“making it work” A series attempting to weather the tough times of small-business owners.
At a time when most parking lots sat empty, a gravel pile on the outskirts of the Detroit suburbs was filled with cars — a troubling sight in the fall of 2020. , unsure of what to expect.
All visitors knew that the night promised to escape from their homes. came for Glenlore Trails and the promise of an unusual half-mile hike through an illuminated forest.
“We wanted it to be like walking through a movie,” said Scott Schoenberger, who created Glenlore Trails with his wife, Chanel. “We didn’t have a baseline of what looked ‘good.’ We just went out and put up a bunch of lights in the woods.
That night visitors experienced more than a few lights: They were immersed in a world of interactive video walls, multicolored waterfalls, video projections that illuminated the forest canopy, and more. The project was a hit. Within a week, tickets sold out for the month-long run, and Mr. Schoenberger was adding more dates. The couple soon realized this long-term idea could help their family’s primary business, Bluewater Technologies, which creates live experiences for corporate and conference clients, get through the Covid-19 pandemic and grow its business. Puts some of the 225 employees on leave.
He certainly did not expect that, after three years, Glenlore Trails would make up 6 percent of the company’s income, with the expectation that it would grow to 25 percent within five years. “It was a whirlwind, and, four years later, it still feels that way,” said Ms. Schoenberger, who manages the events operations.
Bluewater, like many small businesses, was struggling to survive during the pandemic. An August 2020 study by Visa found that 67 percent of small businesses said they were pivoting: restaurants began selling make-at-home meal kits or opened general stores; gyms offered virtual classes; Some veterinarians try drive-up consultations.
“I’ve seen a lot of risk taking during the pandemic,” said Laura Huang, director of the Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative at Northeastern University. “It’s easier to take big risks when you’re at zero.”
Many businesses are letting those pandemic pivots fall by the wayside as customers demand a return to normalcy. But for some owners like Mr. Schoeneberger, the pandemic proved fertile ground for experimentation that continues to pay off. They are making their axis permanent.
For this to happen, Dr. Huang said, “a successful pivot needs to complement your business, not undermine it.”
When the pandemic struck, Mr. Schoenberger realized that the company’s audiovisual equipment was sitting idle in storage and that Bluewater employees needed work. So he took his idea to his mother, company owner Susan Schoenberger, and the team. They all agreed, and in only a month, Mr. Schoenberger, 37, and his wife, 34, went looking for a plot of land to rent to welcome Glenlore Trails’ first guest. To reach out to people, he hired an influencer to promote the walk on Tiktok.
“Because of the circumstances, everyone was willing to try,” Mr. Schoenberger said.
Now they are working with conventions and corporate clients on similar experiences. They have expanded the walk to one mile and have released new themes each season. They have purchased equipment specifically for the project, are looking to purchase a permanent location and have hired five full-time staff members and 20 part-time workers dedicated to the company’s themed-entertainment division.
“It’s really become a research and development center for us,” Mr. Schoenberger said.
Pivots who specialize in new ways are the most likely to be successful, Dr. Huang said. “Those small businesses that survive go back to the elements that are strong.”
For Kyle Baer, this meant dabbling in vaccines. Before the pandemic, his independent pharmacy in Shorewood, Wis., just north of Milwaukee, didn’t offer them; The service now accounts for 10 percent of revenue and has been indirectly responsible for doubling the company’s prescription business in three years.
“What Covid did for us was cram five years of marketing into one year,” Mr Baer said. “It put people on our doorstep who would have had no reason to choose to come in.”
Mr Baer, 37, had been a pharmacist for more than a decade when he decided in 2019 to buy his own practice. After eight cold calls, a pharmacist in Shorewood agreed to meet. They closed the deal on North Shore Pharmacy, an 88-year-old business, on March 1, 2020.
Less than two weeks later, everything changed. Mr. Baer was no longer just a pharmacist going to work but a business owner navigating the unknown.
The pharmacy never closed because it was considered an essential business, but many of Mr. Baer’s customers were at high risk of serious illness and were hesitant to leave their homes—so he began offering curbside pickup and built on existing delivery services. be extended. With fewer customers inside, he began renovating the space, which had not been updated since the 1980s.
Finally, when doses of the COVID-19 vaccine became available, he signed up to receive them. Mr. Baer didn’t think a North Shore pharmacy would be top of the list to receive the initial doses, but in early January 2021, the state health department called to tell him that 100 doses would be distributed the next day.
After this, there was an atmosphere of chaos for 24 hours. He immediately repurposed a renovated display section as a waiting area for vaccine service. “It was a coincidence that we had such a large, beautiful area in which 10 people could talk and sit in peace,” Mr. Beyer said.
As word spread, people from neighboring towns started driving in for his shots. To accommodate the increased demand, Mr. Baer hired a full-time nurse. The intensity has decreased, but nurses are still on staff part time, providing childhood immunizations, back-to-school shots and visit services.
“We realized we had an opportunity locally as someone who could solve problems,” Mr. Beyer said.
In March 2022, they bought a second location in a neighboring community, where they were able to add compounding — making specialty drugs — to their services.
Sometimes, the pivot isn’t about what you do but who you do it for. For LaQuanta Williams, this meant ending the residential cleaning service to focus on commercial clients. It’s a change she’s making permanent.
“Covid sent my business in a direction I didn’t expect,” Ms Williams said. “I lost all my residential clients in one day. Literally, the same day.
Ms. Williams started her own company, white glove cleaning solutionAs a student at the University of Akron in Ohio. She was taking an entrepreneurship course, and her professor asked the students to create their own businesses. A friend noted that she was always cleaning, and an idea was born.
His project impressed his professor, who suggested he apply for a cleaning position at the university to gain experience before going into business. He got the job but decided to start his own firm.
But in 2018, Ms Williams, now 45, was fired from her job. He decided to take his severance pay and start the company. He rented an office and started delivering postcards. Her schedule began filling up with residential clients almost immediately.
They all went missing in March 2020. It was scary at first, Ms Williams said. But she was researching an electrostatic sprayer that would let her quickly disinfect surfaces. He bought two and started calling stores and offices offering his services.
Again, his schedule filled up quickly. A program to help minority suppliers connected them with several contractors who hired them to clean up after construction. She has had to hire five people to help her keep up with demand, and she doesn’t envision returning to residential cleaning.
“When I do, I can be picky about clients,” she said.