Innovate or close: Craig businesses adjust to keep their doors open during Covid-19
Local business owners Jeremy and Cyme Browning (Chaos Ink) and Kirstie McPherson (The Find and Edeveco - Relations and Development) partnered to create the Craig Strong Campaign to help businesses negatively affected by the COVID-19 shutdowns. Sales of “Craig Strong” shirts and products at the Find were used to build to the fund.
Jeremy Browning said he was blown away by the response.
“We’ve had business owners drop off $1,000 checks,” he said. “We’ve had other owners buy shirts for their entire staff.”
He said that the fund is up to more than $15,000. To contribute one can go by Chaos Ink (80 East 4th Street) or call the shop (970)824-3920.
Jeremy Browning’s first week of COVID-19 quarantine was full of sleepless nights.
“I thought, ‘this is going to be catastrophic,’” said the owner of Chaos Ink, a screen printing and design business in Craig. “For about a week the phone didn’t ring. There was nothing.’”
Browning found himself in a spot similar to millions of business owners around the world whose life-sustaining workplace was deemed “non-essential.” His livelihood, as well as the responsibility to provide for employees, was suddenly in question.
“Eventually I was able to find some perspective,” he said. “If our volume had dropped in a matter of days like this without an epidemic I would have been devastated. But I was able to compartmentalize it as something that was out of my hands and that I had to move forward with a new plan.”
Innovation and adjustment had to be part of a new plan to make it possible for business owners to stay open.
“Our Craig business owners are once again showing their ingenuity, compassion and grit as they navigate these unprecedented times,” said Craig Chamber of Commerce Director Jennifer Holloway. “Some businesses are adapting their products and services to account for social distancing, others have had to close entirely, but all are proactively working for solutions to keep their businesses open and their employees paid.”
Kitchen a La More owner Lynnette Siedschlaw had never used Facebook Live. But as the quarantine lengthened and employees had to be laid off, she started to look for some way to create business.
“After two weeks of not operating at all, I knew we couldn’t continue down this path,” she said. “We had to be bringing in some sort of revenue.”
Sieschlaw noticed a suggestion from one of her vendors about Facebook Live sales. She contacted the vendor to find more out and a week later Kitchen a La More had its first Facebook Live sale.
They expanded from the Live sales to an olive oil & vinegar tasting in which they prepared to-go boxes to send out to customers who purchased tickets for the online event. The customers could sample their own product along with the live show.
Siedschlaw admitted that keeping up the pace of a weekly live sale might be too time consuming once the store opens back up, but it will certainly be a part of the business in the future.
“We have had several people tuning in from out-of-state and we are shipping out more product as well,” she said. “We have developed a following and it is a new way for us to interact with our customers near and far.”
Realtors like Pam Horn, owner of Re/Max About You in Craig, said one of the biggest challenges for the realty industry was the state’s indecision.
“First realtors were considered non-essential and we had to completely shut down,” she said, “Then within 48 hours we were told we were essential. There was confusion of where we could be and couldn’t be.”
The real estate industry already has an online presence. Horn said that it is rare for a buyer to visit a house without looking at online photos first. The challenge is that for two weeks no one was allowed in a house.
“We had to rely a lot more on virtual tours and zoom calls,” she said. “Technology is important in our industry, but I think most realtors, as least ones who have been in for a while, would much rather give an in-person tour.”
Horn said that she did not get a sense that local customers were very concerned about catching Covid-19, but the challenge was that realtors are governed by a state board and her office had to follow those limitations. The realtors were allowed to return to showing houses in early May and as weather has warmed up so have showings, according to Horn.
“It’s good to be back with buyers and sellers,” she said. “We have to have them sign some extra disclosures and think through disinfecting our office and houses a little more, but we are back to business.”
Browning said that prior to the Covid shutdown, he was on pace to have another record year. Then in March everything screeched to a halt.
When the calls stopped he had to furlough eight employees he had to cancel the “Sweet 16” party he had planned for Chaos Ink in April. The party marked the 16th year since he purchased of the business. Instead of celebrating he started to think through how to get his business to its seventeenth birthday.
“My son, Wyeth, and I were the only ones still working so we started to focus on the little things that we never get a chance to do when we are busy,” he said. “We added some folding tables, improved the lighting and worked on ideas to be ready for when everything picks back up.”
After a couple weeks potential clients started to ask about making custom masks. Although Chaos Ink had sold no masks in the past, they figured out a way to print on masks to fill some orders. Browning estimates they have sold about 400.
“The hardest thing was getting product,” he said. “My suppliers were telling me they were out of stock on the hour. We’ve been able to fill the orders.”
Chaos’ busy season is in the summer due to sales to events. With more than 20 summer events cancelled Browning recognized that maintaining enough work to keep everyone on payroll will not be easy. He currently has employees rotating days and he has been able to pick up orders. He said when things get back to normal he, “plans to come out of this as a leader in our industry and be more resilient than ever.”
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