- Apr 29, 2020
Since March, Chamber members have implemented dramatic changes to remain operational. For some, the emergency has created new opportunities and strategies that may become permanent. Here is how just a few of our members are working through these challenging times.
New Restaurant Owners Persevere — Stelios Mitros and his brother Art could never have imagined the obstacles they would face when they bought Butterfield’s restaurant just a month before the governor’s order closed restaurants and bars. “We have found ourselves trying to negotiate rent, bank payments and a way to keep the restaurant operating,” he describes. “First of all we had to stay open to take care of our customers. The kind and supportive words we receive from our community and our friends and customers keep us going.”
The timing of the closure forced them to throw out inventory and switch to a carryout model. They rotate staff in order to give everyone some level of employment. With revenue down almost 90 percent from expectations, Stelios and Art are dealing with red tape surrounding PPP eligibility. For now, they take all possible measures to ensure safety and look forward to a day when they can reopen their family-friendly dining room.
“For sure it’s going to be hard if people don’t feel comfortable and secure. We are planning on taking extra measures to make our people feel and stay safe. I want to express my empathy to all restaurant owners and their employees and hopefully we’ll be back to normal soon.”
Online Sales, New Products Fuel Retailer – For Mindi Kane, owner of boutique Payton Rose, the stay-at-home order forced a complete transformation of her business. “My store has always been about personal relationships, customers shopping and connecting with us,” she explains. “I was in the process of updating my website anyway, but all of sudden I had to go to strictly online sales. It took us a couple weeks just to make that transition.”
One new product line that has been in extremely high demand on her website is a collection of fabric face masks. A supplier in California started producing the colorful print masks in an effort to keep her own employees busy; when Mindi posted photos on her business’s Facebook page, both she and the supplier were inundated with requests. “We’ve sold over 700 masks so far, which we’ve been delivering directly to customers,” says Mindi. “They come in kids’ and adults’ sizes, with lots of print choices. If we have to wear masks, I think it makes people feel better to have something fun.” Once the revised rules go into effect on May 1, she will be able to reopen the store for curbside pickup of masks and other clothing orders from her website. That will restore at least some of the personal connection she enjoys as a small retail owner.
Home Buying Becomes a Virtual Experience – Technology has been central to the maintenance of real estate activity in the age of social distancing. Traditional showings and open houses have evaporated due to safety concerns and state restrictions. In their place, virtual tours are becoming so popular that they are likely to remain commonplace in the future.
Katie Roberts, Managing Broker for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Chicago – Northbrook, explains that her office embraced the opportunities presented by technology. “We’ve introduced Virtual Open Houses on Saturdays and Sundays, where our agents invite buyers to see a property at a set time on Facebook, Instagram or Zoom. For showings, the listing agent will walk through the house while buyers watch on Zoom,” says Katie. “We had one house in Glenview that went from listing all the way to contract with only virtual contact.” Digital marketing also plays a vital role, as traffic on websites like Zillow has peaked while people are home shopping online.
Katie sees potential for a positive trend in the local real estate market. “We are seeing a lot of interest from people looking to move out of the city to the North Shore. They want to have the chance to have a house and green space if another quarantine comes around in the future,” she notes. “The virtual tools we are using now make it much more convenient to fit home showings into people’s schedules, so I think it’s an approach that is here to stay.”
Contactless Pickups Maintain Customer Safety — Paul Kaufman, Shred Spot describes his business as “luckier than some,” because his shredding facility has adequate space to preserve social distancing for him and his full-time assistant. To extend that safety, he has implemented contactless pickup of recyclables from customers; Shred Spot loads up the material at curbside and then weighs and invoices the job from his site. If clients want to watch the shredding take place, they are able to do so onsite at a safe distance.
The stay-at-home order has had a significant impact on Shred Spot’s regularly-scheduled office orders, which have dropped between 40 and 50 percent. That has been somewhat offset by an increase in individuals bringing in materials for one-time dropoffs. “People are using their time at home to clean out their desks and old files, so that helps,” notes Paul.
Telehealth Options Maintain Patients’ Continuity of Care — Health care providers have enacted a variety of strategies to provide care to clients while minimizing physical contact. At Illinois Bone & Joint Institute’s Glenview office, telehealth has become an important alternative to in-office care for many visits. “Our physicians and physical therapists are performing around 150 telemedicine appointments per week,” notes Laurie Jensen, IBJI Practice Liaison. “Since safety is our utmost concern, we do try to keep patients at home if possible.” Remote treatment options may include triage assessments by physicians, video conferences, exercise instructions, and other support. This frees up space in the clinic for emergency and post-surgery appointments requiring closer supervision.
With restrictions on elective surgery lifting in May, Jensen expects more patients to be seen for in-person appointments. Managing these appointments will require extra efforts in disinfecting equipment, preserving distance between clients, checking temperatures, and using masks and other PPE. With that increased demand, telehealth is expected to take on an increasingly useful role whenever possible.
Mental health services are increasingly important during this time of stress and anxiety, where telehealth also plays a major role. Dr. Anna Basov, Center for Psychology and Wellness, explains, “By including telehealth services, we are able to provide convenient, private, and accessible mental healthcare to those struggling with depression, anxiety, family conflict, parenting challenges, and other concerns. We made sure to include easy scheduling and affordable payment options for telehealth because we know how critical and life changing therapy is, especially during a pandemic.” It is likely that telehealth will continue to be a significant factor for her clients even after restrictions are lifted. “We can now connect with more people and break barriers that have gotten in the way for patients before: physical constraints, limited time to drive to an office, and living in rural areas without highly trained and licensed mental health providers,” notes Dr. Basov.
How will today’s adaptations shape the future of our businesses? While the current pandemic status will evolve over the coming months, many of the today’s investments in technology will have long term impact on business resilience and preparedness. Flexibility, creative thinking, and community connection are other essential building blocks as we move forward to recovery.