As we all know, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on all of us, not excluding businesses. Daily routines, and business as usual, vanished overnight. We are all being impacted to varying degrees, and in different ways.
Recently, we were recently lamenting our “new normal” and discussing what we are seeing as small business owners/solopreneurs. We chatted about how businesses are treating clients, each other, and preparing for what is next. We have been intrigued (positively to negatively!) by what we have seen, by the true colors that become revealed during a time like this.
Early in the pandemic, there was a gym in Boston that famously and epically did it all wrong. They announced (long before other gyms indicated their own path forward) that gyms would close, and they would be charging monthly members during the shutdown. One might understand the need to pay rent and staff, but then it was leaked that they had also done a complete layoff of all staff and management, and would not be offering online options as so many others did. To add insult to injury, they also had major fights with members over fees, even though there is a clause in the membership contract that states that members may cancel their contract if there is a substantial change to the gym operations. In other instances, members reached out to freeze their account and the requests were ignored.
While we always want to assume good intent, this situation outlines a 101 course in how not to handle things. Perhaps learning from this unfortunate situation, other studios and gyms in the area handled things in a far more positive manner. A few examples:
- Many gyms are still charging a fee, but usually in conjunction with a reduced fee and/or some version of an online class schedule. Sean’s Cambridge gym, BodyScapes, immediately communicated to members that while the locations were closed, membership fees would be halted, and offered virtual 1:1 mini-packages with personal trainers and online virtual group classes.
- The Pilates studio that Cindy frequents, Boston Body, quickly moved to an all-online format with Pilates To Go. While acknowledging that they still have rent to cover and wish to pay instructors, they significantly reduced fees for members and non-members, expanded the number of classes, and are using this opportunity to test new classes and formats.
Beyond the gym, we started discussing others we have seen who are doing things right. From restaurants to retailers to nonprofits, some very inventive solutions and ideas have emerged, including:
Big Heart Hospitality, the umbrella organization behind Boston restaurants Sweet Cheeks Q, Tiger Mama, Fool’s Errand, and Orfano has a fund for furloughed kitchen staff through GoFundMe called #hospitalityneverstops. In addition, the restaurant group has prepared meals for local hospitals.
Creating New Partnerships
Basil Tree Catering Company in Cambridge, MA initiated a community partnership with the local non-profit Community Cooks to fundraise to cook and deliver meals to individuals and their families who are in quarantine due to COVID-19 and struggling with food insecurity.
Two Kennebunk, Maine small businesses, Minka Flowers and Bandaloop Restaurant teamed up for a Mother’s Day package which included a curbside dinner, flowers for Mom, with 20% of proceeds going to Kennebunk COS Community outreach serving neighbors in need.
Skin to Soul, a massage therapy studio in Woburn, MA that Sean frequents, totally impressed! Members were given the option of stopping their membership or continuing it while banking membership credits. Members were also offered that they could donate banked credits to a fund offering free future sessions to essential healthcare workers! Owner Nicole Russo additionally began offering daily stretching and meditation via social media as an outlet for much-needed stress release.
Revising Service Models
In Ogunquit, Maine, piano bar/restaurant The Front Porch moved its piano performers online. A few nights a week, performers do fun virtual performances via social media. The Front Porch added a walk-up window, and dinner delivery to surrounding towns, a first for them. Part of the proceeds provides meals to those in need.
Investing in the Future of Small Business
Sean and his friend Kristin Simmons ended up spring-boarding the Community Spirit Giving Certificate campaign which elevates the idea of a new age of consumerism during COVID-19. Supporting small business fronts during this time means consuming in an unusual way. The spirit of the campaign is for consumers to buy giving certificates (in essence a donation) to their favorite small store fronts, as a way of helping them float until they can open their doors back up again. What customers are doing is buying “the future” for storekeepers AND customers. Things may change into the future, but we can still do our parts to preserve the future we want to return to.
Moving Events Online
So many nonprofits across the country have moved events online, ranging from large-scale galas to speaker series to walks/runs. As an example, last week, the Dr. Susan Love Foundation held its 12th annual Walk With Love virtually with over 500 walkers in 34 states and 7 countries to raise support and awareness for breast cancer research.
Still others are moving events to later in the year. Cindy and Sean are both sponsors of BBsquared & Friends annual Art+SmallBiz for #BostonRacialEquity, which supports YW Boston’s annual #STANDAGAINSTRACISM campaign. The event would have been on May 14th, but the event’s partners are now re-figuring a virtual live streamed “STILL STANDING” anticipated during September 2020!
Now, more than ever, treating each other with kindness is what matters most, and it’s not just person-to-person kindness, but also business-to-business kindness, business-to-consumer kindness and consumer-to-business kindness. As we move through these tricky times and the return to what normal will be – and we use that term openly – do so with humanity and compassion. A few suggestions:
- Check in on your customers, just to check in!
- Check in on peers and even your competitors. We’re all in this together!
- Share resources within your networks. This is a wonderful time to refer business, find opportunities to collaborate, and share information that may help set each other up for success in the coming weeks and months
- For those who have been closed and are beginning to reopen, painting a picture of what re-opening may look like is nice for people to imagine. It will help remind others of why they love your product or service, despite how we get to consume.
Right now, the Maya Angelou quote is ringing so true for us: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Stay safe, stay healthy, and may your true colors support and inspire others!
-Sean Driscoll and Cindy Joyce
About BBsquared: We believe in the power of creative connectivity and collaborative partnerships. That’s why we provide provocative, progressive models that bring momentum to your inclusion and equality efforts. For more information, contact BBsquared’s Founder Sean Driscoll at [email protected]
About Pillar Search & HR Consulting: Pillar provides human resources consulting executive search/recruiting expertise for exceptional nonprofits and mission-driven organizations, working with senior leaders and boards of directors to find the very best talent across all functional areas of the organization. For more information, please contactPillar’s Founder Cindy Joyce at [email protected].