Small Business and COVID-19

Business is the lifeblood of our society. We live in trying times. COVID-19 is still relatively new and over the course of a year there has been countless research and changes made to our society in order to continue to function in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. Many small businesses suffered greatly due to the pandemic but some managed to survive throughout it. After so many businesses shut their doors permanently, there was a void in the market that needed to be filled, but is it worth opening a business and taking that risk during the pandemic? I interviewed a small business owner to shed some light on the subject and find out if it was possible.

The only small business owner I know personally is my uncle David. He owns a small Papa Murphy’s in my hometown of Fresno, CA. Papa Murphy’s is a take and bake style pizza company. You come into the shop and they build the pizza in front of you sort of like subway except with pizza. They wrap up the raw pizza for you and you can take it home and cook it or put it in the freezer to eat within a few days. David has been in business for about thirteen and a half years now. He has had his ups and downs with the business, but he is a successful business owner.

During the interview with David I asked a series of questions related to COVID-19 and business in general. My first question was asking him what his motivation for business was. He said he was always interested in owning a business as far back as he could remember. “I always had an interest in business my entire life. I always wanted to be my own boss and though I just had to find the right opportunity. I used to sell radio advertising and visited many businesses to talk to them about their operations. I always analyzed their businesses and would secretly predict if I thought that the business would do well or not do well and go out of business and tried to give them ideas to help them improve their businesses.” Certainly this is a great way to begin thinking about creating your own business by analyzing other businesses first.

Is it possible for anyone to run their own business? This is what I asked him next. He gave a surprising answer that I hadn’t thought about prior to the interview. “Yes and no. Anyone could start a simple, small business out of where they live selling things they make or some sort of service they could provide. In order to run a larger business managing many people, customers and a million other factors, most people couldn’t pull it off” he said. He goes on to talk about how most people only think of the successful businesses, then put their life savings into opening a business which ultimately fails. I agree with David’s conclusion. I did some research of my own and discovered that only 50% of businesses make it past their first 5 years.

How much is training or schooling is necessary to open a business? In his case as far as training goes, he only needed to attend 6 weeks of owner training from Papa Murphy’s corporate office. He learned most of what was taught in the course from working at multiple pizza places over the years and analyzing their business plans and different management styles. He went on to explain that if you want to run a successful business, it is important to have experience in the field of the business you want to open. This is great advice as you will need to understand how successful businesses operate on a day-to-day basis as well as management styles and skills.

What is the hardest part about owning a business? David explained it was mostly building a community, which takes long hours and a lot of hard work. “When the business finally opened, it made much more work for me. Working from open to close, going out and dropping off coupons on car windshields, at businesses around me, doing school fundraisers, all while my first child was just born” David said. Although it takes a lot of work and time to establish yourself in a community and create a customer base, the hard work does pay off in the end.

Is it worth all the effort, time and money you put into it? David claims it is worth it. It was difficult, especially in the planning and the start of the business, but it became easier over time. It took David about a year to begin to break even and make a small profit. It took him 5 years to start making a good living. According to the Houston Chronicle it takes on average 2 to 3 years to begin making a profit. Once David was established he was making a good living and his business had been open for over 5 years all his hard work had paid off.

COVID-19 made a sudden emergence and had a great effect on most businesses, but luckily due to the style of business David owned, his business was largely unaffected. What were some changes to his business due to COVID-19? Most of his changes were sanitary and precautionary according to California law. The laws were constantly changing in light of new information so they would have monthly meetings with corporate. While this is an extra cost to operate the business, these changes were relatively inexpensive and made business still possible.

How does COVID-19 affect employees in small businesses? David actually had an increase in sales during the pandemic, so he had to hire more employees. Unfortunately, he did have a few employees quit due to fear of COVID. He had a hard time finding new employees at minimum wage while unemployment is paying them more than minimum wage. That is one important factor to consider when opening a business with minimum wage employees.

How does COVID-19 affect the average amount of customers for a small business? David says since he was in the food business and many dine in restaurants were closed, he saw an increase in the amount of customers to his business. This is a great advantage. This is a small business taking advantage of that void in the market that needed to be filled. Luckily David never needed to close his business due to the style of company he has. It wasn’t dine in but take-and-bake meaning you take the pizza home and cook it there.

Is there difficulty getting supplies for your small business during COVID-19? Yes and no. For David most of his usual supply was unaffected by the pandemic but not all. Some items were difficult to get a hold of and some items increased in price. Disposable gloves and salami are very difficult to find during the pandemic. The price of cheese has increased and makes up a majority of the price of his food costs. Some things will inherently be difficult to find and more expensive to buy and transport during the pandemic. If you are looking to open a business, it is best to do some research and find out the logistics for your business before investing your money into it. Even though business may be more expensive to run during the pandemic, it is possible to make greater profit during the pandemic than normal if you are smart about your business type and model.

Are businesses eligible for COVID relief funds? Almost all businesses are eligible for a PPP loan and an EDIL loan. Unfortunately, the government doesn’t require businesses to show proof of lost sales due to COVID-19. This makes it very easy for business owners to take advantage of these loans even if they don’t need it, possibly taking the opportunity from another small business that needs that help to survive.

There are many factors upon which a business becomes successful. This is all up to the experience and knowledge of the owner. It depends on the type of business and how it operates. It’s the dedication to the business and its success that truly makes or breaks it. Although COVID has hindered business, it hasn’t stopped it.

Based on my interview with my uncle there is still great opportunity for small businesses to arise during the pandemic. There is no reason to lose hope in opening a business during the pandemic, you just need to make smart decisions in light of COVID. There is a void in the market due to the closure of many dine in businesses. Some of those closed their doors permanently and some of them have reopened at limited capacities or full capacity depending on where you live. We can’t predict the pattern of COVID infections, but we can play it safe. You can open a business similar to David’s which doesn’t largely depend on dine in customers to make profits. If you have the experience in the field in which you want to open and you have done the research, now might be a better time than any to open a business. It is possible to get a head start before new business owners begin opening businesses to fill the void. This could be a chance to establish yourself and create your own customer base. The possibility for a successful business is always possible, even in today’s volatile environment.

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