Watch from CO— Blueprint: Starting Up and Starting Over During the Pandemic

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The Detroit Regional Chamber, in partnership with CO— by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, hosted a conversation highlighting how small businesses have successfully pivoted to endure the challenges COVID-19 has presented. Detroit-based businesses Love Travels Imports, Michigan Fields, and International Wheel and Tire also shared their stories.

Will Adams, vice president and general manager of small business services at Upnetic; and Tom Mueller, vice president of client experience at ADP Small Business Services, and owner of Broadway Baker kicked off the discussion with best practices for businesses looking to start up or start over in these complex economic conditions.

As small businesses’ concerns evolved to how their business models need to shift to survive, Adams and Mueller offered this key advice:

Ask questions early. “We’ve noticed the most gifted entrepreneurs are the ones that have asked a lot of questions, especially in the beginning stage,” said Adams.

Three guiding questions he recommends considering are: What are you interested in? What are you good at? What needs, issues, or problems do you encounter daily? Successful businesses land at the intersection of these answers. “It’s about looking for those natural opportunities to expand your sweet spot,” said Mueller.

Before getting started, think through different approaches. Prior to creating a business plan, Adams advises working through several scenarios for the execution of different business models or delivery of a product or service. Also, exploring a feasibility study will allow businesses to receive critical feedback at low risk to determine the best way forward.

Adjust to customers’ changing needs. Meet customers where they are. Stay connected with the customer base to observe their behaviors and comfort levels. Whether it is gyms providing group classes in digital formats or bakeries expanding online ordering and curbside pickup options, accommodating customers’ changing needs and safety priorities will help businesses sustain.


Detroit-Based Small Business Stories

Yvette Jenkins, founder of Love Travels Imports; Drew Patrick, owner and president of Michigan Fields; and Netresh Rege, CEO of International Wheel and Tire, shared their first-hand experiences.

Jenkins’ business found success harnessing the strength of her artist, vendor, and customer community. Through tools like email communications, an expanded e-commerce presence, and personal outreach through tools like WhatsApp, Love Travels Imports was able to maintain operations.

“Goodwill was also something that made a huge difference for us because people believed in what we were doing,” said Jenkins.

Patrick’s story is unique in that he launched a new endeavor at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. His shelved idea for a grocery delivery service – Michigan Fields – was a highly in-demand service at the time, enabling it to get up-and-running in three weeks. Starting a business during a global pandemic required a balance of tactical business execution while looking out for the people making it happen – who were also personally grappling with the tremendous change.

Following the business’ quick start, Patrick’s team is now embarking on the new challenge of refining its offerings as its customer base reverts to traditional grocery shopping – deeming their service a convenience instead of a need.

Rege and the International Wheel and Tire team relied on insight from international offices to prepare for what was to come to their local business. Though they had plans internal adjustments, they were not prepared for the halt of automotive supplier production – their main customer base. With previously schedule projects on hold or canceled, Rege reframed the business around what was immediately needed – PPE. He also touted the importance of engaging local economic development resources for support. Further, to keep employees on board as major changes unfold, Rege advises businesses to “focus on the whys” to keep them motivated.


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