Story by Ammie Bryant
Two months ago, we never imagined that things would change so drastically. Of course, we have read dystopian novels and watched post-apocalyptic movies, but those are fiction. Surely, we have safeguards for things like pandemics, right? Apparently, not.
As small business owners, we already do the majority of our work from a home office. We converted our two car garage into an office four years ago when we took over Stillwater Living Magazine and maintained memberships at WorkIT Coworking Center for when we needed a more professional space to conduct business. Even before that, we were used to working from home. So our work situation has not changed much beyond how we handle some of the distribution of the print copies of the magazine. We know, however, that this is not the case for many of our friends, neighbors, and fellow community members.
We’ve watched as small business owners throughout Stillwater have changed and adapted to deal with the impacts of COVID-19 and social distancing. We’ve seen bars and coffee shops stock groceries, and have bought flour from a local bakery when we couldn’t find it at the grocery store. We see our fellow small business owners hustling in creative ways to survive changes caused by a global pandemic.
I spoke with two local entrepreneurs about how they have adapted to social distancing in their professional lives and pivoted to adapt under the restrictions required to protect the public health. While each of their businesses are very different and they have had to adapt in different ways, these entrepreneurs share in common two essential characteristics: the ability to find ways to adapt and optimism.
Katie Hollingsworth of KRAVE Coaching and Consulting (kravecoaching.com) is a Certified Performance and Leadership Coach. She works with athletes and professionals to help them set and reach their goals through personal and leadership coaching. For Katie, the way she conducts her business hasn’t changed much because she has clients all over the country who she already works with by phone and online.
For Katie, what the pandemic has changed are some of the issues she is addressing with her clients. For athletes, she is helping them to focus on and maintain momentum to keep working toward their goals while in a situation that doesn’t allow them to be a part of the team in a more tangible way. For athletes the in-person team environment and access to tools and equipment are incredibly important. Losing these elements is enough to knock them off their literal game. Katie is helping these clients to focus on their goals and build a plan to keep moving forward and find ways to connect with their other coaches and teammates in other ways.
Katie is helping her personal and leadership coaching clients in similar ways. With Katie’s coaching, teams who have never had to work together from a distance before are learning time management skills for working from home as well as how to maintain connection and leadership from a distance. She coaches her clients on how to maintain momentum through constant goal setting, identifying and leaning on support services, and staying connected with one another in alternative ways then they have done in the past so that they can not only adjust to this “new normal” but be successful doing so.
“I think people are going to reprioritize,” said Katie about the long term implications of the changes the pandemic has forced on society. “Companies are going to run leaner and families are making connections. On the other side of this, I think companies are going to adapt and people will value human connection.”
She is already seeing some of this in her personal and professional life. “I’m getting more phone calls than normal. People crave human connection,” said Katie. Instead of a text or email, people are making calls or meeting virtually through video conferencing platforms.
Katie sees a shift in priorities as people learn that they can potentially accomplish more in five hours from their home office than they did in eight hours at the office. People are also identifying what to do with their time. Katie encourages her clients to look at the situation in a positive way. “What have you not had time for in the past?” Katie continued, “There is a future. Let’s pause and regroup and identify our priorities and goals.”
For Lissette and Justin Minges, their new business doesn’t provide the ability to work from home. The Mingeses closed on Marble Slab Creamery on Feb. 10, 2020, one month before Stillwater Mayor Will Joyce declared a State of Emergency on March 15, 2020.
Justin and Lissette have talked about wanting to own a restaurant for years, but they didn’t really know what that would like for them. Then they learned that after ten years of operation, the previous Marble Slab Creamery owners were interested in selling their franchise. The Minges family loves ice cream and combined with their desire to have their own business, it made sense for them to take it over. It didn’t hurt that the ice cream shop was located so close to campus, which would provide much needed traffic as well as being a space that has been an important part of their personal history. Afterall, OSU is where they met one another in 2004.
There is never a good time for a pandemic. But for these new business owners, it was perhaps even more problematic. “Right when I felt like we were getting our feet under us and a handle on running the store to get ready to swing into the busy season the pandemic hit,” said Lissette.
“Obviously we had to take a pivot just because most of our staff were students. Not all of them were from Stillwater, the ones that were able to go home had to go home. So we were affected with staffing a little bit. We reduced our hours. Normally we are open from noon to ten but with foot traffic slowing down from spring break and then holding that pattern going forward we reduced hours from 3pm to 8pm,” explained Lissette. “Now we are hiring again to build our team back up. Foot traffic has decreased but our ice cream cake sales have helped fill that gap.”
“Mostly we are taking it a day at a time and taking it in stride while we operate safely for our customers and employees,” said Lissette. Like other food service-based businesses, Marble Slab Creamery is considered essential, but they had to close their store to walk-in customers. Instead, customers order by phone and pick up their orders curbside or they can have their frozen treats delivered.
Even with all of the unknowns regarding the pandemic, how long it will last, and whether or not their new-to-them business will survive, Lissette and Justin try to be as positive as possible.
“We are planning like we are going to be booming in the future. It’s going to be a process. As of now, I know we are very fortunate to be able to keep our doors open. We have to figure out what our average needs to be on a day-to-day basis to be able to keep going,” said Lissette. “We are going to hustle and make sure we don’t have to make that decision for our business and our employees. As long as our community continues to show us how much they love us and we keep selling ice cream we will wait it out.”
In the meantime, Lissette continues to pivot. “For me, it has helped me with the operations of the store, now that I’ve had an opportunity to really step back and evaluate the store. This has served as a reset button to give us time and perspective to really figure out what we want to do with the store. With it being slower, we have the time to really focus. This has been an opportunity to really invest and grow our team so that we can produce a quality product. That is the biggest thing we will get out of this.”
Just like Katie advises her coaching clients, optimism is an important element of the equation for Lissette and Justin. Even though they are looking at the reality for their business, Lissette feels that optimism serves them better in the long run. “My hope, just like any business owner, is that once things go back to normal this will be a crazy blip on the radar.”