As states start to reopen across the country, businesses that were shuttered are once again opening their doors. However, it’s a new world for many of these locations. From regulations on occupancy to updated safety measures, owners will need to shift to meet the demands of the current marketplace when reopening small businesses.
Essential businesses that stayed open throughout the pandemic had to adjust in real-time, and their experiences can help others know what to expect from consumers when it comes to their new behavior, needs and buying habits. In some cases, essential businesses had to pivot their focus and adapt to the needs brought on by COVID-19. We asked three essential business owners for their advice and guidelines for reopening.
1. Make Customers Feel Comfortable
Many Americans aren’t ready to resume many of their regular pre-pandemic activities, according to an AP/NORC poll. As a result, businesses need to be transparent about safety procedures and change how they interact with customers.
The national delivery service provider GoShare immediately updated its website to share its safety procedures with customers and added a new form of delivery.
“We were quick to communicate with customers what steps we were taking,” says GoShare founder Shaun Savage. “Since we deliver large items, contactless delivery was new. We normally go into a home or job site. Now we give customers the ability to have items dropped off at the front door, garage, or entry to a job site.”
David Drab, founder of Strong Wall Construction in White Marsh, Maryland, changed some of the company’s business procedures. “Where we commonly would have shaken their hand and engaged in pleasantries within an arm’s distance to develop familiarity with them, we’ve adapted to avoid all contact and have in-person exposure be focused on the task at hand,” Drab says.
As one of the important guidelines for reopening, Drab recommends taking maximum advantage of technologies you already have on your phone — like email and text messaging — to help maintain social distancing. Rather than meeting in person, he has been using video conferencing on his smartphone to book jobs and learn the scope of projects.
2. Train and Protect Your Workforce
Employers also need to keep the workforce safe and healthy, with personal protective equipment (PPE), and additional safety procedures. Drab made it his job to stay abreast of CDC recommendations and updates, instructing his team to follow the guidelines while on-site at customer homes and businesses.
“We spent a lot of time training our staff on new health and safety measures along with getting everyone PPE, which included masks, sanitation solutions, and new distancing measures for our crews and customers,” Drab says.
Necessary precautions can be costly, but with a little creativity, PPE can help show your business’s commitment to safe operations. For example, Savage ordered thousands of GoShare-branded face masks and mailed them to his employees and independent contractors. While it was a large, unexpected expense, he says it was ultimately an investment in everyone’s safety.
3. Find Ways to Stay Relevant
With many Americans working from home, it makes sense that the need for dry-cleaning services for workplace attire decreased. Raymond Andriassian, the owner of Raymond’s Cleaners in Los Angeles, saw a decline in clothing orders, but another aspect of his business grew. Raymond’s is the only dry cleaner in the area that has a sheet mangle, which is machinery used to press bedding, sheets, and table covers after being washed.
“We have been servicing many homes throughout LA that are sanitizing and cleaning their bedding and home items more than normal,” Andriassian says. “We also continue our convenient pickup and delivery laundry solutions. So although we had a major decline of regular day to day clothing orders, we’ve been able to maintain.”
Raymond’s Cleaners also partnered with The Cotton Mask Co. “We put a sign outside and got tons of foot traffic,” Andriassian says. “They’re unique in the way they’re made — it folds around the neck and drops down like a necklace when you no longer want to have them on — so many people liked these and came back for more. We were really happy to be able to support the community in this way.”
Andriassian recommends marketing the areas of your business that are still in demand while innovating and using your resources to help where you can. Doing so shows customers that you’re invested in the community and helps build brand loyalty.
“By being there when times are hard and continuing the same flow of business, customers can continue to trust not only the quality of our services but the family and team behind the work,” he says.
4. Address Supply Chain Challenges
You may find that it’s more difficult to get the supplies and products you need for reopening small businesses. Some vendors have run out of items that were essential during the pandemic, such as hand sanitizer or cleaning products. You may also find that items are taking longer to be shipped and delivered to you. Check in with your current vendors to see if your needs will be impacted. You may need to find alternative sources for items.
“Our distributor was definitely slower to get orders out, as they had to lay off a lot of their staff, unfortunately,” says Drab. “They were behind and that meant our jobs were delayed in getting materials.”
Such setbacks can make scheduled project timeframes collapse like dominoes. To manage this disturbance, Drab was transparent with customers, informing them of the delays, explaining the circumstances, and revising work plans and timelines.
“Fortunately, people expected delays and for things to not be normal during COVID and we found that most were very understanding,” he says. “Now that things are back to normal, we are just working overtime to get everyone back on schedule and get completion dates at the deadline or as close to originally intended as possible.”
5. Take Advantage of Financial Resources
For many of these companies, business dropped off virtually overnight. But Savage is optimistic about how it has come back. “At first the economy just completely shut down and it impacted us greatly, particularly on the retail front,” he says. “A lot of our best clients and partners are brick-and-mortar and use us for last-mile delivery and our revenue plummeted. Now we’re seeing a V-shaped recovery. Business fell off for four weeks, but we’re slowly climbing out of the deep hole.”
Having access to funding can help you make changes or get through a slowdown in revenue when preparing for reopening small businesses. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), for example, is a law put into place that makes low-interest loans available for business owners who need help for surviving the economic fallout of the pandemic. You can apply for funding through your business bank, credit union or approved Small Business Administration (SBA) lender.
Savage accepted a PPP loan and says he’s looking into an Economic Injury Disaster Loan from the SBA. “I would recommend businesses look into these options,” he says. While investigating financing options, you may also want to consider taking out a small business loan or line of credit in the interim. Doing so can help you make the updates needed to meet safety regulations and purchase equipment for your employees so you can open quickly and responsibly.