Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy.
As much as we need big box stores and free two-day shipping, it’s the small businesses that make our communities unique. They sponsor our kids’ sports teams, know us by name, and remember our orders by heart. They support local artists and schools. And our small businesses power 44% of the economy and employ over 58 million people in the U.S. alone.
They’re also among those struggling the most right now as a result of social distancing and other coronavirus-related initiatives encouraging people to stay home. If you’re close to a small business owner, you’ve likely heard some of their fears about the future.
That’s one of the reasons Intuit QuickBooks teamed up with GoFundMe and Yelp to support the Small Business Relief Initiative. Intuit QuickBooks is seeding this initiative through the Small Business Relief Fund and direct contributions to fundraisers that its 9,000-plus employees care about. Together, the companies have pledged funds for small business microgrants and employee contributions.
For small businesses struggling to meet ends meet, that kind of support can’t come soon enough.
When business evaporates, business owners fight to survive
“I would never have thought to do a GoFundMe for myself. But I agreed to participate in this opportunity because it dawned on me that I may not be able to make it without that help,” says Scott Zalkind, owner of Lucky Dog Hot Sauce.
Zalkind, like most small business owners, has seen better days. The company sells award-winning hot sauces in 25 states, as well as Canada, Norway, and New Zealand.
“Year of the Dog, my Southeast Asian-inspired sauce, was recently featured on the YouTube sensation ‘Hot Ones,’” Zalkind says. “Trevor Noah said it ‘danced on his tongue like Fred Astaire.’”
But since the coronavirus hit, Zalkind has been worried about sales.
“Business has gone sideways in a hurry,” he says. “Other than a couple of local grocery stores, the wholesale business has evaporated virtually overnight with specialty stores closing.”
Until recently, he’d make half his sales at farmers markets and festivals. But those events are shutting down rapidly to accommodate social distancing rules. Fewer events means fewer customers to taste his products.
“A taste is worth a thousand words,” Zalkind says. “But I can no longer offer samples, which is a killer for a company like mine with specialty food.”
It was around this time that an Intuit employee reached out to Lucky Dog Hot Sauce about the Small Business Relief Initiative.
“For many folks on our team, Lucky Dog Hot Sauce isn’t just a brand, it’s a small business that’s close to our hearts,” says Michelle Taite, director of Global Brand Marketing at Intuit.“I asked Scott to join our crowdfunding initiative because our businesses have a long-standing relationship”
And Lucky Dog Hot Sauce isn’t the only small business with close ties to Intuit’s workforce. Once the initiative was announced, employees from all over the country began adding their favorite local businesses to the mix. Now, the initiative includes Boise, Idaho’s Record Exchange and South San Francisco’s Dragonfly Designs.
Small businesses embrace e-commerce to weather the storm
The Record Exchange has been around since 1977 and is a Downtown Boise landmark. It’s also a major community supporter.
“Local music and art have always been important to The Record Exchange,” says Chad Dryden, marketing and promotions director. “We’ve always provided space for artists to sell and showcase their creative works and given music venues a place to sell tickets to their events. For as long as there has been a Record Exchange, there has been a local music section.”
Normally, the business opens bright and early to accommodate downtown workers and Record Exchange regulars who enjoy the espresso bar and gift shop. For Dryden, a busy day means the store’s vinyl section is packed.
“Vinyl’s resurgence literally transformed our business,” he says. “Ten years ago, the format helped us emerge from the Great Recession, and it’s largely responsible for the steady growth of our business.”
Now, The Record Exchange is weathering another storm: COVID-19. And they’re doing it in a way you might not expect, given their industry.
“With our doors closed to the public for the time being, our business is now entirely dependent on online and phone sales,” says Dryden. “We’re using social media to post videos and photos to help people shop our store from home, and we’re rapidly beefing up inventory in our online shops.”
Like many small businesses, The Record Exchange has learned to embrace online marketplaces. They’ve even distinguished their products across several platforms to best showcase their offerings. Customers can find new vinyl and new and used CD, DVD, and Blu-ray inventory on the store’s website or Discogs. Rare and discount media go to their eBay shop.
“The one positive we’ve taken from this is that it has forced us to get better at e-commerce,” Dryden says. “We will emerge from this with an even stronger online team and an increased presence on the global music retail market.”
As for why The Record Exchange decided to join the Small Business Relief Initiative, Dryden says the decision came down to bills.
“Every dollar counts right now,” he says. “Whether it’s people shopping our online stores, purchasing gift cards for future use, or giving us direct donations, we’re using that income to keep the lights on until we can get back to business as usual.”
Community small businesses get creative in their service offerings
Unlike The Record Exchange or Lucky Dog Hot Sauce, Dragonfly Designs is more of a service-based small business.
“We are an art education and creative event company offering after-school enrichment classes, camps, and jewelry-making parties for children,” says Stacee Gillelen, founder and CEO.
Now, with the sudden school closures and shelter-in-place mandates, the business has come to a standstill.
“We no longer have a way to employ our teachers,” Gillelen says. “Seemingly overnight, our business model ceased to exist.”
The business has had to suspend all after-school classes, spring break camps, birthday parties, and workshops, among other activities. And the new space Gillelen leased in San Mateo isn’t even usable at the moment. Despite all that, Gillelen isn’t ready to give up.
“We have been facilitating meetings with after-school directors to determine how we can move our classes to an online platform,” she says. “It has forced us to get really creative—which, thankfully, is the business we’re in! We believe, where there is a will, there is a way.”
As for how Dragonfly Designs is doing that, she says it comes down to taking over that virtual space, despite its challenges. Among other avenues, her team is revising their after-school curriculum to one they can teach virtually, with parental supervision.
“We’ve added virtual, live-teaching options to our parties,” she says. “Every partygoer has a DIY kit, and our staff walks them through the jewelry-making activity online.”
As for what it means to be part of this crowdfunding initiative, Gillelen says she’s thankful for the chance to participate.
“We are incredibly grateful and blown away by this opportunity,” she says. “We are trying to figure out how to keep our doors open and pay our skeleton crew that’s working hard behind the scenes to move our programs to an online platform. In the meantime, we need to purchase additional tools, equipment, video-conferencing accounts, and pay support staff to keep moving forward and adapting to this new normal. Every bit of revenue we receive helps support that process.”
Small businesses stay inspired, despite struggles
In light of so many challenges—of plummeting sales and canceled events—it would be easy for small businesses to close up shop. And yet, it’s that same courage that makes small business owners dare to pursue their dreams that fuels their ongoing drive to prevail. Because the businesses we talked to won’t give up easily. On the contrary, they’re finding reasons to fight and stay inspired.
“Almost every online order I’ve received the last two weeks since this thing started has had a customer note,” Zalkind says. “Either wishing me well through this crisis or singing the praises of the sauce or telling me how excited they are to get more. I’ve always felt that, no matter how good I think my products are or how many awards they’ve won, my sauces are only as good as the next customer’s feedback. So that has been incredibly inspiring to me, knowing that I’ve created anyone’s ‘favorite’ anything.”
For Dryden and The Record Exchange, inspiration comes from the community.
“We’re inspired by the love we’re receiving from our customers and the way Boise’s independent businesses are supporting one another,” he says. “With restaurants and bars shuttered and our fellow retailers dealing with the same sudden drop in business, the business environment could have turned cutthroat overnight. But that’s not Boise. We know that they have our backs, and they know that we have theirs.”
And as for Dragonfly Designs, Gillelen says it’s everyday acts that keep her feeling positive.
“I’ve been saying this for the past week. When I look around and see how people are treating each other, I see so much kindness, gratitude, support, and goodwill! It’s a beautiful thing to witness. This GoFundMe campaign is a perfect example. It’s absolutely unexpected and life-changing!”