The majority of Kentucky industries are officially back in business following the Governor's plan to reopen the economy in a way that’s safe for customers and employees. While many consumers have waited eagerly for this moment, there has been little rest for small businesses as they have worked to meet ever-changing standards over the past few months. The Hardin County Chamber of Commerce has been supporting local companies throughout the transition. We recently spoke with small business owners about how this crisis is affecting them, how they are operating under the new guidelines and what they expect to see in the upcoming months. We hope that their experiences will help other business leaders expand best practices while informing consumers about the steps being taken to safely welcome them back.
The initial hit of closures and capacity reduction was difficult for business owners as they scrambled to meet guidelines, help employees and remain viable. Even businesses that stayed open have faced their own set of unique hardships. Kerr Workplace Solutions is an example of a local company that was proactive, forecasting the impact of the crisis as early as February and shifting its business model to become a personal protective equipment supplier. Still, according to President Brian Kerr, the shift in demand forced the company to furlough many of its employees during the height of stay-at-home orders.
Fortunately for those put on furlough by Kerr, the company continued paying employees’ insurance premiums. Not all companies were able to do this, but for small business owners hoping to reopen, keeping up with employees who were off-payroll became one of many unprecedented new normals. Jim Rachlin, the owner of multiple Supercuts and Smartstyle salons in the area, said he helped many of his employees work through unemployment issues and fill out their weekly claims.
“Filing for unemployment was tricky for some of our employees, and with everything going on, it was important to still be a team while we were mandated closed,” said Rachlin. “We used Zoom meetings and created a private Facebook group for our team to share training and current events we felt valuable or interesting. And of course, we shared all the hilarious jokes and ‘bad hair’ memes. Everyone just wanted to be connected and to stay positive through all of this.”
While business owners are used to reevaluating their processes and making adaptations to keep up with changing markets, today they are being forced to make more sizable adjustments. As doors reopen, customers will quickly see the hard work and decisions made by business owners to keep their employees and customers safe. Crowne Pointe Theatre, for example, will still feature the big screens, reclined seating and fresh popcorn that moviegoers are accustomed to, but with changes, including directional signage to enforce social distancing and hand-sanitizing stations. In addition, seats will be cleaned thoroughly after each show.
“Going out to the movies is a fun treat that lifts morale, and we are doing everything we can to let our customers do that safely,” said Rick Roman, theatre operator of Crowne Pointe Theatre. “We are working closely with our ticket software vendor to ensure that all seating assignments will be in alignment with social distancing. Families will still be able to sit together, but, when a group of seats or single seat is purchased, the software will automatically block out two seats on either side.”
Upon returning to Rachlin’s salons, all employees and customers will be required to wear masks and complete health audits including temperature checks. There will be full sanitation of each station and its tools between appointments. The waiting area will be eliminated, and customers will instead wait for appointments in their cars in order to limit the number of people in the building. All of these measures are done to ensure the safety and well being of the stylists and customers, which is the absolute number one priority according to Rachlin.
Although spring hit small businesses hard, Rachlin believes things will start to turn around quickly as the Governor releases restrictions and eager customers return, ready for a fresh look. Likewise, Kerr Workplace Solutions, which traditionally provides office furniture and supplies to local businesses, is beginning to see a rise in orders as companies prepare their spaces to meet new social distancing guidelines. Even with things looking up, Kerr and Rachlin say they can’t stress enough the importance of supporting local businesses.
“It’s expected that by the fourth quarter, many companies will be back to 75 percent revenue. What we will all need to figure out is how to keep innovating to get back that 25 percent, and make up for what was lost in the hardest hit months,” Kerr said.
As consumers, we have the opportunity to support the local businesses that keep our economy running. Whether using curbside pickup, wearing a mask, shopping online or staying an appropriate distance from other customers while in stores, we can all do our part.
If you are a local business owner, I encourage you to reach out to us at the Hardin County Chamber of Commerce. We stand ready to support you in any way we can. Go to HardinChamber.com/Covid-19-Resources for up-to-date information regarding assistance from the Small Business Administration and other federal programs. Here, you can also post an announcement about how your business or organization is serving our community, through online specials or drive-through service.
While we are entering a new normal as businesses and consumers, one thing remains the same: we are in this together. Let’s do our part to keep our region safe and thriving.
Brad Richardson is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Hardin County Chamber of Commerce and serves on the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board, which serves Breckinridge, Grayson, Hardin, LaRue, Marion, Meade, Nelson and Washington counties. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.