How to Rethink Business During a Pandemic

Change is the only constant in life, and the past year has certainly taught us that. Almost everything from everyday life has changed as we know it, and businesses in particular have closed at a high rate since the beginning of the pandemic. Since local businesses are the lifeforce of local economies, it’s important to adapt in order to keep our communities strong. We talked with two South Dakota businessowners on how they’ve handled the pandemic and how American Bank & Trust helped along the way.

Here’s how you can rethink business during a pandemic.

We first spoke to Austen Iverson who is the President at Iverson Auto in Huron and Mitchell.

What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced since the start of the pandemic?

The challenges that we face mostly come from the supply chain, vendors and our wholesalers – most of which are located way beyond South Dakota borders. Nearly everywhere else has not been as fortune at SD, so some of our suppliers were shut down for many, many weeks.  

What have you done successfully to stay open?

Iverson’s quickly adapted to the marketplace.  A lot more customers wanted to do a test drive at their own residence as opposed to coming into the dealership. We’re more than happy to take a car to their home.  Most test drives these days are done without sales rep done in the vehicle.  

Many customers who need a service done prefer that we pick up their vehicle from their house and drop it back off when we are done.  Iverson Auto is here to do business and we’ll give you space while doing it.   

What was it like building and opening a new location in Huron?

Before COVID-19 even started, we had everything secured and contracted.  So luckily our prices for goods and supplies for the new building did not fluctuate. We had just a few things that we weren’t able to have right away including seal pieces, some of the steel for the arch on the outside of the building and one hoist.  The hoist didn’t become available until about one month ago.   

Ben Nelson, Business Banker at AB&T helped with your PPP loan for Iverson Auto.  Tell me about your experience with Ben and what the PPP funds meant for your business.

Ben is absolutely stellar – phenomenal!  He’s fantastic.  We wanted to do all of our PPP funds with the same bank. I initially talked with two other banks and they had hoops I would need to jump through and couldn’t do my PPP fund application immediately.  With round one of PPP funds, no one knew how quickly the money would run out.  So, it was really important that our application got submitted as soon as possible. After talking with Ben, he jumped right on it and submitted our app within minutes of PPP portal opening on the first day. Ben is very knowledgeable and just an overall great guy. 

Nick Kolterman owns Fit My Feet in Sioux Falls. Part of his business is customized orthotics. To combat people not wanting to meet in person, Nick created a virtual portal that allowed him to still meet with customers and analyze their orthotic needs.

What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced since the start of the pandemic?
The initial challenge we faced was that people were scared to go out of their homes or personal work environments to shop… especially for retail. We were faced with the challenge of getting people in the door, because within the first three months of the pandemic, not that many people were shopping in retail. They were mostly going to stores to get the essentials. 

What have you done successfully to stay open?
After the first couple months of COVID-19, we knew we had to change the way people shop with local retail. We started selling online at www.fitmyfeet.com. We linked our Shopify account to our website and started to sell the majority of our products and services through it. We also started an online service called ShoeDoc Teleservices where people could access a practitioner online via through Calendly and Zoom. This allowed patients and customers who didn’t want to shop in the store to have one-on-one service with one of our Pedorthists — right in the comfort of their own home. The customer could talk about their foot problem, shoes, orthotics and we could make the right recommendations for them to purchase what they needed online. We would then ship right to their front door. 

Another success of ours has been the attitude to never give up. Most people that know me as an entrepreneur see that when we do anything within our companies, we do it 110%. Not talking about the pandemic to our employees and creating fear or sense of not knowing what’s going to happen has helped them to stay positive and focused. When something is happening around you, especially a pandemic, it is easy to get caught up in the fear of not knowing what’s going to happen. When you focus your energy on the good and steer your ship towards what you can make positive out of all this, it stays on the right course. 

How has the pandemic affected any previous goals?
It hasn’t affected any previous goals. It just slowed us down a little bit from achieving those goals only in 2020. 
I have a saying; The past is a place of reference, not a place of residence. 
If you keep focusing on the past and what it did to you or how it changed the course of your business, you will be stuck there. We are to learn from our past, change the course of our ship and sail its way to success. The goals of what you had initially in 2020 shouldn’t have changed because of what has happened.

What are some of the unexpected ways that the pandemic has tested your business?

Initially it was getting traffic in the door. Finding creative ways for people to shop with us. IE: opening early for high-risk patients, getting our products online for people to purchase, creating a teleservice for people with foot problems to ask questions about shoes and orthotics. 

Internally, it was getting all our employees to stay focused on the goals we set forth on January 1st and to stay on course to achieve those goals. 

One thing that a number of retail places have faced including ours is getting product from these manufacturers. Some shoe companies including New Balance, Brooks, Rockport to name a few have been difficult to get shoes from during this pandemic. If we don’t have the product to sell it affects our sales. 

The last thing is when someone got COVID-19 within our company the challenge to help that department keep running has been challenging. When you have a solid team of employees who run their departments well, it was challenging when more than a couple people have been out throughout the year to assist so that the flow of things internally keep going.

Lastly, I want to encourage businessmen and women in our communities to never give up. Be innovative and make key changes when change is around you. Continue to support other fellow small business owners in the communities you live in. Lean on each other for knowledge and support. We are all in this together.

American Bank & Trust is here to help you welcome change and look for new opportunities. If you’re  seeking  local advice and tailored strategies, AB&T is for you. Embrace the new world with the help of AB&T. Contact one of our bankers, today.

 

 

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