Building a Sustainable Economy

It is a buyer’s market. With the ways of doing business in upheaval, and many spaces still shuttered to casual foot traffic, entrepreneurs are figuring out how to meet new needs. Knowing what customers want — mandatory face masks? curbside pickup? virtual events? — is key, and a reminder to consumers that their needs matter.

In conversations with small business advisers, we learned how entrepreneurs can best navigate the testing grounds of these times for the long term. (See first in a series of stories here.)

Minnesota Women’s Press also asked some of our advertisers how the relationship is shifting between local entrepreneurs and the neighbors they are attuned to serving. 

Impact on Local Business

Most of the entrepreneurs that responded to our survey report that they have lost more than 25 percent of their revenue because of the pandemic. Nearly 62 percent are not sure they will get back to normal business. 

On the other hand, some reported that the current normal is not necessarily a bad thing. A psychotherapist now provides telehealth sessions that have “gone better than I expected” and might continue that option after returning to the office.

A bookstore owner is doing house visits to buy books, with some sales through curbside pickup with limits to five people in the store for appointment purchases. It is not ideal, she reported, but “has been gratifying to hear from customers that they miss browsing and are concerned about our future. We have sold many gift certificates that have yet to be redeemed, which we take as a vote of support.”

A store owner is doing more with social media and exterior signage that has resulted in repeat business. 

A restaurant owner’s takeout business increased after the pandemic, “but we have struggled to make delivery work for us, in cost, presentation, and packaging.” They are experimenting with make-at-home items.

A bicycle store that specializes in repairing and selling used bikes lost out during prime riding season because of its new required appointment-only service. It dropped its sales of used parts because it requires clientele to dig through bins, which is unsanitary. Sales of used bikes have been strong, but they miss interacting with volunteers who repair bikes for giveaways. One of them lost his spouse to the coronavirus, “so we take the virus very seriously.”

Many report that what they most miss is seeing clients in person: “Our shop is built for aimless wandering and browsing, not in-and-out shopping for a particular thing. Mail order sales are a necessity to stay alive, but not why we got into this business.” “We greatly miss the casual interaction with the kids who visit the store. Shopping now feels rushed and stressful with little time to talk to people.”

Another says she likes Zoom as a new tool, but “I really dislike the masks. I don’t recognize people and I can’t hear them.” A house cleaner continues to do a brisk business with protections in place, but “I do miss handshakes and other non-verbal communication that cements trust.”

An attorney is doing meetings and court hearings by phone and Zoom. Seeing the body language of clients and opposing attorney is vital, and not accessible remotely. 

One indicated that the current model is mentally exhausting, but believes it is better for their business because being “comfortable means we are not growing.”

How Customers Can Help

The best ways to help small businesses rebound, suggested one, is to “harass government leaders until they implement real solutions, including making sure all treatment is free so we can take the steps they have in other countries. If you are shopping from Amazon, take a minute to see if you can order from the seller directly. Google their name, see if they have a website or phone number. [Jeff] Bezos doesn’t need your money right now.”

Another asks customers to “recognize that small business owners strive to survive. One of the biggest advantages we have over large multi-location body shops is the ability to provide more personable, hands-on customer service.”

One pointed out, however, that customers are adapting so quickly to online convenience that they have unrealistic expectations of small business service providers. 

The most common comment about how the relationship can best work together: “Please wear your face mask.”

One urged customers to realize that “each time a customer is a no-show, it prevents us from earning any revenue from that time slot and prevents us from serving customers we had to turn away. Please don’t request exceptions to procedures.”

Said another, “If anything, this pandemic and the unrest have taught us how much we miss our local businesses when they have to close. Consumers need to invest in neighborhood economies so that food desserts and basic supplies don’t leave so many people struggling. Building resiliency at a local level also has the added benefit of bringing neighbors and community members together in stronger ways.”

Minnesota Women’s Press has been a vehicle for small business owners for more than 35 years. If there are questions or comments you would like to share about your own experiences as a business owner, please use the comments section below. Let us know if you would like us to make the comment public or not.