One of the most critical decisions every business owner had to face during this pandemic was whether to temporarily close the business. And as a business owner in the hospitality & tourism industry, every one of us was faced with this dilemma in March and April when lockdown restrictions were imposed, and people stopped traveling. Now that states and counties are allowing businesses to open back up again in phases, this is a good time to reflect on what we did as a business, what went right, what went wrong, and how our decision to stay open affected us these past couple of months.
Early on, we decided that even as the demand for our products decreased, we would still stay open and operate. And it was the best decision we’ve made during the pandemic.
Here are three lessons learned:
1. Don’t shut down the business unless you absolutely have no other choice. Everyday during the past few months, we’ve seen and heard about businesses closing, either temporarily or permanently. While some businesses with physical storefronts were required to close due to local regulations, those of us who operate our businesses mainly online have certain advantages during this time.
a. Whether a business stays open or closes, there are fixed costs that it must cover. For example, we have fees that we are required to pay to keep a presence on the internet, regardless of whether we have orders. If we keep the online storefront open, there’s a possibility we will get some orders to cover this fixed cost. If we shut down the online store and go dark for even just a couple of months, it would take many more months to get our spot back on Google or to catch potential customers’ attention again. A car that comes to a full stop requires more energy to start back up and get up to speed, compared to a car that didn’t completely stop but only slowed down in pace.
b. When you close a business, even temporarily, you risk the possibility of losing customers. When customers cannot find you or cannot contact you anymore, they will go somewhere else. And they may or may not come back to you when you reopen.
c. Every aspect of our lives has been affected by the pandemic. But don’t quit. Adjust. When travelers started cancelling their Airbnb bookings, a lot of hosts were left with lost income and empty properties. Some hosts tried creative ways to be flexible and adjust their properties to help those looking for accommodations – traveling healthcare workers. Others turned their short-term rentals to rentals that only accept longer stays (30 days or more). There are many creative ways to keep a business open. Keep your eyes and ears open for ideas. As a personal care company selling stylish guest amenity kits to vacation rental properties, we realized the need for people to stay clean and healthy especially during the pandemic. We started selling quality soaps Made in USA. Not only were we able to make sales, we were selling supplies to help people stay healthy. The added bonus was we also helped out our fellow American business owners.
2. Keep marketing your business/brand. When the lockdowns started in March, we got together with our marketing team and discussed the plan forward. We had some options: (1) Pause all marketing activities until travel activities resume to normal level. (2) Continue with marketing but tweak the tone to be in line with the current situation. (3) Continue marketing as if nothing has happened.
We decided on Option 2. If you’ve set aside a budget for marketing (as you should), don’t just stop because of the pandemic. This is an opportunity to fine tune your branding message and show everyone why you exist and how you can connect with them and help them. We didn’t stop talking about vacation rentals and travel. We put out new content and tried to connect with more vacation rental owners and travelers. We started designing new products so they will be ready post-pandemic. We created Stories that inspire the inner traveler in all of us. The Italians dancing and signing at their balconies during lockdown inspired one of our most beloved travel stories.
Adapt to what is happening and try to connect. Keep marketing your business/brand. Marketing is like compound interest. You may not see the immediate benefit in the short-term, but you’ll be grateful you’ve stuck with it in the long-term. In fact, our sales during this time was better than the same time last year. By staying open and being persistent with branding & marketing, we made some big sales from repeat customers and referrals. We also acquired some new customers who learned about our brand. Rental hosts are preparing their properties to welcome back travelers, and we are here ready to help them with our guest amenity kits.
People are stuck at home and have more time to browse social media. Take advantage of that.
3. Nurture your existing customers. Take care of partners and staff. Call or check up on your customers and partners. Sometimes it means the world to them to know that their vendor or business partner cares. Stay in touch with suppliers so you have the latest update on product availability and be the first to know about any issues with the supply chain. Every week, we have a call with the marketing team. We would talk about strategy, analytics, ideas, updates, and the things we could try. We remember those who helped us during this time, and those who forgot us.
The pandemic will end. Keep doing what you need to do. Keep running your business.