US Small Businesses Set About Reinventing Themselves

    19 July 2020

    Small business owners are worried about how to keep operating under restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

    Reinvention may be the most important idea.

    Mom uses telemedicine to talk with Dr. William Chu, medical director of the NightLight Pediatric Urgent Care clinics, Houston, Texas. (Photo courtesy Elly Brown)
    Mom uses telemedicine to talk with Dr. William Chu, medical director of the NightLight Pediatric Urgent Care clinics, Houston, Texas. (Photo courtesy Elly Brown)

    The U.S. Congress passed a measure that provided billions of dollars to small businesses to keep them from collapsing. But even with that assistance, "many small companies are still struggling to reopen, and others will never reopen," said Tom Sullivan. He is the vice president for small business policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C.

    There are 30 million small businesses in the United States and most have fewer than 75 employees. They need to reinvent themselves, Sullivan told VOA. "There's definitely a new normal, and I don't think companies can go back to the way they were before COVID-19."

    Markos Panas is the founder of the Bread and Water Company in Alexandria, Virginia, outside Washington, D.C. He knows this very well. "When the coronavirus kicked open the door, it was sink or swim, and we realized we had to make a lot of changes," he said.

    Like many small businesses, Bread and Water lost at least half of its revenue after the virus hit. The number of customers quickly went down to nearly none as people stayed home.

    Panas said a $10,000 CARES donation from congress has helped the bakery remain open.The money is meant to help small businesses keep workers on the job through the health crisis.

    Panas said the crisis actually forced his company to simplify its business. "Before we were trying to do too much, and just breaking even as a wholesaler, restaurant, and bakery," he said.

    "We became a full-time, carry-out operation, with online ordering, something we hadn't done before," said Panas.

    He also learned that less can be more.

    "We've reduced our bread and pastry offerings, and provided a better variety" of other products, he said. Panas added that he trained his employees to do more than one job.

    The company is "already making more money than we did before," Panas said.

    Companies that are not making changes are going to find it difficult to survive, said Joe Shamus. He is a former military pilot who is the co-owner of Flags of Valor in Ashburn, Virginia.

    The business employs combat veterans who handmake American flags from wood.

    "Our company has had to change the way we do business," Shamus said.

    Like Bread and Water, Flags of Valor cut its retail sales and changed some of its products including: "...smaller, more affordable flags for the average consumer," he said.

    The NightLight Pediatric Urgent Care clinics in Houston, Texas, decided the internet was the way to go.

    "The eight clinics are in shopping centers, so in a way, we run it like a retail business..." said Zawadi Bryant, the company's chief.

    After COVID-19 arrived, "there was a major drop in the number of children we were seeing."

    As a result, he said, the company started to agree to see patients online. He said parents love it because it is easy.

    Couch Clarity provides mental health services in the Chicago suburbs. It also provides services online. Company president Melissa Bercier said her workers were trained almost "overnight" to provide "teletherapy" which they had never done before.

    Bread and Water Company's Panas said, changing is not easy, "...but now is the perfect time to reimagine what you can do."

    I'm Susan Shand.

    VOA's Deborah Block reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr.was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    revenue–n. the amount of money that is earned

    customer–n. a person who buys things

    wholesaler–n. someone who sells products to other retailers

    variety–n. several different items

    retail–adj. a store that sells to the public

    affordable–adj. something that is not costly

    clinics–n. small medical facilities