The coronavirus has been devastating for small businesses. But during this upheaval, some local Utah businesses are not only surviving, but thriving, thanks to changes in consumer behavior. Businesses suited to our new stay-at-home lifestyles, such as those in the outdoor recreation, crafting and home improvement realms, have been overwhelmed with demand.
Eric Flynn, owner of Flynn Cyclery, said his bicycle repair shop was uniquely positioned to weather the pandemic. “People couldn’t go anywhere, got bored and started riding bikes,” he said. “People were pulling old bikes out of their garage and we had so much stuff coming in we had to go to an appointment-only format to keep things under control.”
At one point, Flynn had a three-week backlog in repairs, whereas their typical turnaround time hovered around 2-4 days. Their biggest battle right now is keeping parts in stock, given the manufacturing shutdowns in Asia, and the increased demand. He says he really can’t complain and hopes that people continue riding bikes.
The same goes for International Mountain Equipment (IME), Salt Lake City’s local rock climbing shop.
“A lot of people are trying to get outdoors and there’s a lot of interest there,” says Paul Harvey, co-owner of IME. “Plus REI was closed and that really made a difference.”
IME saw an uptick in people looking for training devices and outdoor climbing equipment after the gyms were closed. They also offered fittings outside, which was a boon to business when other major outdoor retailers were closed.
Carolyn Bradshaw, owner of And Sew On – Millcreek, feels lucky that her store can offer people what they need during the pandemic.
“People are bored at home and have more time to do crafts,” says Bradshaw. They’ve seen a huge interest in sewing lessons and a surge in people wanting materials to make their own masks at home.
“Since kids have to wear masks, parents are trying to create something that is cute or manly so that they will wear them,” she says.
Utahns who have been stuck at home (and are lucky enough to have discretionary income and not been negatively impacted by layoffs and furloughs) have been spending a great deal of money sprucing up their home office space and tackling long-delayed home improvement projects.
Ryan Hepworth, owner of Utah’s locally-owned paint supply company, Prism Paint, says, “As for us, we are extremely busy. Construction is crazy right now.”
He also noted that, “Being a smaller company allowed us to be more flexible and helped us continue doing our business as we normally did.”
Nationally owned competitors such as Sherwin Williams enacted policies including temporarily closing sales floors and limiting on-site consultations. Since Prism Paint is locally owned and operated, Hepworth was able to adapt his business based on local restriction levels and mostly go about business as usual.
Megan Kilpatrick, owner of Ma and Paws Bakery, a natural pet food store with locations in Millcreek and American Fork, has experienced wild fluctuations in sales.
“Before COVID we were doing great, and then everything got weird and we saw triple the sales because everyone was hoarding.”
Kilpatrick just secured a Shop in Utah grant, which is a $25 million initiative by the State of Utah to provide relief to small businesses negatively impacted by COVID. In order to qualify for this grant, businesses must offer a discount or coupon to their customers of at least 50% of the grant amount. Kilpatrick vows to “take everything that I get and put it back into shopping local.” She’s going to use the money to buy products produced in Utah and offer 50% off the items until that money is exhausted. “I want to encourage people to shop local and see what an impact it has,” she says.
Kilpatrick also has a tip for other small business owners and that is to network with other local business owners to learn what other grants and relief programs are available.
“I feel like a little bird, scooping up what I can get here and there,” and she’s committed to doing what she can to get the best bang for her client’s money and keep her staff busy.
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