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It’s tough out there. But some small businesses have prospered

By May 28, 2020No Comments

(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)

How about a little good news? Countless companies are facing terrible circumstances as a result of the downturn. Many may never return. But, as the saying goes, one person’s problem is another person’s opportunity. So even though the economy has been devastated, millions have become unemployed and countless small businesses are facing ruin, others have prospered.

Tampa Bay’s Spaulding Decon, a cleaning company, has been – not surprisingly – busier than ever. “It’s been crazy. We’ve actually done over $30m in estimates in two weeks,” owner Laura Spaulding told the Tampa Bay Times. “In that period normally? It might be $100,000.”

The company, which has 24 offices across the country, has had its phones “ringing off the hook” and has been scrambling to hire extra workers to fulfill demand from restaurants, banks, government buildings, gyms and daycare facilities, even flying crews around the country to help in the busiest places.

Everyone’s been trapped indoors, which has been good news for a St Louis company called Puzzle Warehouse. The company has been breaking records selling puzzles, games and toys, shipping seven times the amount of items normally seen online and logging six times more sales in their store. “We’re not selling necessities,” marketing manager Greg Brown told the Riverfront Times. “We’re selling something to keep you entertained.”

Meanwhile, the online world has been booming. According to one report, e-commerce ad spending alone doubled in March, as consumers were forced to buy more stuff online. Of course, the giants like Amazon have benefited. But so also have the small craft makers on Etsy. They saw demand for masks explode, with the online platform disclosing that more than 12m face masks were sold during April, accounting for about $133m in sales. “It was like waking up and discovering it was Cyber Monday, except everyone in the world just wanted one product and that product was in extremely limited supply,” Etsy’s chief executive, Josh Silverman, said in a report by the Verge. It wasn’t just masks – Etsy reported that sales of other items surged 79% during the period too.

When people are stuck at home, they tend to eat more. Of course, the freelancers who work for delivery services like GrubHub, Caviar and Instacart have all benefited from the increased demand. But these are not the only deliveries that people are demanding. Portland, Oregon-based MilkRun, which connects consumers to farmers in their communities to buy local meat, dairy, produce and more saw its deliveries of these staples shoot up from an average 175 per week to more than 2,000. “It’s this crazy thing that gave life to MilkRun,” the company’s owner told the Portland Business Journal.

If you assume that many people have been moving their exercise regimes to their homes and that has created a demand for more exercise equipment, your assumption would be correct. But it’s not just the makers of the equipment that have benefited. Small companies like Goldens’ Foundry and Machine in Columbus, Georgia, are also seeing a boom in sales. The company, which has been around since the 1880s, has had orders for its kettle bells and dumbbells pouring in.

“We realized we were not going to be a good candidate for face masks and respirators. But iron? We know how to pour,” George Boyd, the company’s vice-president, told a local news station. “So, when we realized there was a shortage of kettle bells and dumbbells, we went in to help fill that void.”

And then there are the unforeseen businesses that have benefited from the pandemic. For example, there are people using online neighborhood community site NextDoor to barter goods and services, which has created an unexpected surge in traffic (and ad revenues) for the social service in cities across the country. There are the chiropractors in Pittsburgh who report increased demand from work-from-home employees complaining of back and neck pains. There’s the unprecedented demand for Cobol programmers, because the ancient computer language was used to construct many state unemployment systems that now need adjustments to accommodate more visitors and new rules from the federal government. There’s a reported comeback in drive-in movie theatres, as people want to see a good film while also practicing social distancing.

Finally, it’s probably not surprising that many small businesses in one industry are seeing spikes in sales because of the pandemic. That, of course, is the cannabis industry, with states like Nevada, Ohio and Oregon reporting record sales.

“We get to provide a little relief to a stressed society,” Mishka Ashbel, the co-owner of the MMD cannabis dispensary in Hollywood, California told the New Yorker. “It’s conducive to isolation, and it turns off the sensory overload from the news right now.”

Ashbel does warn of one consequence: “You might end up eating all of your quarantine food supplies.

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