Learn how 3 small businesses used creativity, connection, and community to navigate their survival in the face of COVID-19.
What does a taco shop, a physical therapist and an expert event planner have in common? They are all small business owners who are persevering in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their stories are inspiring examples of how small businesses are using creativity, connection, and community to navigate their survival in the face of adversity.
Meet the Business Owners
Bettina Stern, co-owner, Chaia Taco
Chaia Taco is an unconventional taco shop serving insanely delicious tacos made entirely with vegetables. We operate two restaurants in Washington, DC. where we strive to merge fine food experience with the convenience of fast casual service. As a “farm to taco” shop, our tacos are filled only with the freshest, local, (and whenever possible organic) vegetables inventively prepared from scratch, and combined with spices, house-made salsas, and other tasty toppings—all tucked inside a handmade, griddled corn tortilla.
Dr. Fred Gilbert, co-owner & Chief People Officer, MovementX
MovementX provides mobile, one-on-one, hands-on physical therapy. Our expert physical therapists deliver exceptional individualized service by treating our clients where they live, work and exercise. At MovementX we believe in the transformative power of movement – if you are moving well, you can experience your healthiest and most fulfilling life. Our mobile service helps our clients receive high quality care at the location of their choice—no lines, no wait times, no trips to a clinic.
Charlotte Reid, co-founder and Chief Visionary Officer at Reid-Rodell
Reid-Rodell is a full-service event planning firm, specializing in creating memorable, one-of-a-kind experiences both in the US and worldwide. We produce events of all types and sizes, including political fundraisers, business and social receptions, national conferences, brand launches, large non-profit galas, and social gatherings such as milestone birthdays, children’s events, weddings, funerals, and reunions. We pride ourselves on anticipating our client’s needs and exceeding their expectations.
The Pandemic Impact
Stern: Unquestionably, this has been the most difficult moment many of us may have faced, but definitely for Chaia. Sales are down more than 80% pre-virus. The severity of the COVID-19 crisis has put our business and our community in completely uncharted territory. On March 15, we closed our shops for regular in-dining service. We made this decision several days ahead of our Mayor’s shut down orders in order to protect our staff, our customers, and our community.
Gilbert: The initial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown was a dramatic drop in business as our patients and providers got their bearings around the situation. As people went into lock-down, it became apparent that physical distancing was going to have an enormous impact on how we serve our clients. To survive, MovementX knew we had to prioritize finding alternative ways to provide high-quality and safe care in this new environment.
Reid: Our business is based upon in-person gatherings, so when people began to quarantine at home, we immediately lost 95% of scheduled events for the second quarter and counting. Since health concerns and government pandemic policies directly impact how people can and will gather for the foreseeable future, we realized we had to quickly pivot and adjust our business model.
The Pandemic Pivot
Stern: Like many in the restaurant industry, Chaia adapted as best we could to navigate the COVID-19 environment. At the onset, Chaia was prepared to move immediately to offering only pick-up, delivery, and takeout options. We limited our service hours, adopted a pared-down menu, and began serving customers exclusively through take-out and delivery. This helped us minimize employee exposure and reduce labor costs. We now operate with a two-person team that consists of one owner and one kitchen employee in each store.
We are also collaborating with local charities and organizations to provide meals to front-line healthcare workers who are working tirelessly around the clock. Those of us in the food world are already in the trenches, so we believe that we must step up and help feed our communities – especially those in need across our city. We continue to explore every possible way to be a part of the solution, as well as the healing process. If we can continue to serve amazing food and keep our staff employed, we hope to be well poised to get back to business as usual someday.
Gilbert: The primary shift in our business model during this crisis has been on how we deliver care to our clients. We shifted from 100% in-person, hands-on care to primarily telehealth and some social distanced sessions that are in-person, but where patient and therapist remain 6-10 feet away from each other. We reserve these in-person treatments for those who have the most critical needs and appropriate personal protective equipment.
We also launched a virtual exercise series designed for the population most affected by this pandemic–our older adults. Many older adults became suddenly sedentary and their day-to-day movement dramatically restricted, so we want to help them navigate this uncertain time. Our virtual, Age Proof Your Body program is a specialized 8-week experience designed for anyone 60+ who wants to stay healthy, active, and strong. We will donate 100% of this program’s proceeds to charities fighting the pandemic. Physical therapy has an important role to play in keeping society moving and living their healthiest and best so we will continue to push forward and innovate during this crisis.
Reid: We believe that weddings, graduations, and birthdays still need and deserve to be celebrated. Funerals and life altering occasions should be honored. Fundraisers and other philanthropic events are critical to the functioning of non-profits. Therefore, we transformed our business model to produce virtual events by partnering with other firms that provide the technical support required for us to execute innovative service. Because of the necessary technical aspects of virtual events, we take the time to educate our clients on the importance of using expert virtual services. Many of them believe that they can conduct their own events by simply using a virtual meeting platform and expect to have the same outcome, which is rarely the case. Our goal is to make the experience seamless for them. Our customized approach has proven to be a welcome relief to our clients. They tell us that we’ve made a positive difference for them and their and guests and that their anxiety levels are lower after the event than prior. As creatives, we have had to dig deeper to provide our clients with creative, warm, and memorable options. As Julia Child once said and we firmly believe, “A party without cake is just a meeting!”
Planning for the Future
Stern: Chaia is defined by our resilience, as well as our ability to survive in the midst of chaos. We will continue to think creatively and to contribute positively to our community and our team members. We think it is important to continue engaging in our communities as active team players who are willing to put in the time, effort and hard work to achieve positive results for all. At Chaia, we want to think big, be bold, and take risks while working collaboratively in our neighborhoods to create significant positive impact where we live and work.
Gilbert: This global health pandemic has been challenging. Yet, we have seen many signs of resiliency that give us hope. Patients are more willing than ever to explore digital options. Providers are checking in more consistently with their patients, supporting them through times both good times and challenging times. Moving forward, we will lean into the strength of our community to continue innovating and taking great care of each other. Patients will continue to see increased safety measures to ensure they feel as safe and inspired as ever; providers will have more resources at their disposal and stronger communication within our team. Physical therapy has an important role to play in keeping society moving and living their healthiest and best so we will continue to push forward and innovate during this crisis.
Reid: We are constantly on the lookout for new ways to deliver quality to our clients, from adopting innovative and seamless technology solutions, to partnering with other companies. We realize that this COVID-19 pandemic has long term health, social, and economic implications for all. As such, we are working toward permanent adoption of new internal processes and adjusting our business model to include optimal solutions for virtual events. We are confident that we can continue to be a leader in the event industry. We also regularly participate in distance learning to keep abreast of the global changes to our industry. We are experiencing this blow as a collective, so we are consulting with our partners and clients to help them pivot creatively to keep their businesses and organizations afloat. This is not a time to be focused solely on our bottom line. We feel that providing essential (and free) guidance to our non-profit clients and industry partners will serve us all in the long run
Surprise Silver Linings
Stern: Our staff has been amazing—which while not surprising—has certainly been welcome. We’ve also been heartened by the amazing support of our community and customers. It has been our customers and our neighbors who scrambled to help our restaurants and our employees survive this crisis. We are deeply grateful to each and every one of them for supporting us.
Gilbert: Surprisingly, we saw a dramatic increase in the number of applications from therapists who want to join our team. As many physical therapists were furloughed, laid off, or removed themselves from traditional clinics, they seek to become part of the MovementX community. This has enabled us to actually grow our business and service offerings.
Reid: One of the most surprising things we discovered was that virtual event production can yield a lower overhead cost, which translates into a potential greater profit margin when compared to in-person events. Additionally, virtual platforms have a much broader reach, which means greater positive impact for our corporate and non -profit clients for whom high returns are critical to the success of the event.
Stern: It’s all about leadership and community connection. Authentically support the community. Stay essential and relevant. Go above and beyond in taking care of your team. Lead with heart. Lead by example from the very top. We work alongside our front of house and back of house staff every day to keep morale up and to keep them employed so that they are able to support their own families. Look to the future and help team members weather this storm.
Gilbert: No one plans for moments like these. We thought we were a recession proof industry, that regardless of the circumstances, people would need physical therapy. Since our profession tops the lists of in-demand jobs in the next 10 years – we never imagined this scenario. We were surprised by how deeply impacted the physical therapy industry has been. Resilient businesses and leaders are shining right now, and we want to be part of that light. Early on, we made the choice to be proactive and create our own future; we made the choice to be the author of our own story. At our core we are a company founded to serve and help people. We kept that focus as our guiding light, before and during this pandemic, and it has allowed us to grow into the resilient business we are today.
Reid: We quickly learned that a successful virtual event requires seamless organization and extremely rich content, because guests tire and are more easily distracted in one-dimensional virtual settings. This shutdown has provided more opportunities for us to be nimble and more deeply connected with our service partners. There is a tremendous economic collapse when an event is cancelled, creating devastating ripple effects for venues, staff, rental companies, caterers, photographers, audio visual companies, florists, bakeries, entertainment professionals and artists, etc. It is difficult to see our fellow business owners struggling so we strive to find unique ways to support these partners as well as our clients wherever possible. We love to delight our most loyal and treasured clients and partners with surprise floral, food, balloons, gifts, specialty baked goods and even highly sought-after medical masks, disposable gloves, and toilet paper deliveries.
Our infinite goal is to stay connected and keep the people we work with and for inspired and uplifted during this unprecedented crisis.
After all, ‘the show must go on.’
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