Small business learned to pivot during pandemic

Eight small business owners told the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce’s virtual Rooster Booster Breakfast on Thursday how they were able to make lemonade out of the lemons the coronavirus pandemic handed them 14 months.

Candance Castlen Brake, the chamber’s president, said small businesses are the foundation of the local economy.

“We watched you dig deep and innovate,” she told the business owners.

Suzanne Cecil White, owner of Cecil Farms Produce and White Chateau, said she watched her year-old events center lose all of its business overnight as it was forced to close for two-and-a-half months.

So, she switched her focus to the farm’s produce.

White said an area FFA program wasn’t allowed to sell the plants from its greenhouse because of the pandemic.

She said she bought all of them to help the program, hoping that she might be able to sell the plants herself.

“It turned into a massive success,” White said. “And then this spring, our business has exploded. Ultimately, God takes care of us.”

She said she took customers into her kitchen virtually and put everything online for them to see.

Matt Weafer, owner of Niko’s Bakery, said he was hearing from customers who couldn’t find meat in the supermarkets, while meat distributors were stuck with meat they couldn’t sell to restaurants that were closed.

So, he opened a meat shop inside the bakery to help customers get the products they needed, he said.

“Now, we have a whole line of take-and-bake meals,” Weafer said.

But, he said, “I was working 14 to 16 hours a day, and I wound up in the emergency room. I learned I needed to think smart and work smart.”

Natasha Stanley, owner of Bella Ragazza Boutique, said she pushed everything in the store onto her website and offered same-day delivery.

And she added live videos from the store each day.

“We love it,” Stanley said. “Our customers love it. I’ll never stop doing it.”

Sally Ward, owner of Welborn’s Floral and Events, said, “All of us went into survival mode. We learned a lot about ourselves.”

She said she began offering online grief classes and kits to keep children occupied.

Jigna Patel Wilson, owner of Wilson’s Family Pharmacy, said she has the only pharmacy in town without a drive-thru.

But she quickly began offering curbside pickup to her customers and offering them advice on vitamins to build up their immune systems.

Wilson said she’s focusing more on disease prevention now.

Armando Ortiz, owner of Real Hacienda Mexican Restaurant, said he immediately went into survival mode.

Ninety-five percent of his business had been indoor dining, but it became 100% carryout when the state closed dining rooms.

“There was still traffic all along,” he said. “The community came together like never before.”

Jessica Woods, owner of Byron & Barclay, said customers kept buying gift cards and buying clothing that they had no place to wear during the last year to help her stay in business.

Now, she said, the weather is improving, “events are coming back, the city is bustling again or starting to get there” and shoppers are back downtown.

Jason Tanner, owner of Tanner + West and Tanner Publishing, said he offered free recording of videos to businesses that couldn’t afford it.

That, he said, led to business that he hadn’t expected.

Madison Silvert, president of the Malcolm Bryant Corporation, who served as moderator, said all successful businesses had to learn to pivot quickly last year to survive.

By Keith Lawrence Messenger-Inquirer