How the Coronavirus is Affecting Businesses

I wrote an article for the Newark Advocate this month that posed the following questions: “How is the coronavirus pandemic affecting your business and how should we reopen in a responsible manner?” While this is not an easy subject to tackle, it is on the mind of everyone these days.  It seems every Licking County business, non-profit, educational institution and individual has been affected.
 
I turned to several Licking County Chamber Board members for input. These individuals – Brandon  Hess, of Shai Commercial Real Estate, Mattingly Cold Storage, and Mattingly Landscape; James Golden, with the Pavement Management Group; Mike Birkmeyer, of the Madison-Collins-Stephens Agency; and Lori Hubble, with The Look-Up Center – bring a perspective of small business and non-profit experiences and concerns. Additionally, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently issued a report on this topic, which added to the conversation.
 
How has the pandemic affected your business overall?
Brandon Hess indicated that his organizations are, generally, faring well.   Shai Commercial Real Estate reports that closings and sales are up from last year and continue to trend positively.  Mattingly Landscape’s business has been very good.  “I believe as people have been home, they are staring at their yards more and getting new ideas, which has a been very positive for us,” Hess noted.
 
Mike Birkmeyer noted that new account business has slowed down. He stated, “I personally rely on networking and face-to-face interpersonal communication to grow my client base.  It works for me, unless there is something like a pandemic…”  The agency has only had a few business clients close so far but is doing all it can to help impacted business clients work through this crisis.
 
Lori Hubble stated that The Look Up Center saw several impacts.  “The pandemic did not shut LUC down; however, it did close our programming for a while. Due to program closures we re-directed our efforts toward distributing all we had stored up and actually saw an increase in donations.”
 
Has the pandemic affected your businesses cash flow?
The results and impacts here vary. Pavement Management Group did see a six-figure impact, due to project cancellations. A successful PPP application and funding helped bridge that gap. “The real effect for a company of our dynamic will not truly be noticed however until budget seasons open back up and our local government clients have had an opportunity to record the tax revenue losses and prepare for shortfalls,” Golden noted.
 
The impact has been different for the Look Up Center, which received emergency grant funds and support from the J. Gilbert Reese Foundation and “The Big Give.” Hubble notes, “I anticipate we will see a decrease, since we don't have the opportunity to fundraise and with the rise in unemployment individuals may not have dollars to donate.”
 
Do you feel the pandemic has affected consumer confidence?  If so, how do you think local businesses can overcome that?
The respondents generally agreed that the pandemic has had an impact – if not on their respective industry, in broad, “across the board” ways. The U.S. Chamber survey results indicate that 65% of businesses are concerned about having to close their business, or stay closed, if there is a second wave of COVID-19.
 
Mike Birkmeyer summed it up, “I do feel it has affected consumer confidence in the economy.  For consumers and local businesses, it’s  a combination of both uncertainty as to when and how this will end, and a huge shift in how & where consumers work, play, eat, and shop.  I do see that most of our local businesses are already working hard to adapt to the current situation.  Flexibility, creativity, and the willingness to adapt will be key for any business going forward.”
 
What else could businesses do to reopen in a responsible manner?
Again, the U.S. Chamber survey of small businesses indicates this is much on the mind of the small business community. The most common preparatory actions include updating their website and social media profile, and increasing e-commerce or digital payment options.
 
While there was general agreement among the panelists that this is the greatest challenge, Golden noted that, “This is an opportune time for ALL businesses to reach out directly to their specific market and customer and seek feedback.”
 
Your Chamber, in partnership with our member businesses, community leaders and both the Ohio and U.S. Chambers of Commerce, stands ready to help. We continue to share information, resource opportunities and support to our area businesses. Please contact me, at 740-345-9757 if we can be of assistance.