NEW YORK (AP)-In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, when airlines cut flights and furloughs seemed imminent, Mike Catania sensed that there would be no need for a program that helped airline crews find short-term accommodation.
So, in early March, Catania and his fellow owners shut down Padloop, even though the nearly-year-old business had just broken up.
In the midst of the pandemic, Catania began to look at how life changed and came up with the idea for his next business: Locaris, a website to help apartment tenants communicate with prospective neighbors to get the rundown on buildings and landlords. Since the pandemic restricted the ability of individuals to meet in person, Locaris enabled tenants to securely get the lowdown on a house.
“I tried to focus on, what is COVID a catalyst for? What trends is it bringing to market a couple of years ahead of schedule?” says Catania, who lives in Henderson, Nevada. Locaris launched in June and quickly found success.
Since owners were forced to close firms, they had to find out what to do next. The solution for businessmen like Catania has been to predict the next trend and build a business to take advantage of it. Some owners have started companies similar to those they have lost, or businesses in the same sector that play a different role. Others have gone to work with someone else, while perhaps hanging on to hopes that the companies they shuttered would eventually recover.
How many small businesses have collapsed in the pandemic is not clear, but distinct figures all indicate destruction. Based on the National Bureau of Economic Research’s forecast last spring, the number is likely to be far into the hundreds of thousands. Data from the software company for job scheduling UKG reveals that since the pandemic started, about one in six small businesses have closed their doors. And by Dec. 1, 17 percent of U.S. restaurants, or more than 110,000, were permanently shut down by the National Restaurant Association, a trade group; these were presumably small or medium-sized enterprises.
When the pandemic struck, San Diego’s Alex Willen was planning to open a dog boarding service; when his bank said it was placing new business loans on hold, he was about to sign papers for a Small Business Administration loan to cover construction costs. Willen sensed the outbreak of the virus would not end rapidly, which meant that dog owners would not travel and many would continue to work at home, reducing the need for his services.
By May, the loan money was available, but instead of opening the company, Willen decided to give up and not have sales for months, maybe longer.
“By November or December, it looked like COVID wasn’t going away, and those are huge months for dog boarding,” Willen says.
Willen soon wanted to reopen a company he had shelved: dog treats in favor of boarding. Willen didn’t have to start at square one because of some preliminary marketing and package design for the company he had already completed.
Willen bakes for his two dogs, Cooper and Maple — which gave him the idea for Cooper’s Treats. He sells the treats on his website and Amazon.
“It’s looking like a real business,” he says.
Last summer, Kathryn Valentine closed her consulting company because she lost her options for child-care. Valentine’s nanny left to look after her own children, and daycare facilities were closed down. The Atlanta-based mother couldn’t work the 9-to-5 routine with a newborn and a toddler, followed by the clothing firms that were her clients. Another line of work she had to come up with, and quickly.
She was also a specialist in women’s negotiation preparation, an ability required for career success. In business school, Valentine had researched the subject, so she formed Worthmore Negotiations and started lining up corporate clients.
“About once a week I’ll have a commitment during the day, but otherwise all my work gets done after 7 p.m.,” she says. But Valentine hopes to revive her consulting business once the pandemic is over and she has child-care again. Her hope is to keep both businesses.
Steve West was forced by a series of lockdowns in Britain to close his acupuncture practice. He returned to digital marketing with no cash coming in, job that helped him get through a slowdown in his practice during the Great Recession. Given people’s confusion regarding near touch, he’s not sure when, or whether, he’ll return to acupuncture.
He’s also worried that some consumers will conclude they’ve done just fine without acupuncture when life returns to usual. In the meantime, businesses need digital marketing on an ongoing basis, which helps them gain more exposure in Internet searches.
“This is the time to focus on this (digital marketing), and maybe come back to acupuncture in the future,” says West, who lives in Haywards Heath, in the south of Britain.
With an agency doing e-commerce consulting, Kriti Sachdeva has a new job. She had to shut down her company that arranged fairs and markets in Britain and other European countries; she had only received five days’ notice that last March she had to cancel a fair in London, and five more events were also scrapped in the following months.
Sachdeva realized she wanted to get a job in April. She said, “I knew it was going to take a long time, and I knew I couldn’t do anything.”
In June, she landed her role. She loves the job and sees herself doing it for a long time, but she also worries about maybe hosting fairs on the side someday.
“Every day I think about it,” she says.