According to research by small business marketing platform, FiveStars, customer visits to local businesses in the U.S. and Canada dropped by 70 percent between March 8 and April 12. It doesn’t take a statistician to realize that losing that many customers in one month represents a serious blow.

But not every mom and pop shop is collapsing. With a significant amount of determination, creativity, and reskilling, some small businesses have found unique ways to reach their customers despite the chaos.

Denver Beer Co: socially-distant beer tasting

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The hospitality industry has been hit especially hard by the virus. Even as restrictions eventually begin to lift, many governments have stated that bars and cafes will probably be amongst the last to open.

But Denver Beer Co. isn’t letting that outlook get them down. As well as opening their taprooms for to-go sales and making their beers available for delivery, they’re hosting online beer-tasting events. 

On April 18 and 19, they held a beer, bacon, and coffee takeout brunch, where they delivered premade ‘brunch packs’ to peoples’ homes. Just a few days later on April 22, they ran a ‘socially distant beer tasting’ – the third since lockdown began – held by head brewer, Jason Beuhler, and hosted via Facebook live stream. The team is likely to hold more of these events in the following few weeks.

“As you make purchasing decisions for beer to enjoy at home, we encourage you to consider supporting local breweries. Your support will help all our local businesses make it through what will certainly be a tough few weeks. Each dollar spent on Denver Beer Co. beer remains right here in Colorado and supports our Denver-based staff, distributors, and Colorado suppliers,” the team wrote on the front page of their website.

Books Are Magic: delivering paperback books and online storytime

Image courtesy of Books Are Magic

As brick-and-mortar stores are being made to temporarily shut their doors, most bookstores have had no option but to move their entire operations online. Books Are Magic is one of the stores that is moving all book sales online – and they’re also using their platform to stay connected with their customers and authors.

To help authors gain exposure and publicize their books, the company is using Zoom to host author talks each week, and posting recorded storytimes on Instagram TV (IGTV), a standalone video application by Instagram for Android and iOS smartphones. They are also using Zoom to carry out their weekly staff meetings to help the team stay in touch. 

“I think a lot of this is still sinking in, especially as things don’t seem to be improving in the outside world. Each week we are reassessing whether what we are doing is still working, and how we can adapt,” said Colleen Callery, Marketing and Communications Director at Books Are Magic.

“It takes a lot of labor to process each order and with restrictions on who can be in the store, it makes it really easy to get behind. We are also experiencing a lot of shipping delays, which is frustrating because it’s out of our control. 

Digitally, keeping our content and social channels active is always a challenge, but even more so now that we have to get creative with photos and what we have access to. We’ve also recently experienced some Zoom-trolls who have bombed some digital events that left our guests and our staff pretty shaken. So we’re constantly learning this new terrain and trying to make it as safe and enjoyable for everyone.”

Despite these challenges, the digital transition has proved successful. 

“We’ve had an amazing response from our customers,” said Colleen. “We’re getting more orders than ever and our events so far have been very well attended. We often get feedback that people are so grateful for the opportunity to still connect with writers and books they are excited about. So we’re trying our best to keep offering these things safely and effectively for as long as we can.”

Milk Bar: delivering delectable pastries nationwide

Image from Milk Bar website

Described by Bon Appetit magazine as “one of the most exciting bakeries in the country”, Milk Bar is a dessert brand that has 18 stores across the United States. 

While many of their stores have reduced hours, they are still baking, offering in-store pickups and same-day delivery. But the most creative thing they’ve done is offer shelter-in-place ‘care packages’, which can be shipped nationwide. Proving that carbs is your best friend in quarantine, Milk Bar is poised to ship cookies, cakes, and other delectable treats to help make life in lockdown just a little bit sweeter.

“Close your eyes and imagine someone showing up at your doorstep with a fresh plate of cookies. That spirit of kindness and joy. That’s what our care packages do,” says founder and CEO, Christina Tosi.

Olive & June: making manicurists out of everyone

Image from Olive and June website

Olive & June is a nail salon with an unusual twist. As well as running three salons across California and selling nail products online, founder Sarah Gibson Tuttle also runs online services, ‘Olive University’ and ‘Mani Bootcamp’.

After purchasing an at-home ‘mani kit’ from the website, customers can get access to tutorials and tips. Instead of having to go to a salon every time you need a manicure, you can now learn to do it yourself at home. In an era of social distancing, this is essential.

The salon’s Mani Bootcamp is running now, and the team is hosting a live video each day over on their Instagram account to answer questions.

Horderly: organizing your closet through your computer screen

Horderly is a professional home organization company. It aims to help people to lead a ‘streamlined, clutter free, functional life’ through helping them to organize their belongings. 

“I got a call from my mom and she was asking me if I was okay, almost like a storm had hit,” said Fillip Hord, founder of Horderly, when he realized that COVID-19 was about to become a serious problem in the U.S. “Three days ago we had a full schedule, and now we were completely at a stop.”

After realizing that they would no longer be able to go into their customers’ homes, Horderly decided to move their service online. “We spent three restless nights creating an online organizing service. It took years to create the in-home organizing service.” 

Previously, the business relied on workers going to the houses of their clients and physically organizing their belongings for them. Now, they have to coach them on how to do it online via one-on-one video consultations and also through their Instagram and YouTube channels.

But what could have been a business-ending disaster has turned into an opportunity to reach a worldwide audience. “Our audience is loving the fact we can now use tech to help them get organized. It’s helping us to reach an entire audience that we never would have been able to reach in person. It’s really expanded our business,” said Hord.

“Launching virtual organizing for Horderly has always been on our to-do list – but way in the back. Never in the forefront of things to do. It expedited the launching of an entire service. Our company is going to come back bigger, better, stronger, with greater revenue because we decided to launch virtual organizing using tech. 

I’m excited for the day we can get back into homes, but I’m also excited because hopefully we just doubled our audience and our service capability because of tech.”

5 small businesses making smart pivots for a world gone offline