Innovate or Liquidate
There’s nothing like a pandemic to reveal the strengths (or weaknesses) of a business model.
When the shelter-in-place mandates came down, many Gallatin businesses owners were forced to do a hard pivot. How do you keep your doors open when no one is coming through those doors? How do you adapt?
Gallatin Area Chamber of Commerce business-owner members can answer that question. You find out-of-the-box ways of delivering your product or service. Or, you reimagine it altogether.
In this article, we honor the innovation, the grit, the perseverance, and the guts demonstrated by Gallatin Area Chamber of Commerce members when faced with a tough situation: innovate or liquidate. They amazed us with their creativity, and we think you’ll be amazed, too.
Restaurants Pivot to Carry Out
Most of Gallatin’s restaurants took a hit in March and April during the first few weeks of the coronavirus-related shutdown. But then, something interesting happened. Some businesses didn’t just survive as they figured out how to navigate the new normal. They thrived far beyond anyone’s expectations.
Take Prince Street Pizza, for instance. With their dining room closed, Prince Street reinvented itself as a carry-out-only business. The owners worked out a system to minimize contact during the pizza pick-up process, including delivery to cars, payments taken over the phone, and limiting the number of people inside the store. Sales dipped momentarily and then soared. Staff members who had volunteered to take unemployment were quickly recalled as the to-go orders rolled in. When the state allowed restaurants to reopen at limited capacity, Prince Street Pizza’s dining room remained closed; their dining room had been repurposed as a pizza box assembly factory.
Starr Ranch is another good example. With their dining room forced to shutter, they shifted to carry-out orders and began serving food out their front window. Their large dining rooms became staging areas for pick-up orders, and the large windows facing the street became billboards. Employees wrote, “Call in to-go orders” in fluorescent markers on the windows, and business took off. Order pickup happened at the window, with customers ringing a bell to alert the staff they were there. The dining room remained a to-go order staging area for many weeks after the stay-at-home orders were lifted.
The innovation didn’t stop there. Chick-fil-A added twenty parking spots for curbside pickup, doubled the size of their drive-through line, and added an overhang for order-takers. Cracker Barrel set up a tent in the parking lot for to-go orders. Seven restaurants opened their doors for the first time during the pandemic: DosBros, Marcos Pizza, Nutrition Nook, Esperanza Nutrition, a second Black Press location, Fairvue Pizza &Pub, and Grants Kitchen, and all have been very successful.
Retail Reinvents Itself Online
Some businesses were ahead of the game without even knowing it. Take Sassy and Brassy, for instance. This women’s boutique on Gallatin’s historic square started as a home-based business that relied on Facebook Live events to generate sales. By the time their brick-and-mortar shop opened on the square, they were already seasoned e-tailers comfortable with promoting their merchandise on Facebook Live events and taking orders online. When COVID-19 hit and their store was forced to close, they simply fell back on a marketing tactic that had served them well since the beginning. Not only did they keep most of their existing clientele and attract new customers, they taught several of their fellow retailers how to implement the online sales model for themselves, with great success.
Churches Take Services into the Cloud
Most houses of worship were quickly able to adapt to the new reality.
After Gallatin First United Methodist Church had to pause gathering in their historic sanctuary, they brought in cameras to deliver the worship experience to their members. In July and August, the congregation gathered outside for socially-distanced but meaningful modern worship at Douglass Chapel on Long Hollow Pike. Freedom Church shot, pre-recorded, and produced services through their in-house production team and aired them through premieres on Facebook and YouTube. In addition to broadcasting services online, First Presbyterian Church in Gallatin hosted a “peek-a-boo” party in the parking lot, where parishioners gathered to sing hymns and say prayers. First Baptist Gallatin produced live-video services and held a "Drive Thru" Service where people participated in Community Service (donating non-perishable items to the community), Back-To-School Supply Giveaway, Communion, and a quick Message from the Pastor for every car that came through without ever leaving their cars. Gallatin First Church of the Nazarene also held drive-in church, while Rehoboth United Methodist Church started out by doing live services with a bare-bones staff in the church, presenting pre-recorded services, then transitioning to socially-distanced indoor services when restrictions eased.
Gallatin Chamber: Leading the Way
The pandemic was also an opportunity for the Chamber to demonstrate its true value. If ever there was a time the business community needed support, the pandemic was it.
“I'm on calls regularly with other chambers and other leaders across the country, and, by the second week in March, it was clear we needed to do something to help our member businesses, so we launched the Small Business Task Force,” said Kim Baker. “I wanted to get my best and brightest around the table, a few members from each sector who had already figured out how to reinvent themselves. I wanted to hear their ideas and find out what they needed right now, because nobody knew what the new normal was going to look like.”
A few days later, Kim had thirty members in a room, talking about things they were already thinking about. And, it helped us start the conversation with other businesses like them.
Kim and her staff continued offering support, starting email threads and a closed Facebook group for the various member categories, including retail, churches, restaurants, and others to support business- owners as they considered adjusting their business models in light of the new environment. She brought in insurance agents who could help answer questions about liability issues. Her proactive approach helped member business-owners start thinking outside the box before it was too late.
Between that second week in March and May 1st, the Chamber staff started calling members to check on them. Kim gave each of her employees about 100 names and numbers and gave them two weeks to call everyone. During the calls, Chamber staff asked member business-owners set questions and recorded their answers on a spreadsheet, so they could capture themes and trends and share best practices with other members. The support proved invaluable to members’ businesses.
“This crisis was a great opportunity for the Gallatin Area Chamber to live out its mission by uniting, inspiring, guiding, supporting, and connecting member companies,” Kim added. “I’m delighted to say our Chamber rose to the occasion.”
When in-person Jazzercise classes were suspended due to COVID-19, we offered virtual classes in a closed Facebook group via Facebook Live. The shift to online classes was complicated by needing to negotiate permission to use the music in the online classes, but we were able to work it out. Classes were offered in person and virtually for several months then shifted back to 100% in-person after the virus threat receded. Debby Haddock, Instructor, Jazzercise
When we opened, we limited every timeslot to just five people, so there are fewer people on the dock at one time. Having fewer people per class has had some unexpected positive benefits, including lower stress and a more laid-back vibe. Everyone has liked the change, so we are planning to continue with smaller groups. Megan Wage, Owner, Nashville SUP & Yoga
We took all our classes online for a while, featuring a mix of live and pre-recorded classes. Once the studio reopened, we kept the pre-recorded classes available, which has made it possible for students who are traveling or have moved away to keep practicing with the teachers they know and love. Megan Wage, Owner Balance & Breathe Yoga
Before non-essential businesses were forced to close, I started shooting videos of every Iron Lotus class, uploading them to YouTube, and sending links to members. By the time the shutdown happened, everyone was comfortable with the online class format. We offered classes on Zoom and Facebook Live and kept everyone connected with a private Facebook group, where members posted their home workouts, shared recipes, and stayed engaged. I reached out to each member daily with text messages to offer encouragement and motivation. When Iron Lotus re-opened, we were able to retain almost all our clients. Sandy Hughes, Owner, Iron Lotus Gym