Here in the State of Maine, as in much of the country, a vocal group of people are demanding our state open for business. They claim that the shutdown is going to kill small Maine businesses. Luckily, we have a governor who is being cautious and making sure businesses can operate with new safety measures in place before allowing them to open to the public. But are those extremely vocal protesters right? Will the pandemic destroy small businesses?
First there will be businesses that were on the cusp of closing their doors before COVID-19 became a household word that will close for good.
These businesses were already struggling for one reason or another. Or maybe the owners were already considering closure. For example, we have a movie theatre in the next town over that just announced they were closing for good. I have been to this theatre probably four times in the last year and every one of those times there were barely any people there, no lines, no waiting for tickets. In cases like this the pandemic is not the reason the business is closing, it simply escalated the time the business had left. Most of the cases of business closings we are seeing right now in my state, and probably in others, are due to this type of situation.
Then there are the small businesses that either aren’t able to adopt new ways of doing things or are unwilling to.
Take it from someone who has heard small businesses owners tell her that the way they have always done things was working just fine for them; there are a lot of businesses in this group. Many local small businesses have been dragging their feet about having an actual website, refusing to create an online presence, and have been unwilling to adopt online technologies. They did business the old-fashioned way and didn’t see why they needed to change. Now suddenly the only way to survive is to pivot and find new ways to deliver their products or services. Some of them will. Some of them won’t be able to in time to survive. Still others won’t be willing to change. For these businesses, the pandemic will be their demise.
Finally, there will be many small businesses that learn to adapt to a new way of doing business.
They will be the ones that adopt remote employees. Or the ones that implement online ordering with curb-side pickup. They will learn to provide services via video meetings and classes, outdoor socially distanced classes and/or smaller socially distanced groups indoors. These businesses will adapt to things like using masks and gloves and find new ways to deliver their offerings in a safe way for themselves, their employees and their customers. These businesses will not only survive the pandemic, they’ll find ways to thrive during it.
Perhaps your local restaurant will not only provide curbside pickup of meals but will develop ‘cook at home’ boxes much like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh. Your local farmer may team up with local butcher shops rather than sell to processing plants. The local butcher shop can then offer weekly and monthly meat packages for curbside pickup. Or maybe they can team up with that local restaurant to become part of the cook at home boxes. These small businesses will continue to grow and succeed during the pandemic and beyond.
The truth is the businesses that find the largest success have always been those who have embraced change. Now, during this pandemic, those who can’t or refuse to do so will find it difficult, if not impossible to survive. Will the pandemic destroy small businesses? Yes, but only some small businesses. For others it will be the opportunity to change and grow in new directions.