It's located just four miles from the retail and corporate epicenter of New York City, but the place where I live--Hoboken--gets its color and character from the multitude of small businesses that line our streets and play an active and essential role within our community. Residents and business owners depend heavily upon one another; the goods and services sold here generate revenue that goes right back into our local economy.
And so it wasn't totally a surprise, but still a deep shock to our entire system, when our mayor, Ravi Bhalla, was among the first in America to shut the doors of all of our non-essential businesses, both large and small, to keep us safe from the health crisis that was at our doorstep.
In the weeks that followed, what amazed me wasn't just the outpouring of support from our neighbors, but the determination and ingenuity displayed on the part of our local business owners. Most doors may have been closed, but they continued to do what they did best: engaging with customers and finding creative ways to fulfill their needs.
As a local founder and owner affected by the current crisis, here's what I learned from my neighbors--and things you can do to keep your own business growing in the months ahead.
Repackage Your Product
With city parks and playgrounds off limits for a while, parents were struggling to figure out how to keep their little ones engaged and active. Pizza joint Tony Boloney's began selling pizza-making kits (which could be delivered locally or shipped regionally) and offering live classes on Instagram every Sunday night. Proceeds from each kit help pay staff salaries and send a large cheese pizza to frontline health care workers.
Local bakery Sugarsuckle pivoted from fine cakes and decorating classes to delivering kid-friendly cookie- and cake-pop-making kits, while art studio Luna De Papel began sending home DIY craft projects with every supply included.
As these businesses did, determine how to package up the spirit of your business and share it with your customers -- bonus points if you can support the at-home experience with a live (and complementary) experience available on your site, or by means of social media or teleconferencing. If you have an idea, try it. We don't have the luxury of waiting for perfection during a pandemic.
Adapt to Your Customers Needs
Three years ago, ISO Style co-founders Jess Someck and Lauren Russell bet that a social-only storefront could become the future of retail. Now that their customer base is staying at home--and spending 20 percent more time on apps--the brand says it's not merely weathering the storm, but actually experiencing growth.
That's because Someck and Russell were able to pivot almost immediately as their customers' needs and lifestyles changed. Rather than posting outfits for date nights, girls' weekends, and summer events (which typically they do on Instagram three times per week), the team leveraged vendor relationships to quickly source more chic-yet-cozy pieces from popular brands. These Zoom- and living room-friendly looks have been selling out and the business is now tapping a distribution center to help them meet the demand.
If your customers and followers are spending more time on social (and they very likely are), engage with them to find out what they really need right now. Then tap all of the newly available tools to make it easier for them to get those products and services -- while simultaneously supporting your business.
Requirements around social distancing meant photographers could no longer do studio or in-home shoots--and in just a few days, all paid bookings had vanished. Still, family and lifestyle photographer Kim Lorraine Gerlach (Kim Lorraine Photography) wanted to use her lens to capture this unprecedented time in the lives of households and her community.
With the encouragement of a friend and support of the mayor's office, she launched a division of the nationwide effort the Front Steps Project. Together with a team of two other photographers, Gerlach used a telephoto lens to capture images of more than 300 families from a safe distance. In the weeks since she's been involved in the Front Steps Project, she says awareness for her business has grown considerably--which will be important for future bookings, and her company's success, once things open up again.
Consider using your skills or materials you can source through your company for the greater good. Beyond showing your customers that you care about a specific cause, you'll expand your network--essential for getting back up and running again at full capacity.