Most businesses that participated in COVID-19 impact surveys hosted by the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce reported negatively impacted sales and the need to make operation changes due to COVID-19 and the economic shutdown.
Results from all four surveys that ran from the middle of March through mid-May demonstrate a diverse range of experiences from the shutdown. Some reported layoffs and furloughs, while many kept all staff on the payroll.
Dustin Wolfe, communications manager for the chamber, said their goal was to identify trends and find targeted ways to help businesses.
“We wanted to get an idea of what was happening to the businesses during the COVID-19 response,” he said. “It was a really good way for us to quantify how that was happening, and we wanted to give that information to our city partners and let all our members know how the entire climate of business is being affected in Shawnee too.”
Wolfe said survey results correlated with national trends.
Among the surveys’ key findings:
- Nearly half of March survey participants reported they applied for disaster relief loans and just as many reported they did not seek financial assistance.
- Nearly half of businesses reported plans to rethink their whole business strategy within the third survey, and just as many noted plans to pivot to digital operations.
- Results from the most recent survey, which wrapped up this week, indicate that businesses are most worried about low customer traffic and/or sales while Johnson County re-opens the economy.
Here are some stories of how Shawnee businesses have adjusted operations during COVID-19:
Furloughs and stringent cleaning regimens at Weaver’s Auto Center
Tony and Jody Adams, owners of Weaver’s Auto Center, an automotive collision and service repair business, had significantly reduced sales and customer traffic during the shutdown.
Revenue from collision repairs is about half what it was in March 2019 because there are fewer vehicles on the roads. To compensate, they furloughed 50% of about 27 staff early on in the shutdown.
“It’s been painful,” Tony said. “To not know when this is going to end and not be able to answer some of these questions for our staff for when things go back to normal, not having PPP funds, it was a really trying time. Still is.”
Despite the setbacks, they focused on positive things like giving free oil changes for first responders in Shawnee and calling their customers to check in and see if they have basic supplies like toilet paper and hand sanitizer. They’re also training staff with additional cleaning and disinfecting regimens.
“We’ve really used this as an opportunity to refocus who we are at the core of our company and how we outreach,” Tony said. “Nobody’s going to come out of this the same. You’re either going to come out better or worse, post-COVID. We’re just trying to focus on what we have control of instead of the things we don’t.”
Weaver’s also received PPP funding earlier this month, which they used to bring their employees back.
Pinnacle Gymnastics shuts down physical location, offers virtual classes
For Morgan Kuchynka, owner of Pinnacle Gymnastics, the first shock came when USA Gymnastics Kansas canceled the 2020 meet, which her club was slated to host at the end of March. Gathering size limits were already in place, and the meet typically brings in 1,000 people.
The gym has been closed since spring break. Citing her loyalty to staff, Kuchynka kept her staff of 45 on payroll, cut out expenses where possible and had payments deferred for a few months. She received PPP funding in mid-April. Another big moment for which she’s grateful: More than 100 families still contributed tuition for classes that were canceled in April.
Also during the shutdown, Pinnacle offered virtual classes through Flipgrid, such as cartwheel and handstand clinics.
“It’s an ever-changing situation, so I’m sure what’s relevant today will have changed in a week,” Kuchynka said. “But that’s what we’ve got for now, and we’re hopeful we’ll be able to open and try not to let the what-ifs of the future drive you too crazy.”
Pinnacle reopens June 1 with several changes to operations, such as curbside pickup and dropoff of students, masks for staff, cleaning regimens and spacing apart students in classes.
Zoom conferencing at Bennett, Bodine & Waters, P.A.
As an essential business, Bennet, Bodine & Waters, P.A. has kept doors open during the pandemic, but things look different. With a staff of eight and sole control of their location downtown, they’ve been able to limit access to the building and between conference spaces, allow staff to work from home and manage cleaning regimens.
Co-owner Kevin Bennett said face to face contact has dropped significantly, especially with wills, trusts and work with small business. They switched to Zoom conferencing with some clients and practice social distancing when meeting in person, but it’s not the same. Plus, the courts have shut down, which has brought many cases to a near standstill.
“I miss the personal interaction, quite frankly,” he said. “It’s much harder to develop (a personal relationship) over the phone or a Zoom conference call.”
The Kansas Supreme Court has temporarily allowed virtual hearings, so long as they’re recorded, he added. One challenge: The law firm has to keep up with the different sets of rules in place across each county, and through each judge, on both sides of the state line.
Business has picked up recently, but the law firm will continue practicing distancing and cleaning regimens for the foreseeable future.
New digital platforms for I Heart Local
Breck Liston, owner of I Heart Local, a collective boutique downtown, said they transitioned to fully digital operations and curbside pickup during the shutdown. She said the pandemic pushed them into the digital world, something she intended to do eventually.
“Once the orders started rolling, I was like oh my gosh, I should have done this earlier,” she said.
There were some setbacks, but Liston was able to rework finances to make it work. And I Heart Local received some federal financial relief. Liston said the community’s support of shopping locally has made a difference.
I Heart Local has adopted several new measures, such as limiting the number of employees on site and additional cleaning regimens. Customers can now book private shopping appointments, and staff are practicing social distancing. And they will continue to encourage online sales and curbside pickup.
“We’re just concerned about the safety of our employees and customers, and we want everybody to feel comfortable,” she said.