The COVID-19 pandemic has been a defining moment in our history. The entire country basically shut down, which made it tough for business owners of all sizes, but especially those who were opening their doors for the first time.
Starting a new business in 2020 is an extraordinary feat. After all, it’s scary enough to open without a pandemic going on considering that 20% of businesses close within their first two years!
Are you starting a new small business during the COVID-19 pandemic? There are many things you can do to safely open for the first time while still finding success now and into the future.
#1: Announce Your Opening on Facebook Live
Facebook Live is the perfect way to announce your grand opening. This live streaming service allows you to be your own broadcaster and use videos instead of static posts to reach your followers. And with videos seeing 3X the engagement, that means a ton of eyes on your grand opening!
You want your grand opening to feel and look exciting! Shell out a few dollars to make the production look grand, whether it’s balloons in the background, a pumping soundtrack blasting through speakers, or a goofy costume that you put on for the video. People want something cool to see, and if you are creative, you may just go viral!
#2: Go Virtual
It might be better to keep your doors shut for the time being and start gaining interest by offering virtual services instead. Are you a new gym or fitness center? Offer virtual training and maybe even go the extra mile by sending everyone a free yoga mat when they sign up!
People use their phones and computers for everything, so take advantage of that technology. In fact, according to the U.S. census about 78% of people have a desktop or laptop, while 75% of people have a smartphone. You can reach just about everybody if you offer your services virtually.
Ask for Help
#3: Rely on Your Local Chamber of Commerce
A chamber of commerce is a built-in community that will always offer you support. They might also be the first to hear about certain opportunities that could be of interest to you like sponsorships and networking events.
There’s typically a cost associated with joining a chamber of commerce, but it could be worth it in the long run. You have other people rallying behind your business and spreading the word, which matters when you’re brand new. Plus, if a consumer knows you’re part of a chamber of commerce, there’s a 63% increase that they’ll want to visit your store!
#4: Apply for a Loan
If you haven’t already, you should look into the Small Business Administration. This U.S. organization offers a variety of loans to anyone who qualifies. As of 2020, you are able to apply if you have fewer than 500 employees and make less than $7.5 million revenue on average each year for the past 3 years.
Anyone with student loans, a car payment, or a mortgage knows that loans can be a blessing and a curse. You’re getting money fast, but you have to pay it back, with interest, in the future. Only 40% of American business owners applied for a loan in 2017, but during a pandemic like COVID-19, that little financial boost is more important now than it was three years ago.
Meet Customer Needs
#5: Offer Discounts
The U.S. Labor department estimates that as of June 3, 2020, 30 million people have lost their job due to the coronavirus (COVID-19). That means people don’t have a ton of extra money to throw around, especially at a new business like yours.
So what can you do? Start by offering some kind of discount that simply can’t be resisted – 50% off on a dozen donuts with free delivery, a free manicure with the purchase of another manicure, buy 5 get 5 free on face masks… whatever fits. It’s hard to miss out on a good deal, so make sure you have one to offer.
#6: Take Preorders, Reservations, or Appointments
Even if you’re not a spa or restaurant, you can still take preorders, reservations, and appointments. For instance, new boutiques can offer appointments so people don’t have to wait outside on the sidewalk.
Stores like Target, Burlington, and Walmart have set up barricade tape so only a certain number of customers can come into the store at a time. The wait times can be as short as 20 minutes or as long as an hour depending on where you go. You can help cut down on the wait by encouraging your shoppers to make appointments or reservations ahead of time.
#7: Set a Maximum Capacity
More than 100 million people complied with the stay-at-home orders, and they’re slowly trickling back into the world. You don’t want everyone to bombard your business at one time. Set a maximum capacity, post it on a sign or banner near your front door, and have an employee keep track of who’s walking in and out.
Have you ever tried to navigate a shopping cart in a crowded grocery store? It’s the absolute worst! A maximum capacity helps your customers feel more comfortable and gives them more elbow room.
#8: Limit Your Product Inventory
Now’s not the time to start offering a bunch of new products and services. Did you just open a restaurant? Keep only a few staple items on the menu like burgers, salads, and sandwiches. This saves you money on all the extra ingredients you would be using if you were offering more variety.
Surprisingly, this strategy could be lucrative for you in the long run. Case in point, the Harvard Business Review conducted a study by setting up two displays, one with 24 gourmet jams and the other with only 6. It was found that more people went to check out the display with 6 jams, leading to the conclusion that more choices isn’t always better for the customer or retailer.
#9: Reduce Your Hours
Overhead costs like electricity, labor, insurance, rent, and telephone bills can add up fast. In fact, in the U.S. the average overhead rate is 52% of a business’s budget. You can cut those costs significantly if you reduce your hours during a pandemic like COVID-19.
Take for example Goodwill. Select stores have changed their hours so they now close at 5:00 PM rather than the previous 9 PM. This company is technically a nonprofit, so if they are able to justify reduced hours, then you can too!
#10: Offer Curbside Pickup or Free Delivery
It might still be too early to open your doors and have people come inside your building. As such, you should offer curbside pickup and free delivery on your products. Not everyone feels comfortable leaving quarantine, so this helps reach those people as well.
According to Small Business Trends, 86% of people want local businesses to continue offering “pandemic services” like curbside pickup. By keeping up these business practices into the near future, you’re ensuring that you meet the needs of the widest audience.
#11: Practice Social Distancing
Safety should still be at the forefront of your mind. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has certain guidances in place for a reason. Part of that list is making sure to keep a safe distance of 6 feet apart from other people.
If you have to, reconfigure the layout of your store’s space. Maybe that means moving tables around, putting up sneeze guards, or laying down floor decals. No matter what, think about how you’re using the space and adjust accordingly to keep everyone practicing safe social distances.
Help Out the Community
#12: Wear Face Masks
You will find many different types of face masks on the market, and each is designed to help protect your neighbors. Part of being a good community member is making sure to block your germs from contaminating other people or surfaces.
It was found that the coronavirus in particular can live on surfaces for up to 72 hours. You can block a good amount of germs by making face masks a requirement at your store.
#13: Encourage Donations
If you are opening a new business during a pandemic like COVID-19, you shouldn’t be in it only for the profit. Donate a proceed of the money you make to a cause that supports the pandemic, or any other that’s near and dear to your heart.
There are many organizations out there dedicated to helping with the pandemic. You can visit any of these organizations to donate money to COVID-19 relief:
- World Health Organization (WHO)
- Center for Disaster Philanthropy
- Clara Lionel Foundation
- Feeding America
Leave out a jar by your reception desk and ask customers to support the cause. People are going to want to help in any way they can.
#14: Hold a Belated Opening Party
You can have a belated opening party when things are back to normal. It’s kind of like when you forget a friend’s birthday and make it up to them later.
There are other businesses on your block who might be struggling too. Join forces and hold one big grand opening or reopening party for everyone. Sadly, only 28% of Americans have worked with their neighbors to solve a community problem. You can build a bigger network (and following) simply by extending your hand to those nearby.
Businesses That Opened During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The show must go on! Many businesses large and small opened their doors for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes the following places:
- The Burger Shop – Geneva, Illinois
- Kowloon’s – Saugus, Massachusetts
- Maison De Beaute – Pasadena, California
- Breaüxdoo Bakery – Spokane, Washington
- Phantom Brewing – Hartford, Connecticut
- Sits ‘n Wiggles – Cleveland, Ohio
- Ollie’s Outlet – Corpus Christi, Texas
- Cody Road Coffee – LeClaire, Iowa
- 5th Grant Boutique – Wabasha, Minnesota
The Burger Shop – Geneva, IL
Illinois was one of the most infected areas, but that didn’t stop Marshall McCarty and Tony Gargano from opening The Burger Shop in Geneva – a super trendy city in Northern Illinois. The restaurant is being mindful to practice J.B. Pritzker’s ordinances, which include wearing face masks as they hand deliver their tasty burgers to each guest waiting in curbside pickup.
Kowloon’s – Saugus, MA
Kowloon’s is an ultra-trendy Asian restaurant that also happens to be a movie theater. They opened during the COVID-19 pandemic by offering takeout served to their guests in the parking lot as they sit and watch a drive-in movie. The first film to air was a classic – E.T.
Maison De Beaute – Pasadena, CA
This nail salon was excited to open, but they wanted to make sure their clients were safe. The solution was to space the pedicure chairs further apart and to install sneeze guards at every manicure station. They are even selling their sneeze guards to other nearby businesses to help them open safely as well.
Breaüxdoo Bakery – Spokane, WA
Breaüxdoo Bakery is a late-night eatery that serves sweet treats like cookies and milk into the wee small hours of the morning. It opened in the heart of downtown Spokane during the COVID-19 pandemic by offering delivery of the delicious cakes, truffles, lemon bars, and brownies that are served there.
Phantom Brewing – Hartford, CT
When your heart is set on opening your business, it’s tough to sit still through a pandemic. The founders of Phantom Brewing, Jon Patrei and Bo Kolcio, wanted to open safely, so they moved their make-your-own-beer taproom from the back of the store to the front to keep everyone a little safer.
Sits ‘n Wiggles – Cleveland, OH
“We take coronavirus very seriously, but also knew we needed to bring the dogs and owners quality training. We held a virtual grand opening celebration and are requiring face masks and hand sanitizing at every appointment or class. We’re excited for what our future holds and our clients are, too!” – Valarie Ross, Professional Dog Trainer at Sits ‘n Wiggles
Sits ‘n Wiggles is a dog walking and pet care center in Cleveland, OH. They opened during the pandemic, and to meet the needs of their clients, offered virtual training sessions for the dogs. These have been so successful, owner Valerie Ross wants to continue offering these sessions into the future.
Ollie’s Outlet – Corpus Christi, TX
It may seem like a bad omen to open in an old Toys “R” Us, but that’s just what Ollie’s Outlet in Texas did to get their store off and running. To keep everyone safe, Ollie’s is only allowing 50 shoppers in the store at a time.
Cody Road Coffee – LeClaire, IA
Pandemics like COVID-19 have caused many restless nights, which makes good coffee more essential than ever before! Two friends had a dream of opening up a local coffee shop and refused to let the virus slow them down. The good news is many nearby businesses stopped by to grab some coffee and offer their support!
5th Grant Boutique – Wabasha, MN
5th Grant Boutique is a thrifter’s paradise, but the store also happened to open during the COVID-19 pandemic. To bring attention to their shop, they had a virtual grand opening for one hour on Facebook Live.
Diving into the deep end as a new business owner is terrifying, but sometimes you just have to take that leap. People are more open to new businesses than perhaps ever before. We’ve all been stuck inside for the past few months and are itching to try something we’ve never tried before.
So with that in mind, go ahead and flip that “closed” sign to “open” for the first time. If you are reopening, follow these same tips to keep everyone safe. As long as you keep up with CDC guidances, and take some other extra measures, you can get back to business!
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