In April 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom described impending plans to reopen the state of California for business — after weeks of shutdown due to the coronavirus — as a “dimmer switch.” Opening back up for business is not a lights-on approach. Rather, it’s a series of phases and measures meant to safely navigate businesses, and their customers, on the road to recovery throughout 2020.
What does the road to recovery look like for small businesses and their owners?
I was able to speak with three entrepreneurs across hard-hit industries to hear their stories and what the new normal looks like for their small business.
“It feels so good to serve my customers — mask to mask — again.”
Roberta Perry is the founder of skincare product line ScrubzBody Skin Care Products. A mother to three children, Perry realized her skin felt dry, itchy, and irritated and struggled to find the right exfoliating product that met her needs. Perry started making skincare products in 2005, researching botanical oils and exfoliants and creating combinations and test batches until she developed a winner. In 2006, Perry started ScrubzBody Skin Care Products alongside her late sister Michelle. The product line, made with all-natural ingredients, gave customers permission to pamper themselves.
The business eventually grew from Perry’s kitchen to a renovated garage and then to two storefronts in Bethpage, New York. Since 2017, ScrubzBody Skin Care Products has been based out of a storefront in Farmingdale, New York.
During the weeks spent in lockdown, Perry was able to return to her storefront. She worked alone in the space, shipping online packages and donating products to area hospitals. Working allowed Perry to figure out changes that needed to be made to the business — and there was a lot that needed to change.
“We sell body scrubs and lotions, so being a touchy-feely type of business meant we had to curtail those things,” Perry says.
Perry reviewed these strategies with her team of three, including a manager and production assistant. Instead of handing customers a scent tester, they now provide a little bit of scent in a paper cup. This allows customers to smell the scent and keep the cup afterwards. Scrub demos no longer have employees washing customers hands. Now, the customers wash their own hands while the ScrubzBody team holds the water.
Once Perry and her team discussed and agreed to new PPE implementations together, ScrubzBody was able to ease into reopening. The retail portion of the storefront now follows strict guidelines. All employees are required to wear masks or shields. Every customer entering the storefront must also wear a mask. A table by the front door includes extra masks and a bottle of hand sanitizer. Signs throughout the shop and on the front window detail where customers may go if several collectively arrive to the storefront at the same time. If a customer wants a product off the shelf, a member of the team gets it for them. The part of the ScrubzBody storefront that hosts parties has been curtailed until the fall.
Each evening, the retail portion of the store is sanitized. Perry has also slightly adjusted their hours of operation.
“We are now back to our regular schedule except we shaved an hour off the top of the day during the week,” Perry says. “Customers just don’t seem to be shopping until 7 PM anymore.”
So far, so good for the ScrubzBody reopening! Perry believes it’s likely they will do business this way until early 2021 at least. The changes made are easy for everyone to follow. Most importantly, they help keep customers safe.
“It feels so good to serve my customers again!” Perry says. “Online is great, but is nothing like face to face, or mask to mask, warmth that you get when they are in front of you.”
“Our company culture and identity allow us to thrive.”
Tucked in the Home Depot shopping center within the Carmel Mountain Ranch community of San Diego, California is a coffeehouse called Mostra Coffee.
Mostra is Italian for “show.” It may also mean “exhibition” or “performance.” This is the modus operandi of the Mostra Coffee team. Coffee is treated as a performance, from the quality of beans to the way their team roasts, brews, and serves customers. In choosing Mostra, customers choose the best performance which, in turn, provides the best of life.
Roast Magazine awarded Mostra Coffee with the 2020 Micro Roaster of the Year award. It’s an award that their team takes great pride in as they focus on serving their customers and reopening their storefront.
Sam Magtanong, co-owner at Mostra Coffee, says Mostra must stay in compliance with strict sanitation and cleaning protocols as a food-service operation and essential business. Magtanong notes that adjustments and additions to their operating plan have also been made based on current and changing public health orders — as well as common sense practices — to minimize and eliminate risk and safely operate for staff and customers.
PPE has been provided to the staff, with all staff and customers required to wear a mask. Hand sanitizer is available throughout the store. Kegs are used as visual markers to denote six feet of social distancing intervals in the space. There are plexiglass shields, contactless payment, and frequent sanitation and cleaning of common surfaces.
No more than five customers may be inside Mostra at the present time. Due to this safety guideline, in-house dining is currently not open at Mostra.
“We’ll reevaluate as the current situation improves,” Magtanong says.
However, Mostra Coffee now has a web-based ordering platform in addition to their mobile app. This allows customers to order online, and through their smartphones, for take-out pick-up and curbside, contactless parking lot express delivery.
“The development and release of mobile app platforms to continue encouraging contactless service while delivering our products with great customer service has been key during COVID-19,” Magtanong says.
He credits the right messaging and communication through traditional and social media platforms as key to Mostra’s success — as well as staff feedback implemented in the company’s rebranding efforts.
In an unprecedented time, Mostra have been able to thrive thanks to its strong identity and team. Magtanong notes that is a common characteristic within companies that have adapted in COVID-19. When leaders and employees share a sense of purpose and common culture, they know what the company stands for.
“Our identity has been an essential aspect of our company culture,” Magtanong says. “We continue to take the time to reinforce communication of our company purpose. We encourage and foster an environment wherein staff voices are being expressed and heard regarding any topic or subject impacting Mostra Coffee.”
“It has been a real challenge.”
Walter Solomon is the Vice President of STERLINGS Mobile Salon & Barber Co. which operates mobile salons out of Airstream trailers in Southern California. STERLINGS is headquartered in San Diego with an operational presence in Orange County.
How does a mobile salon work, exactly? According to Solomon, the company partners with office parks and private companies to park their Airstream trailer on site one day each week on a regular rotation. Booking and client contact is done online for appointments.
STERLINGS has been reopened for nearly a month. Companies in the salon industry are following rigorous reopening procedures and STERLINGS is no exception. All stylists and barbers wear masks, goggles, gloves, and aprons for every service. Clients must wear masks, take a contactless temperature reading, and screen questions before entering their salons.
During their visit, clients wear disposable capes. Certain services, including face shaves and face waxing, still may not be performed on clients. A 15-minute delay takes place after each service to give stylists enough time to thoroughly clean and wipe down their station, tools, and any public surfaces.
Solomon has felt the challenge with both employees and clients at STERLINGS. Some employees have been anxious to return and do the work they love. Others don’t yet feel comfortable returning to the salon and barber industry for health or personal reasons. It’s a similar challenge for clients. Some quickly returned for haircuts while others are choosing to wait it out.
The STERLINGS business model, which positions itself at the workplace, was once a supportive strength. Now, it is a challenge due to the number of employees working from home — and the prospect that some businesses that may implement remote work forever.
At the present time, STERLINGS has been able to modify its business model to park at a single, central location for five days a week instead of moving so frequently to different locations.
“In the end, we’ve been breaking even if not losing a little money while being open,” Solomon says. “But we feel it’s our duty to offer the opportunity for our clients to be able to get a service if they need it.”
While Solomon doesn’t see much of 2020 changing drastically for STERLINGS, he remains hopeful that some locations will come back from WFH and a softening of regulations will allow the company to offer its full range of services.
“All we can do is continue to remain flexible, lean, and stay in contact with our client base and showcase our efforts in minimizing exposure risk,” Solomon says.
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Funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.