Surviving the pandemic

Small businesses can survive — and even thrive — in this time of crisis

The speed and severity with which the COVID-19 crisis struck has ushered in the most challenging business environment since the Great Depression. Small, local businesses — and especially restaurants and retailers — have been among the hardest hit.

Yet, in my business and in talks with entrepreneurs around the country, I’m seeing that creativity, connection and community can put businesses back on track. The ingenuity and sheer determination of so many small business owners is inspiring.

Here are some tips about what’s working now for other businesses.

Go back to basics

It’s Marketing 101 to know your customers, understand what they need and deliver it. How do you keep your customers happy in the new normal? Talk to them. Then get creative about meeting their needs.

When eat-in business dried up, some restaurants pivoted to curbside pickup and delivery. Other saw that families were longing for an option to the daily grind of home cooking, so they packaged take-home meals for families of four. One local restaurant tour operator became a unique meal-delivery service.

Work with your local officials

They need small businesses like yours to maintain their tax base and provide local employment. In fact, small businesses provide nearly half the nation’s jobs.

For example, drive-thru service has become vital to survival for cafes and coffee shops. Crimson Cup’s Upper Arlington coffee house lacked a drive-thru, so we approached city officials about mapping one out in the parking lot. They were receptive, and we’re now serving more coffee drinks than ever before.

And Cincinnati has allowed some cafes to expand sidewalk service to help make up for restrictions on inside seating.

Rethink the customer journey

Small bricks-and-mortar retailers are taking their inventory online or offering virtual shopping appointments, curbside pickup, delivery and other services.

Even if you choose not to delve into e-commerce, you can still showcase merchandise on your website and social media profiles. Especially for high-end wares such as furniture, clothing and jewelry, allowing consumers to pre-shop your store can be the first step to getting them in your store.

Customers are also asking for contact-free ways to order and purchase. In response, Crimson Cup and other restaurants have launched their own apps or signed up with third-party delivery services.

Connect with your community

People are rallying around small businesses. They want you to succeed.

Work with other small business owners, your chamber of commerce and convention and visitors bureaus to find solutions to common problems, support one another and create unique offers and events.

For example, a local business partnership recently held a Summer Cocktail virtual event with a member restaurant. Participants purchased a cocktail kit from the restaurant or used their own ingredients, then tuned in for a free virtual demonstration of how to make the cocktails.

I’ve been in business 29 years and have the scars to prove it. Even when conditions are terrible, it doesn’t mean your business has to be. In many cases there are solutions to your challenges.

In all cases, I wish the best to people who start their own businesses. You are the American dream. Keep dreaming.

Greg Ubert is founder and president of Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea