Editor's note: In early March, Inc. reported on how several small companies across the U.S. were preparing for disruptions related to the coronavirus outbreak. Here's an update on the steps they're taking to respond to the rapidly changing business environment.
Wonderffle: Shifting from sales to marketing
Mike Bradford, Pflugerville, Texas-based Wonderffle's founder and sole employee, is almost completely sold out of every line of his company's stuffed-waffle irons. He has just 100 units left, and he doesn't expect replenishments from his China-based manufacturers until June. Without much to sell, he's been getting creative:
Bradford has shifted his focus from sales to marketing, crafting videos and blog posts to showcase recipes that use his products, as well as sponsoring and participating in virtual community events for foodies on Instagram and other platforms. The moves stem from his concern about maintaining sales once the crisis passes. "When this thing blows over, luxury products like mine are not going to be in as much demand," he says. "People are losing their jobs. I'm trying to attract restaurants to the product, and one of the hardest-hit industries has been the restaurant and hospitality industry."
Last month, Bradford dropped his budget for a prototype of a new product line from $15,000 to $8,000. Since then, he's found a way to spread some of those costs out over time, which he expects will allow him to complete the prototype by late April for an initial cost of $6,000.
Cool Beauty Consulting/Nova Salon: Staying in front of customers
Two weeks ago, Bennie Pollard was forced to lay off the entire staff at his Louisville-based wholesale beauty products company and two salon locations. Now, he's optimistic that a small-business loan from the U.S. government's $2 trillion stimulus package could help him rehire some of his employees, though he hasn't yet decided for certain to apply. He's still going into Cool Beauty Consulting's office daily for strategic planning, which now includes an increased emphasis on content creation.
Pollard is concerned that some of the lost business may not return. Wary that selling gift cards to make some immediate revenue could cause cash flow problems later, his plan instead is "to be as visible to our customer base as possible" until he can reopen his doors. That includes filming and posting inspirational videos on Facebook, conducting live interviews with vendors and top customers, and hosting virtual contests for the salon's clients.
PMsquare: Helping struggling clients
All 33 employees at the Oak Grove, Illinois-based data and analytics firm are now working remotely, on the heels of their state's recent shelter-in-place order. "Working from home is going as well as we can hope," says managing partner Dustin Adkison, noting with some chagrin that his three young sons make more noise at home than he's used to in the office. His business, he says, is doing fine: Its clients are reporting a more urgent need for data and analytics during the coronavirus crisis. However, many of them are struggling financially, prompting the following policies:
PMsquare has launched a long-planned program: an online Genius Bar, where anyone can sign up for a free 15-minute or 30-minute consulting window with one of the company's analysts. Adkison also says his firm is upping the amount of free content it can provide, primarily through weekly livestreams aimed at helping clients better understand how their dashboards work.
Adkison is looking into the possibility of a small-business loan from the stimulus package to help cover the expense of the company's recently instituted sick leave and family leave policies. "Between that and not having taken a huge hit yet, it feels like we're going to be OK," he says.
The company is continuing its efforts to analyze coronavirus-related data for the public and display its findings online but Adkison still hesitates to project specific crisis timelines. "It's hard to tell," he says. "There are good indications that things can get back to normal quickly if we are able to successfully contain the spread."