Small businesses find new strategies during COVID-19

Small business owners are learning to market and offer new services to stay afloat.

The interior of the restaurant Philly Style Pizza & Grill, located on Broad Street near Norris Street, has adjusted for the pandemic by encouraging distancing and removing indoor seating. | FERNANDO GAXIOLA / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Ninety-nine percent of businesses in the United States are small businesses with 500 employees or less, according to JP Morgan Chase, an investment banking firms. 

“They are the engine that keeps the country going,” said Donald Wargo, an economics professor. 

While retail and restaurant industries have suffered closures for the last 11 months of the pandemic, many surviving small businesses are rethinking their services or business models due to restrictions and capacity limits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Breanna Hitchens, a 2018 international business alumna, grew her vintage furniture refurbishing business, Re-URBAN-it, and began offering delivery services and curbside pickup, she said. She went from posting on her Instagram once per day pre-pandemic to now posting about 30 times per day, she added.

Online marketing plays a key role in how businesses stay afloat and attract new customers during the pandemic, Wargo said. Businesses reliant on face-to-face interactions may be permanently hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic if they don’t adapt by expanding operations online, he added.

Re-URBAN-it’s total profits doubled since the pandemic began, and Hitchens attributes that to her company’s online branding, she said.

“It’s not only about having the products online but putting your face behind it,” she added.  “It’s about being open with your customers because if they can’t come to you, then you have to go speak to them.”

She did this by increasing the amount of posts on her social media accounts and using Facebook to alert her customers to any changes in hours and operations, she said. 

While home, auto and professional service industries experienced a low rate of business closure during the pandemic, the restaurant and retail industries each suffered more than 30,000 business closures by Aug. 31, 2020, according to Yelp’s September 2020 local economic impact report

The food delivery market soared in the months after the pandemic began, according to JP Morgan Chase, but these gains often don’t cover the revenue restaurants lost from limited indoor dining, Wargo said.

“For most restaurants, it’s just not viable,” he added. “The lack of dining can cut their revenue in half, even if they lay people off, they still have all the overhead costs.”

Philly Style Pizza & Grill on Broad Street near Norris shifted toward delivery services like DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber Eats to make up for a 50 percent loss in sales, said Bryan Levash, manager of Philly Style. 

Delivery services might offer an opportunity to make up some sales, but it’s tricky once the food is out of Philly Style’s hands, he added.

“We went on those apps because our customers just like using them rather than them being better services,” Levash said. 

Philly Style closes at 10 p.m., instead of staying open late until 2:30 a.m., like pre-pandemic time. 

Levash is hopeful the COVID-19 vaccine will restore some normalcy to his business, he said.

Between 70 and 85 percent of the U.S. population needs to be vaccinated for life to return to a sense of normalcy, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in a Dec. 20, 2020, interview on CNN.

“I’m hopeful everything goes back to normal,” Levash added. “I keep hearing next fall, but that could obviously change, but we really can’t wait to be back open late nights.”

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