Small businesses were hit hard by the pandemic. Now that COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, we're taking a closer look at how some businesses survived and the resources available for new entrepreneurs.
McKenzie Murray owns Blue Harvest Apparel in downtown San Luis Obispo. "I found this location and just didn't want to pass up on the opportunity because I love this building. I love the history."
She started her business seven years ago in Fort Collins, Colorado before opening a second shop on the Central Coast.
The store officially opened in November 2021 in the middle of the pandemic, shortly before the first case of the omicron variant was detected in the U.S.
"I kind of went into it without a lot of fear to be perfectly honest," Murray said.
PANDEMIC ENTREPRENEURSHIP BOOM
Murray is one of many entrepreneurs who opened a business during the COVID-19 pandemic. Census data shows business applications hit record highs of 5.4 million in 2021, compared to 4.4 million in 2020 and 3.5 million in 2019.
Luz Urrutia is the CEO of the nonprofit Accion Opportunity Fund. She says, "These trends are reversing really what has been a decades-long decline in American entrepreneurship."
Economists say while the pandemic forced businesses to close, it also drove Americans to look for new sources of income, and gave entrepreneurs time and resources like relief checks.
The pandemic also pushed businesses to boost their online presence to survive. That rings true for The Sock Drawer (now Goodly), a local store selling novelty items.
"We're able to connect with customers all over the world. We have U.S. as our main demographics but we have a large following in Canada, the UK and Australia," said Brianna Mallory, the Marketing Director for Goodly.
She says after more than a decade, they made the tough decision to close The Sock Drawer’s downtown SLO location in March of 2020 and transitioned to fully doing business online. They tried to carry over the face-to-face rapport with customers.
"If people call in, they're going to talk to an actual person. We're going to help them find the perfect product. We hand write notes to every single one of our customers."
The Sock Drawer and Blue Harvest Apparel credit support from the local community, paying attention to customer service and increased focus in online sales and marketing in helping them thrive during tough economic times.
RESOURCES FOR LOCAL ENTREPRENEURS
Judy Mahan, Director of the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Small Business Development Center, says learning how to market your products online, pandemic or not, is a skill that pays off in the long run. The center offers workshops to help new and existing entrepreneurs.
"We prepare them to pitch to investors. We prepare them to work with local banks to set up their lines of credits."
Mahan adds that the Small Business Center has dozens of people who can work with companies offering one-on-one consulting. She also encourages business owners to keep an open mind to succeed.
"Do interviews with your target market to see with open-ended questions and listen. You may think you're offering a solution to something but you might discover that's not the real problem. The real problem might be something else that you haven't thought about."
The Small Business Administration is also a valuable resource for entrepreneurs. Aside from grants, the SBA offers training, mentoring and counseling opportunities for entrepreneurs and additional services for veterans and women-owned businesses. More information can be found here.