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.
Pacific Manufacturing: Pivoting to mask-making
At the San Diego-based private-label sock manufacturer, founder and CEO Harold Robison has been doing everything he can to avoid layoffs. If present circumstances were to continue, he says, he'd miss his initial 2020 revenue projections by 25 percent and have to start cutting payroll after July. So, he's doing something about it: applying for a loan from the government's new $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program and pivoting to manufacture and sell protective masks.
Since production in industries like apparel is essentially shut down, Robison is fully pivoting Pacific Manufacturing to making masks for non-medical essential employees like grocery store staffers or construction workers. The non-medical designation lets Robison skip the Food and Drug Administration's regulatory process for imported masks, allowing his company to move quickly. The soft launch of its newest product occurred this past weekend--and Robison says that early sales were roughly double the $250,000-$300,000 per-month pace he expected.
Robison plans to make masks for roughly the next two months. He's setting price points that cut the company's typical profit margins in half, creating a donation program, and reaching out to local businesses that might need masks to gauge interest. The pivot also came with an unexpected side benefit: Robison says employee morale is up, with staffers energized by the new project.
Pacific Manufacturing applied for a paycheck protection loan of roughly $500,000, which Robison says would prevent layoffs unless the coronavirus crisis lasts into November. "It has to work out, so it's going to work out," he says.
Penguin Patch Holiday Shop/Vita Persona: Applying for a loan and navigating regulations
Business at Fort Worth-based Penguin Patch Holiday Shop, which provides materials for gift-selling events at schools, has stalled due to school closures nationwide. CEO Jennifer Randklev is hoping a paycheck protection loan can help prevent layoffs until schools reopen. (Randklev declined to specify the company's headcount.) She also has orders coming in for her newly launched business, Vita Persona, which makes protective masks for U.S. health workers. Here's the latest:
Randklev is working with a local lender, Southside Bank, to apply for a paycheck protection loan--for what she calls a "significant" sum of money--to help offset some of her lost revenue. "It allows me to keep all of my employees, and for me to ultimately be able to take a salary for my family," she says. "It probably covers a third of my lost revenue. We're going to be OK."
Vita Persona, Randklev says, is proving harder than expected to get off the ground. Chinese factories can create plenty of masks, but the FDA's import regulations are proving "pretty challenging" to navigate. Her next step: petition her local Congressional representative to help expedite the process.
Meanwhile, mask orders are starting to come in through word-of-mouth marketing. Randklev says one municipal government recently placed a $400,000 order with her, adding that because of the town's small size, its clinics, hospitals, and hospices haven't been able to secure protective equipment yet.
Cool Beauty Consulting/Nova Salon: Staying focused and staying in touch
Bennie Pollard is relentlessly optimistic, but even he admits that shutting down his Louisville-based salons and wholesale beauty products company has been a difficult, jarring transition. His first reaction was to stay busy--and visible to his client base--by creating online videos. Now, he's taking on new projects, including one meant to shed light on the struggles facing his industry nationwide:
On Friday, Pollard began collecting "client love stories" from salon owners across the country--moments when customers have requested to buy gift cards, pay for haircuts they aren't receiving, or otherwise support their hairdressers. He's still deciding how he'll share those stories.
Despite layoffs three weeks ago, Pollard says, the roughly 25-person Nova Salon team has been staying in touch with each other and crafting messages for the salon's regular customers. One project is a series of photos of staffers each holding up a sign featuring a different word, collectively telling customers "that we miss them, and we'll see them soon."
Pollard has begun studying photography, specifically as it relates to publicizing his salon's work. Two years ago, he wrote a book about his entrepreneurial journey. Now he's planning to update it with a chapter about the coronavirus crisis. "I'm engaging my mind as much as I can to see where I can take our business coming out of this," he says. "Being able to keep concentrating is paramount for all of us. It would be very easy to fall into a habit of procrastination and non-performance."
April 2, 2020: Can't Sell Products Anymore? Time to Grab a Webcam