare community has supported the product as a cheaper alternative to the current treatment--Maynard’s product is a tenth of the price of the leading injectable prescription drug.
Since March, the company’s sales have increased, though Maynard is not as focused on profits as he is on giving back to those who are fighting COVID-19. He believes the pandemic has only created an opportunity to raise even greater awareness for diabetics that they can live an active, healthy life.
“According to my research, only 20% of diabetics in the U.S. have access to the injectable prescription drug, which means 80% of those 30 million diabetics have nothing to protect them from a low blood sugar emergency. There is potential to grow this business, but also to help people like me.”
Keep Moving Forward
Ultimately, these inspiring stories are all signs of the small business community’s resilience. In the face of uncertainty, these businesses were able to find opportunities to stay afloat, be resourceful, and act strategically to support their goals for the future.