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Businesses adapting, surviving coronavirus pandemic

When Gov. Mike DeWine ordered all nonessential businesses to close by March 24 due to the coronavirus pandemic, pet groomer Telia Williams said she immediately felt a sense of loss and disconnection as the job she so loved doing was suddenly taken from her.

“To be perfectly honest, I sat home and avoided everything because I was more sad than anything else. I mean, you know, you’re either there or you not,” said Ms. Williams, owner of Pampered Paws pet groomers.

Pampered Paws was among thousands of Ohio businesses forced to close and only now have begun to reopen — under health guidelines aimed at preserving social distancing — as Mr. DeWine has eased up on lockdown orders.

Those not allowed to stay open ran the gamut from haircutters to furniture store operators, from pet groomers to tobacco shops, from gyms and fitness trainers to car washes.

Nearly all suffered financially, yet many that suffered have shown incredible resilience and a determination to get back what they lost, even with the current restrictions and the likelihood that those restrictions could stay in place until next year.

“I was freaking for a while. I didn’t know how I was going to get the money they said I could get because by the time I found all the information I needed, they were out of the PPP money,” said Christie Wagner, owner of the Anthony Wayne Barber Shop in Maumee.

On Thursday she got some unemployment benefits and three weeks ago her federal stimulus check, which helped pay rent and bills. Ms. Wagner said some close relatives also gave her their stimulus check and many of her long-time clients gave her money even though she couldn’t cut their hair.

“A woman I know said she was giving me her stimulus check — I couldn’t believe it,” Ms. Wagner said. “I didn’t want to take it at first but she said, ‘Christie, if you don’t take it, I’m going to give it to someone else,” she added.

“I think I’m more fortunate than other people. … My customers have been coming by and handing me money. That is mind boggling,” said Ms. Wagner, who reopened a week ago when haircutting businesses were allowed to service customers again.

But things are not back to normal. Ms. Wagner said she must wear a mask, sanitize equipment and chairs after every customer, provide each customer with an unused chair cloth, and keep customers out of the shop until it is their turn.

“It’s time consuming, but you have to follow the rules or they’re going to shut me down. It’s a sensitive thing right now,” she said. “And I’ve had one guy accuse another guy of line jumping while they were waiting.”

However, most clients are patient and her business has bounced back in a big way.

Customers have been coming in from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. nonstop since she reopened. Many customers are coming from Michigan, where businesses still are on lockdown.

“I’m tired, but I’ve never made this much money in my life before in a five-day time period,” Ms. Wagner said.

On the other hand, Kym Cragel is like a fish out of water fighting to breathe.

Her three-year-old swimming instruction business, Swim with Kym, which teaches children how to swim, was decimated by the shutdown order on March 22, and is being hurt still even though she is allowed to reopen.

The problem: all public pools remain closed and private pools are off-limits to her.

“With all of our pools shut down, we have no place to teach,” Ms. Cragel said. “And there’s an old health department regulation that says we cannot teach in private pools.”

Legislation was introduced in the State Senate by Theresa Gavarone (R., Bowling Green) to allow teaching in private pools, but it hasn’t gotten out of committee. Complicating matters, another swimming instructor continued to do business after the shutdown order, was caught and shutdown permanently, and now the Ohio Department of Health has been casting a watchful eye on all swimming instructors.

“We weren’t on anybody’s radar until that instructor violated the order,” Ms. Cragel said.

She did get a small SBA loan and also filed for unemployment as a self-employed person. But Ms. Cragel, who has taught over 500 children to swim and is one of just 25 certified swimming instructors in Ohio, said what she could really use is guidance or help from the state or Lucas County to allow her to use pools to teach.

“It’s a conundrum. …I just want to work with my families and my babies again. I just want to work. I just want to work, you know?” Ms. Cragel said. “I’m like a restaurant person who has been told you can open but you can’t handle food.”

During her lockdown, Ms. Williams said she used her own savings and also the businesses reserves to keep Pampered Paws afloat until it reopened on May 12.

“Now we’re trying to replenish our business savings,” she said. “I applied for loans but I’ve got no loans yet. Honestly, we’re not expecting anything.”

But if the amount of business she has gotten since reopening can be sustained a while, it won’t be long before she Pampered Paws recovers.

“We are pure pandemonium right now,” Ms. Williams said. “I’ve worked 12 hour days since the 12th. I won’t have a day off for another two weeks. We’ve got a lot of people in the Michigan area whose salons aren’t opening yet and their customers are coming down here,” she added.

“But I’m not getting a lot of new business because I want to take care of my existing clients first,” she said.

The business’ four groomers now are each wearing masks and customers are not allowed inside Pampered Paws store located in Sylvania. The business used to handle 15 dogs a day but now is averaging 28 a day.

“I think I’ll be able to replenish what I lost in a few months,” Ms Williams said enthusiastically.

The one downside is the number of dogs coming in with scabs, cuts, and nicks from their owners who tried to groom them and cut their hair unsuccessfully.

“It’s making my job a 1,000 times harder,” Ms. Williams said.

Like other business owners whose businesses were labeled nonessential and forced to close, Rob Herron, owner of Herron’s Amish Furniture in Napoleon, Ohio, lost money during the shutdown.

But rather than whine, Mr. Herron saw opportunities in the shutdown that prepared him to go after a bigger market share once allowed to reopen.

“The first thing we did was reach out to a lot of advisors and get advice. Our accountant has never worked harder,” Mr. Herron said.

“What we ended up doing was laying everybody off from the beginning to preserve cash. It wasn’t what we wanted to do, but with the payroll protection plans what we planned to do was bring everyone back on May 1.

“That didn’t happen, obviously, but we were prepared for when we could reopen on May 4,” he said.

Throughout the shutdown, Mr. Herron’s sales force continued to make calls from home and gave 200 customers quotes on furniture.

“We gained 40 percent of our sales goals even though we were closed,” he said.

Also, while competitors pulled back on their marketing back, Mr. Herron said he had learned during the recession in 2008 that more marketing left his business in a better position later.

“We doubled up on marketing even though we were closed. It helped with our branding. While nobody else was out there, we were,” he said.

Mr. Herron said he figured that people would want more outdoor furniture after the stay at home orders, so he focused on playsets, home office furniture, and backyard furniture. He guessed correctly.

“There’s no school, so there’s a need for a playset. So playsets are selling,” he said. “And with so many working from home, home office furniture has been selling.”

With the store reopened, workers wear masks, signage inside promotes social distancing, and hand sanitizer stations have been placed throughout. But one of the biggest things customers will benefit from is something they cannot see: empathy.

“One of our core values is empathy. Empathy is putting yourself in other people’s shoes,” Mr. Herron said. “You can see when your core values are real or not when you’re stuck in a situation like this.”

As it turned out, when the governor issued his closure order for nonessential businesses, Mark and Nikki Meyers didn’t have to close their four Meyers Auto Wash sites around the area.

But they bit the bullet anyway for 17 days because no one could tell them if they were essential or not.

“We were in a gray area. We fell under transportation, but the governor’s order did not say car washes in particular. Just businesses supporting transportation were considered essential,” Mr. Meyers said.

“So we voluntarily closed for 17 days to reassess the situation and look at what was going on in the industry.

“We worked with other car washes out of town to see what they were doing and we put together a plan to open with different procedures in place,” he said.

Since reopening, the auto washes have not changed much, he added. Sales of retail items have halted, and an employee wipes down the free vacuum cleaners with sanitizer after every use.

Meanwhile, the Ohio Health Department decided that a fully automated car wash, like Meyers Auto Wash, was safe and allowed to reopen on April 10. But the temporary shutdown cost the local couple “over six figures” in revenue.

“There was a lot of unknowns and employees’ concerns. We decided to put the safety of our employees and customers before our (profit & loss) statement,” Mr. Meyers said.

“We lost a substantial amount of money when we were closed and our sales are not at all where they were. But because we are so automated and lean, and in a good financial situation, we are going to make it,” Mr. Meyers said.

“The Small Business Administration and the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority worked with us. They came to our rescue big-time and delayed loan payments. And Directions Credit Union, our lender, offered to delay loan payments as well,” Mr. Meyers said.

However, the car wash owner said he could have used some help from the city on his taxes and utilities.

“That would have been nice. But none of them came to our aid,” he said.


Posted By: Toledo Blade on May 23, 2020.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

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