Think of facing difficult circumstances as an opportunity to think creatively and innovate
by Martie Cowsert Streit
The pandemic is global. Every community, organization and individual has been impacted. We have navigated eight months of unprecedented disruption to our businesses and lifestyles. How have we pivoted to accommodate the “new normal?” How will this shape us for a post-pandemic world?
Some questions remain unanswered for now. We are still adapting, learning, defining the new normal. For some that means simply staying afloat with a laser focus on the light at the end of the tunnel, although admittedly we do not yet see that light. Others look for alternate revenue streams or innovative ways to help others sustain through the crisis.
By Invitation Only, a Columbia-based event planning and design firm, specializes in weddings. While the company has not lost business due to the pandemic, 75% of the events have been postponed. “We continue to plan events with new dates, locations and guidelines,” stated owner Melanie Murphy. Murphy said that while her firm always makes an effort to ensure safety and comfort, she is implementing new practices to accommodate social distancing and reduce close contact interactions. “We are also partnering with other area vendors to produce safe, comfortable event experiences.”
However, Murphy states that the term “new normal” is not uttered among her staff. “We call it the ‘new now’. Each event is unique and specific to the client, and legislative decisions result in changing market restrictions and guidelines. We adapt each day and encourage clients to plan accordingly, making sure they are knowledgeable about updated policies and practices, and taking steps to ensure safety. We always help review contracts, but as new Force Majeure policies are included, we’re taking extra time to ensure clients understand them and are prepared for future hiccups.”
Summerville’s Simple to Sublime, a retail gift shop, has taken extensive pivotal measures throughout the pandemic. “We had to lay off, reduce hours; we negotiated with our creditors, added an online shopping platform, offered personal and virtual shopping appointments, held live sales on social media, and have offered virtual events, such as bingo, trivia, vendor spotlights and fashion shows,” explained owner Samantha Moore. “We added masks to our assortment and offer free local delivery as well as curbside pickup. We recently invested in ongoing staff development to stay ahead of the curve and have changed buying patterns and how we pay for goods and services.”
These changes have paid off for Simple to Sublime as the retailer met 75% of its pre-pandemic sales objectives for the first half of 2020 and 80% of its adjusted objectives. Asked which elements of Simple to Sublime’s new normal will carry forward in the post-pandemic world, Moore replied, “Almost all of them! We will continue to offer our products digitally and host virtual events, which was not in our plan prior to COVID-19.”
femme x COLUMBIA is a social club and co-workspace founded by Stephanie Isaacs and Nell Fuller. The downtown space is set to open in October. Because femme x COLUMBIA is a startup, Isaacs and Fuller feel lucky to have formed their policies around evolving COVID-19 guidelines. “We’ve included guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our rules and policies,” stated Fuller. “We adjusted our approach to membership recruitment by scheduling private tours, limiting in-person and large events. We had to move our femme CULTIVATE programming to virtual platforms, a move that has enabled us to reach more people in different areas and preserve programming for future use.”
Isaacs said femme x COLUMBIA has achieved its objectives for the first half of 2020, albeit with some delays. “Delays in securing property pushed back our construction start date and shifted opening from the summer to the fall. We initially planned to host events in person but shifted to virtual using Zoom and Facebook Live. Along the way we definitely experienced ‘Zoom fatigue’ and look forward to hosting events when the space opens.”
Isaacs and Fuller agree that community support has kept them going. They are now even more committed to providing a network of support for Columbia’s entrepreneurs, professionals, and leaders. “Our space exists to support community creation and encourage disruptive ideas,” stated Fuller.
While these business owners have taken different approaches to sustaining profitability during challenging times, it is clear the policies, practices, goods and services that have resulted from the pandemic are here to stay. Perhaps, then, we can consider “new normal” to mean continuous improvement and innovation, in which case we can, in fact, see the light at the end of the tunnel.