Entrepreneurial moms very personally understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic more than most people. Not only are many of them managing their children’s at-home e-learning while parenting, maintaining their homes, and working, they’re also tasked with keeping their small businesses afloat in the midst of a looming recession and creating reopening strategies that will best serve their communities, customers, and bottom lines. It is…a lot to hold in one mind, all at once.
Now that states across the country are reopening (and, in some cases, re-closing due to spikes in COVID-19 cases), business-owning moms are faced with another challenge: how to reopen safely and successfully.
How does this look? We wanted to find out. We asked five entrepreneurial moms how COVID-19 impacted their business, how they’re planning to re-open when it’s safe to do so, and what their fears surrounding reopening their businesses are. Their stories are proof positive of the tenacity, resilience, and ingenuity of business-owning moms that we have come to know so well here at HeyMama (and how a community of like-minded moms can build essential relationships during times of uncertainty!).
Amie Elizabeth Swan, founder and president of On The Go Twenty Four Seven
“My business model is both retail and wholesale. With the COVID-19 shutdown, my wholesale business drastically declined as my Stockists are brick & mortar specialty boutiques, resorts, and country clubs. And given the quarantine restrictions, we were unable to host trunk shows. Thankfully, through some creative budgeting, strategic partnership giveaways, and social media, we were able to drive retail sales to keep us afloat during the shutdown.
On the wholesale side, we continue to reach out and communicate with our Stockists often. Unfortunately, some have closed for good and others are slow to get back buying. I am looking at this time period as “relationship building.” I value my partnerships and want to offer help where we can with social media images, sales strategy, zero minimums, or even just to talk. I am confident with the holiday season approaching things will begin to come back soon.
From the retail perspective, we have been open and fulfilling online orders safely through staggered work hours and social distancing. As we learn more about safety precautions, we are starting to strategize how we can host trunk show events safely.
My fears are for my Stockists. With all of the restrictions and decreased capacity mandates, I am concerned that they will be unable to stay in business. I have developed relationships with the buyers, owners, and employees and hate to see the struggles they are facing that are just not in their control. We will continue to support them and are looking at new strategies to gain new retail online customers.”
Katie Thomson, MS, RD, co-founder and CEO of Square Baby
“Since our launch in July 2018, we’ve been shipping fresh-made, frozen meals to parent’s doorsteps in a recyclable cooler box with compostable insulation and dry ice. So when COVID hit and everyone was scrambling for access to healthy foods and household staples (hello, toilet paper shortage and stressfully-empty grocery shelves!), we were thankful to be of service. And because our meals are shipped frozen and can stay fresh in your freezer for months, we also provide a solution for that “stock up” mentality we were all feeling.
Our Square Baby storefront in Orinda, CA is a whole separate ballgame. This amazing space has served as our community hub where local customers can buy meals and other gifts, do baby food tastings, host events, and come connect with our founders (Kendall and I) and ask questions to our registered dietitian (that’s me!). Our county and state were early to enforce shelter in place orders, so our storefront has been quiet for six months now.
We’ve immediately put a sign on the door alerting our customers that we are “By Appointment Only” at the store, but would happily drop frozen meals in a cooler bag to local doorsteps with a safe, “no-contact delivery.” Or, parents can opt for our online subscription that is delivered every two weeks via FedEx — you can customize your order and pause/cancel anytime, so this is just as convenient as our storefront.
From a supply standpoint, we have had to deal with longer lead times on packaging and certain organic ingredients, but we’ve adjusted our operations and planning to accommodate.
FedEx — not just for our deliveries, but across the board — has seen some delays due to the significant increase in online ordering. We typically have a 99% success rate with FedEx, but have seen a 5% decline since COVID. For our customers, this means we occasionally see a box of meals arrive on a Friday instead of a Thursday. And in some cases, the box has gotten stuck at a FedEx hub and the meals have arrived several days late — totally thawed. Again, only about 1% of our boxes have been impacted in this way, but it’s still a total bummer and out of our control.
With the storefront, we will re-open with a celebration! One of the best aspects of having a store space is that we can host events. We love partnering with local healthcare providers, pediatricians, and organizations like Momleta (Baby Boot Camp). It’s been amazing to open our doors as a community space — a welcoming place to learn, laugh, and connect.
And online, we’re excited to be moving forward with our National Expansion. We expect to be nationwide by early 2021. COVID has certainly slowed the process, as you can’t hop on a plane to meet with suppliers, manufacturers, partners, investors, etc quite as easily, but we’re proud of the progress we’ve made and are so excited about 2021.
I honestly can’t think of any fears of re-opening. Our community is so good about wearing masks and respecting safety protocols. When the orders are lifted, we will be waiting (with masks and plenty of hand-sanitizer) to open our doors and welcome our parents in. Whether parents are ready to shop in-store, still a little hesitant, or simply prefer the convenience of our online delivery — we have an option for every parent.”
Elisa Pupko, founder and CEO of Treasure Trunk Theatre
“We are a theatrical enrichment program for young children, so when COVID-19 hit we had to close our flagship studio in Brooklyn, and with it all our classes, camps, and birthday parties. Plus all our external classes that we run in schools and community centers around NYC and Hoboken, NJ. The inability to run in-person programming was a huge hit to my business, and I worried about the pivot to virtual programming due to the interactive nature of our programs and the young children we serve. Thankfully the transition was smooth and with my amazingly energetic teaching artists, we were able to captivate kiddos through the screen. We now offer all of our classes, camps, birthdays, and corporate events online. The silver lining from this has been the widening of our audience. We now have families across the US attending our programs, and even a few across the pond! We’ve also had the honor to be featured as a top virtual program by The New York Times, Parents, Fatherly, and RedTricyle.
I made the decision to stay virtual this fall with the exception of private, small group, outdoor classes in Brooklyn. The question of when it’s safe to reopen is complicated and there has not been a great deal of guidance from government officials about children’s programming centers that don’t fall under the school or daycare category. If numbers in New York City remain low into January 2021, I will plan to slowly re-open our studio with strict precautions in place including a requirement of mask-wearing, hand washing upon entry, and reduced capacity. I’ve already pre-purchased a commercial grade cleaner and fogger for full sanitation of the studio between classes. I’m hopeful that by early next year, we will maybe have a bit more information on all things COVID related, and also see how schools were able to safely reopen through this fall and winter.
My number one fear for reopening is the health and safety of our families, students, and staff. Even with full precautions in place, there is no guarantee and still so much unknown. Not to mention we work with young children and even my 3-year-old daughter, who is great at wearing her mask, will have it slip under her nose at times (plus the idea of social distance from her friends and teachers is challenging). From a business viewpoint, I’m not sure how many families are currently still in town and willing to attend in-person programs. Our neighborhood was estimated to have 40% less residents at the height of the lockdown period, and many have decided to stay away for the year or move permanently. While I expect the re-opening process to be slow, my hope is that there will be enough families back in town to keep up our registration numbers as we begin to open up again. And until that time, we will continue with our awesome virtual options!”
Melissa McArdle, photographer and creative consultant
“As a photographer and content creator for women-owned brands and small businesses, I definitely was impacted by COVID-19. With a typical booked schedule and sessions lined up through August, my work immediately came to a halt the moment quarantine and lockdown took place in the San Francisco Bay Area. My clients, who also were feeling the impact of supply chain disruptions, no retail, and lack of inventory and shoppers, created a ripple effect for my business since photography was not a priority nor could it take place with the guidelines and rules in place for quarantine.
Thankfully, I was able to pivot my business quickly and offer minimum to no contactless product photography for clients who were working rapidly to upload their goods and products online. Currently, I am able to photograph in my at-home studio and offer styled, curated imagery for clients to use on social media platforms as well as their online shops.
Since late July, I have been able to safely begin photographing clients, interior spaces, products and models while maintaining social distancing, cleaning protocols and wearing masks while on-set or location. I’ve had no fears associated with the reopening as the clients and professionals I deal with are respectful and intentional when it comes to protecting each other and ourselves.”
Cara Zelas, founder of Big World of Little Dude
“Our business was impacted in a unique way by the coronavirus pandemic. Our company is rooted in the pre-K, Kindergarten, and first grade classrooms. So in the springtime, when we saw an acceleration toward distance learning forced by school closures, we rapidly pivoted toward an at-home lesson plan product for this age group, which are the youngest children who are least able to benefit from technology (like Zoom or iPads).
Before COVID-19, we programmed 80% for children (stories, books, plush dolls, lessons, etc.) and 20% for parents (the instructions and activity guide worksheet). Since COVID-19 caused school closures, parents have assumed the role of full-time substitute teachers, and we’ve shifted to roughly 50% of our materials for children and 50% of the materials for parents.
The most recent example is Little Dude’s “At-Home Lessons,” which is a bundled social and emotional themed curriculum containing 120 lessons, as well as a complete materials “school-in-a-box” kit that has all of the household goods that are needed for the lessons. Parents can either buy the downloadable curriculum, worksheets and materials list, the complete bundle with the materials kit. This is for anyone who wants to efficiently turn their kitchen table into a proper homeschool kindergarten classroom.
Interestingly, we up-cycled the boxes from a local liquor store, so the kit comes in a recycled wine case. Something parents who have been home with their children might ironically appreciate. (There’s no wine in the boxes, but we do offer a 10% discount to anyone wishing to purchase wine or liquor from our box partner.)
We are very keen to get back into classrooms, back out to libraries, and in other forums like book festivals because nothing can replace the in-person experience and all of its benefits, especially for the developing mind, and with a main character (and real dog) as adorable as Little Dude.
We are careful to follow all health and safety protocols as determined by local, state, and national public health officials. Unfortunately, there are no uniformed processes, so we’ll take it step-by-step based on the municipality or region where we’re returning to in-person programming. We hope to do this as soon as possible!
We hope that this entire experience, for the majority of this year so far, has taught insightful and life-long lessons, and given perspective to children and their families. These are very stressful times and the anxiety that is perpetuated by a pandemic has a way of impacting both children as well as adults. We want everyone to be happy, healthy and safe.”