Business As (Un)usual

Written by: Samantha Todd

As businesses of all sizes continue to face challenges tied to Covid-19, many of the country’s smallest companies are relying on limited resources and support as they weather the ongoing crisis. 

At the same time, entrepreneurs across a variety of industries are overcoming their business obstacles with ingenuity and action. Here, learn how two founders are employing creative strategies to sustain—and reimagine—their brands.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to an uptick in cleaning supplies sales, and as brick-and-mortar stores have struggled to keep up with the demand, e-commerce brands have seen orders skyrocket.

PUR Home, a Black female-owned small business that makes and sells non-toxic, eco-friendly laundry detergent and household cleaners, is just one of those companies. “We’ve had a tremendous amount of growth because of Covid,” says founder and CEO Angela Richardson.

She started making her own soaps and lotions in 2012 upon realizing that many cleaning products weren’t as eco-friendly as they claimed. “I just wasn’t finding any products that were on the market that were truly eco-friendly,” Richardson says. “I decided to create those products, and that’s how PUR Home started.” After 18 months spent researching, developing and testing different laundry detergent, surface cleaner and soap formulas, she came up with the concept for her Nevada-based business in 2015 and launched in May 2017. In an effort to be as transparent as possible, PUR Home’s product descriptions and labels list every single ingredient.

PUR Home has experienced much growth in recent months as a result of Covid-19. Since the coronavirus started to spread in the U.S., the company has received as many as 3,000 orders a month, which equates to about 6,000 products. Prior to the pandemic, Richardson says the business was receiving about 100 orders a month. “People are at home and ordering their everyday essentials online now because in the beginning of Covid, they couldn’t find household cleaners,” she says.

Producing the products, however, has proved challenging. Many of Richardson’s suppliers have either discontinued or run out of inventory, forcing her to find replacements and increase the frequency at which she purchases supplies. Before Covid-19, she could get raw ingredients in one week—now, it takes three to four. In an effort to meet consumers’ demand, Richardson also expanded her operation, quickly hiring and training new employees and moving the team into a warehouse last month. “I wanted this type of growth, but I never imagined it like this,” she says. “It’s a true planning process that I have to go through just to make sure we have everything to keep going.”

One piece of advice that has stuck with Richardson during these tumultuous times: Find different suppliers. “Make sure that your supply chain is intact. Always have different suppliers that you can get from,” she says. “I haven’t been able to 100% do that, but it’s one of those things in the back of my head.” That, and the power of social media, which has helped PUR Home connect with consumers. “Another effective thing that a small business owner can do is to try to connect,” she says. “You have to have effective messaging and customer service, because people just want to connect—they want to know who they’re buying their stuff from.”

Two years ago, Mari Alejos-Puente was working a steady job performing psych evaluations at a New Orleans hospital when she realized she wanted more from her career.

At 3 a.m. on a sleepless night, she was scrolling through photos on her phone when she realized that she could combine her passions for traveling and painting nails to launch a small business. Determined to bring her dream to life, she became a certified cosmetic chemist, and in July 2018, Passport Polish was born. 

The Latina-owned beauty business makes and sells vegan, cruelty-free nail polish, as well as lipstick and jewelry, all of which are inspired by locales around the world. While Covid-19 has restricted travel, Passport Polish’s products, all of which pay homage to a different country, have given consumers an outlet for their wanderlust. Her Dominican Republic-themed nail polish, for example, is the color of green plantains, a fruit featured in many of the nation’s dishes.

When the coronavirus forced salons—one of Alejos-Puente’s biggest customers—to close their doors, she thought her business was doomed. Then, realizing that people would want and need self-care during the difficult months ahead, she decided to pivot her business model, focusing on her recently launched line of press-on nails. Between December and February, she had sold just 11 pairs, but by packaging them as kits and marketing them as an at-home salon experience, she has been able to sell more than 700 since March. It provides a “tiny sense of normalcy,” she says. But as sales increased, her supplies dwindled, and when her California-based nail polish bottle supplier stopped shipping due to the lockdown, she had to get creative, buying bottles at a Dollar Tree and decorating them. 

While salon closures did cause revenues to slump, since refocusing on press-on nail kits and resolving supply chain issues, sales have improved year-over-year. “Some days I feel guilty about that, because I know so many other businesses are closing,” she says. One way she has been paying her good fortune forward is through the creation of a $500 small business grant, which was awarded to the owner of a hair salon. “Five hundred dollars may not be the biggest thing, but it’s helpful for supplies. It’s just a boost in some type of income.”

Alejos-Puente credits her company’s survival to her ability to pivot, and she encourages other small business owners to do the same. “There are different things you can do to adapt to the new normal that we’re living in to be ready,” she says, sharing, for instance, how a jewelry maker could switch to selling DIY kits. But above all, she advises patience. “Don’t worry about being perfect,” she says. “We’re all in this battle together, so do the best that you can every day.”

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