Rising Strong. how small businesses are getting scrappy to adapt to the pandemic

Rising Strong: Small Businesses are Getting Scrappy to Adapt to the Pandemic

Lela Barker

We’ve been consuming an extraordinary amount of input and sharing a lot of resources as of late around all things COVID-19. Sprinkled amongst the barrage of bad news that I unleash when I open my internet browser each morning, I’ve found some promising rays of light. I’ve found my heart gravitating towards stories about small businesses who are taking the gloves off and getting extra scrappy to adapt to the pandemic.  The moxie they’re showing is making me hella proud to be an entrepreneur, and the creative strategies they’re applying in challenging times are giving me fantastic food for thought.

I wanted to share a few of my favorites with you- perhaps these small business stories will be a salve for your weary heart.

Encouraging words from Seth Godin to help you adapt your small business to the  pandemic.

REIMAGINING DISTRIBUTION

When executive orders command us to close our doors, and tumbleweeds roll down Main Street, artisans must get creative to get products into the hands of shoppers in order to adapt to the pandemic. But there’s never been any shortage of creativity in our corner of the world, and some of the savviest small business owners we know are doing gymnastics to keep the cash register ringing.

SMALL BUSINESSES IN ACTION:

  • Kelley Taylor is a serial entrepreneur. She owns a farm, a luxury apothecary brand, a CBD brand, and a craft brewery, too. Kelley’s banded together with farmers and other local businesses in upstate New York to launch the Moxie Box. Their motto? “You need food, and farmers need support.” Shoppers will soon be able to build a custom box of farm-fresh goodies for delivery to their doorstep, and Kelley’s Land Craft Wellness CBD products will be among the available selections.  
  • One of my favorite local restaurants here in Atlanta is Canoe. Perched on the banks of the Chattahoochee River, Canoe offers delicious fine dining in a gorgeous setting. Takeout isn’t typically their gig. Though their doors are closed indefinitely at the moment, the crew has rallied to offer “Parking Lot Pickup from Canoe.”  They’re putting together hearty family meals complete with dessert. A few clicks on their website, and you can cruise through the parking lot to scoop delicious eats for the whole family.

PIVOTING TO E-COMMERCE

Many independent retailers have long maintained an anemic online presence, choosing instead to focus their energy on their brick + mortar shops. Caught flat-footed when this pandemic swept the nation, many are now scrambling to get e-commerce sites up and running. Even those who had an online presence are working quickly to expand their offerings. Farmers are hopping on the bandwagon too. This is one of the prime examples of how small businesses are looking to adapt to the pandemic.

Artisans who have traditionally relied on local shows and farmer’s markets to connect with their audience would be wise to launch an e-commerce site ASAP. We strongly recommend Shopify if you’re planning to keep your website alive after the pandemic. Square will suffice for a temporary, quick-and-dirty job.

SMALL BUSINESSES IN ACTION:

  • Three Porch Farms is a bio fueled, solar-powered flower farm in Georgia. They traditionally sell wholesale to the flower market, but those sales have tanked, and their farmer’s markets are now shuttered, too. They’ve built an online shop offering bouquets of mixed flowers and boxes of ranunculus- which have sold out lightning fast every time they’re restocked. I know firsthand- I stalked their site for two solid days for a box of ranunculus!
  • Berryville, VA retailer Modern Mercantile quickly launched an online shop in the face of the coronavirus outbreak. The owner was forced to close on March 18, but she made a quick pivot and opened her digital doors just four days later.

Encouraging words from James, Lane, Allen to help you adapt your small business to the  pandemic.

RALLYING YOUR COMMUNITY

I’ve loved watching small business owners summon the courage to open their hearts, sharing with their audience precisely how this quarantine is affecting them and how they are having to adapt their business to the pandemic. It’s been heartwarming to see the ensuing surge of support. Small businesses are naturally phenomenal storytellers, and we’re all wise to flex those muscles right now to build a deeper connection to our community.    

SMALL BUSINESSES IN ACTION:

  • King of Pops, Atlanta’s hometown artisan popsicle maker, put plans for their big tenth birthday celebration on hold in favor of focusing on multiple initiatives aimed at keeping the doors open. Among them: “Better Days To Come” tokens- buy them now, redeem them later for pops. They’ve also created a GoFundMe to raise money to keep their doors open and fund 10,000 pops for health care workers. They’re offering DIY popsicle kits, too.  Man, you can’t keep a good popsicle man down!
  • Danielle Vincent, the ringleader of Reno’s Outlaw Soaps– has taken to blogging daily, giving her audience a peek behind the curtain of running a small business amid a global pandemic. She’s always brilliant at rallying community, and she’s asking her people to subscribe to the company’s “Clean Getaway” subscription boxes to help get the company through this hard time. Freshly delivered soap, body wash, and cologne delivered without the hassle of reordering quals predictable monthly revenue for her company.  

CREATING PRODUCTS NEEDED FOR THE CRISIS

Entrepreneurs are nothing if not creative and nimble! Many micro-factories and home workshops have mastered the pivot in production to keep their doors open while pitching in to help fight the pandemic. Smaller teams and a penchant for strong leadership enable artisan brands to respond quickly to changes in the marketplace, and hundreds of brands have done just that.

SMALL BUSINESSES IN ACTION:

  • The LA apron factory founded by tenacious Ellen Bennett has switched things up to create a high-quality cloth face mask. Developed in collaboration with Dr. Cho, Chief of Staff at Shriner’s Hospital in Pasadena, Ca, Hedley & Bennett is cranking out more than 1,000 per day- and they donate one to frontline medical teams for every one purchased.
  • Based in Raleigh, North Carolina, Murphy’s typically creates natural mosquito repellent. They’ve adjusted their sails to create hand sanitizer, scoring a large order from the Navy in the process. Murphy’s has enough supplies on-hand to create 50,000 bottles. The Old Fourth Ward Distillery here in Atlanta has joined the effort, too.

Encouraging words from Maya Angelou to help you adapt your small business to the  pandemic.

WHAT SMALL BUSINESSES HAVE YOU BEEN ADMIRING?

These days can seem dark for the ventures we’ve poured our hearts and souls into. Acknowledging that small businesses are the backbone of America, it will be interesting to see what this country looks like as we emerge from the acute crisis. My hope is that there’s a renewed appreciation of scrappy, nimble entrepreneurs who double-down and hustled to make it work and adapt to the pandemic. Until then, please share any innovative strategies and pivots you observe in your own communities- the comments are open, and I’d love to hear from you.

And this reminder from the man who built Amazon from scratch, molding it to become one of the most pervasive, recognized brands on the planet feels especially apropos at the moment…

“We are stubborn on vision. We are flexible on details.”

– Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon


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About the Author

Lela Barker

Lela Barker hails from the deep-and-dirty south (ATL, represent!), where she spends her days helping makers and product designers navigate the pitfalls of product pricing, brand development, and wholesale strategy. She launched her apothecary brand in 2003 and bootstrapped the hell out of that little business to cultivate a portfolio of 1500+ stockists worldwide, generating $12million in revenue and establishing successful distributorships in the Middle East, EU, Scandinavia, and South Korea. Lela is the keeper of a well-worn passport and the maker of the finest lemon meringue pie you’ve ever put in your mouth.

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