For Many Local Businesses, the Path to “Next Normal” is Reinvention

The coronavirus is devastating many of our local small businesses, barring customers from shops and restaurants and keeping cash out of cash registers. But for all the stress and frustration caused by the coronavirus, the tragedy is spurring innovation. Business owners who develop a plan to turn interruption into invention will be the ones who thrive beyond the turmoil.

We recently interviewed several local business owners and managers who are members of the Collierville Chamber. They shared their lessons learned along with their strategies for moving forward. The responses and strategies from these local businesses are rooted in the following characteristics: Resilience to respond and recover from difficulty, Resolve to chart a firm confident course of action, Reinvention of new business concepts and outcomes and Return to business with new vision, focus and energy.

Jump to an interview by clicking an image below…

Travel Leaders

Sheffield Antiques Mall

Senior Helpers

Consignment Music

Southern Security Federal Credit Union

Home Instead Senior Care

Tim Gaines – Lost Pizza Co.

Joe Sarrio – State Farm

Matt Morgan – Crye-Leike Realtors

Kaylyn Harris – Two Men and a Truck

Allen Green – John Green & Co Realtors

The Brooks Collection

Travel Leaders Collierville – Barbara May

Perhaps no industry has been hit as hard during the COVID-19 crisis as the travel industry. Business has come to a halt, other than canceling flights and trips, Barbara May of Travel Leaders of Collierville confesses. “This is the hardest I’ve ever been hit,” May notes.

“We’ve certainly never experienced anything like this before. Everybody was caught off guard. I mean it shut down the world.”

“Every day, every week we’re canceling flights,” she says, reminding people that not one penny is seen by her agency until a fight is made. “People think we make a commission when we book a trip, but that’s not the case. We don’t make money unless people travel.”

That hasn’t stopped her team from helping people seek refunds from airlines and hotels and generally counseling her clients. It’s all part of their profession.
And, looking into her crystal ball, she is very realistic. “I don’t see things getting back to normal until late 2022 or 2023 when it comes to our industry.” But that outlook doesn’t stop her agency from planning for the future. “We’re taking it one day at a time, and our employees are going over the top to help our clients.”
As of right now, Travel Leaders Collierville and Travel Leaders Memphis keep up to date with the different resorts re-opening and their new protocols: Disney, Las Vegas, Hawaii, Alaska, the Caribbean, to name just a few of the worldwide destinations.

Travel Leaders is also doing a series of virtual meetings, just having completed one with the Airport Authority with over 100 attendees focusing on such issues as new airport protocols. Another one is planned soon with Delta Airlines explaining their cleaning of planes and what to expect when traveling on Delta. Some of the other planned video conferences include Ama Waterways and Walt Disney World. Such conferences are designed to educate clients as to what to expect when they are ready to travel – one of the agency’s prime objectives.

According to Martie Watson, Travel Leaders’ Marketing Director, “We are currently booking trips for the fall and into 2021, but it will be a different type of travel, unlike ever before. With that being said, we can definitely believe more people will use a travel agency when booking their next trip.”

Going over the top and maintaining professionalism demands a top-flight business and a top-flight team. Travel Leaders of Collierville has proven themselves through this difficult time.

Sheffield Antiques Mall – Kevin

Keeping a positive attitude over the last few months has been one of the primary goals of Sheffield Antique Mall’s Kevin Matthis, and he has certainly met that goal.  For Matthis, he and his team have brought the quintessential can-do attitude to the challenge.

“We were closed for the mandated timeframe,” he remembers, but adds that “when it was time to open back up, it was like nothing had ever happened.”  Even when the store was closed, he was answering people’s questions. “When I would come to the store (during the required shutdown) to check on things, the phone was always ringing.

And, when the day finally did arrive, people were waiting for the doors to open. When those customers walked through the mall’s automatic aka contactless doors, they saw quite a few changes. “We have 88,000 square feet in the mall, but we followed CDC guidelines.” Customers found one-way aisle shopping; each booth had signage reminding customers about social distancing; plexiglass had been installed at cashier points, and public announcements were maintained at regular intervals reminding everyone about social distancing.

Things changed behind the scenes as well. These days, Sheffield will only allow open-air trucks to be unloaded by their personnel, and the store is cleaned and bleached floor-to-ceiling every day. Additionally, counters are cleaned and sanitized between each customer transaction.

Matthis admits that his priority is the safety and health of his team, and, of course, his customers’ as well. It seems that his positive attitude must be contagious itself. Prior to re-opening, he had a team meeting to go over new safety protocols that would be required, and his team was prepared and ready. “We had no pushback from anyone, “ Matthis says. They were ready and willing, and customers have responded.

Senior Helpers – Rachelle Maier

When it comes to a business navigating any crisis situation, their specific industry and company plan create a unique challenge and opportunity.

For Rachelle Maier, Community Relations Director of Senior Helpers, the recent health crisis has increased awareness of the value of home health care and has encouraged new ways of thinking when it comes to providing those services. Senior Helpers is the premier provider of in-home senior care and offers tailored home care services ranging from companion care for seniors who need daily assistance to in-depth specialized care for those with Alzheimer’s, Dementia, Parkinson’s and other chronic diseases.

As the crisis has given rise to concern about those most vulnerable, particularly the elderly, many people have begun to take steps to protect their aging parents or other loved ones, and in many instances have brought their loved one home with them. Maier comments, “More and more people have been spending time with their loved ones and they have seen just how much is needed,” when it comes to care. “They have become more aware of the challenging level of need for home help.”

Maier confesses that she prefers a one-on-one meeting with people when it comes to public relations and marketing, but the current reality of social distancing has prompted her expanded use of virtual platforms to get the message out there. “We’ve used them all – Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.”

On another positive note, Maier and Senior Helpers have stepped up their informational and reference campaign to assist anyone who might need help for a loved one. “It’s not just about our customers and clients. I want to be able to help anyone who might have questions. I’m certainly willing to use my experience and network to help people during this time.”

And, like most businesses, Maier says that Senior Help has set the priorities on the health and well-being of their own personnel, as well as their clients. “Obviously, we follow CDC guidelines when it comes to best and safest practices, but we pay particular attention to our employees contacts with clients.”

Significant challenges call for creative thinking and adaptability. Senior Helpers understand both very well.

Consignment Music – Evan Leake

When it comes to navigating a business through pandemic waters, in reality Evan Leake has yet to set sail. When he moved his Consignment Music into the heart of Collierville’s business district, he had high hopes and was ready for a grand opening. Then there was a pandemic.

“We faced a double whammy,” he recalls. Not only did his grand opening have to be pushed back, but the business district became, as he says, “a ghost town.”

Still shaking his head over the maelstrom of shutdowns and stay-at-home restrictions, he is not a man prepared to give up. He sees bright things on the horizon as well. “Hopefully, we will have some good publicity through Main Street Collierville and a big spread in a local publication.” And, like other businesses he continues to expand his presence through social media, providing information about his inventory to potential customers via Facebook.

Leake is now planning a long-delayed but much-anticipated grand opening soon, and he is ready and eager to bring people into his store.

For a guy who opened in late 2019 with great plans for a prime location, he says matter-of-factly, “We survived.” He is ready for more than simple survival. He is ready to make some noise, and some beautiful music right in the heart of Collierville’s Historic District.

Southern Security Federal Credit Union

Like most industries, credit unions are changing the way they do business in light of the coronavirus and its quick impact on health, our workforce and the world’s economy.

Southern Security Federal Credit Union is stepping up its technology to better benefit its members with some new and updated programming.

Video Banking:
Starting April 24, Southern Security members will be able to video bank with employees. Members can click a button on their website and be connected to an employee to share their screen, send DocuSign documents and driver’s licenses, and ask questions 1:1 about their accounts. Much like video conferencing or telehealth services that most people are using during quarantine, video banking will allow members to reach the right person for their needs from the comfort of their homes or offices.

This feature is initially offered through the Southern Security website using the Chrome browser. However, they are developing a video banking element in the mobile app for ease of use in the next phase of the project.

An ITM is an Interactive Teller Machine that allows members to conduct 1:1 banking business through ATMs at participating locations. Through the ITM, Southern Security members can make deposits, withdrawals, account transfers, balance inquiries and much more. Customers can even order checks during extended drive-thru banking hours of 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.

This service keeps the simpler transactions at the ITM and the more consultative services in-person in the branch. They are looking to launch the ITMs in June and August of 2020 at participating locations.

Coronavirus-Related Financials:
Southern Security is presenting to its member companies on how to best handle finances during the economic uncertainty that the coronavirus has caused. They are presenting on subjects like how to budget during a crisis, breaking down the Cares Act and other local funding programs, and how to budget for future months to account for lower-income.

“We are working one-on-one with all of our members during this time, helping them with questions they have or assistance they need, creating solutions that work best for them,” said Dawn Graeter, CEO of Southern Security Federal Credit Union.

Home Instead Senior Care – Ken Cope

Lonely, isolated, and vulnerable. Introduce a deadly pandemic into that mix and the outlook got even bleaker for thousands of senior adults through the area. Classified as an ‘essential business’ during the current health crisis, the decision was made by Ken Cope, President of Home Instead Senior Care, and his executive leadership team to keep the office running at full capacity. Easy; no. Necessary; absolutely.

Home Instead Senior Care wasted no time in pivoting. In response to evolving constraints of operating under the current conditions, new protocols and procedures were implemented to make operating more manageable and efficient. CAREGivers were trained up on CV-19 safety protocols. Staff maintained contact with clients, even offering to run errands or bring supplies to their homes if needed. Virtual meetings such as Microsoft Teams, Skype and ZOOM quickly replaced traditional group meetings.

One unforeseen challenge, though, has been that many clients in senior living facilities have been restricted from visits with family and Home Instead CAREGivers. While seniors being served at home haven’t been met with disruption from having their in-home care services provided. “We never imagined the impact that loneliness would have on the seniors we serve during this COVID-19 outbreak. And we’re seeing increased cases of depression, especially those who have been restricted from visits by their loved ones. Keeping seniors safe by restricting visits is the right thing to do, but now our challenge is keeping them engaged and connected,” said Cope.

To address those concerns, Home Instead Senior Care has taken a bold step by rolling out new technology, GrandPad, to combat the epidemic of loneliness and isolation plaguing the senior population. The portable tablet device allows seniors to interact with both the agency and family members (via a Campanion App-iPhone/Android) securely. Features include wireless connectivity, photo sharing, ability to send e-mails and calls, including receiving video calls from family members and the agency. Additionally, seniors can play music, games, read articles, watch YouTube videos, and do the Activity of the Day with their Home Instead CAREGiver. Keeping them connected and engaged also gives their families the peace of mind knowing they have a constant companion in GrandPad. Under his leadership, Ken’s agency is deploying a limited number of devices at this time with plans to increase as the demand grows.

Lost Pizza Company – Tim Gaines

Everyone recognizes the fact that restaurants have been particularly hard hit during the COVID-19 crisis, and being responsive, creative and adaptable have been key elements for those navigating the recent waters.

Tim Gaines of Lost Pizza Company in Collierville has seen his team respond in creative ways, as they maintain proper social distancing while still responding to their customer’s needs. “We knew we had to get creative as to how our business was done,” Gaines comments. With a creative spirit, Lost Pizza company responded to their core customers – families. In addition to answering an expanding number of call-in and on-line orders with curb-side pick-up (a new feature of their business, which is sure to remain with the restaurant well into the future), Lost Pizza began offering “Pizza Construction Kits,” which included all the ingredients necessary to make a pizza. The popularity of the kits found its way onto the company’s social media platform in a big fashion, with pictures and videos of families bonding at home over pizza-making activities. As the popularity grew, so did the company’s variations on the theme. They were soon offering full meals of pasta dishes, spaghetti, and salads, ready to be popped in the oven or stuck in the freezer for later use.

Now, as the company begins to open the restaurant to 50% capacity, Gaines suggests the reality of another challenge: even though half the chairs being taken may seem like it would be easier to maintain, it’s been a juggling act, keeping the restaurant operating properly and with guidelines, while still responding to on-line order demands and their pick-up service. Of course, with changes bring new challenges.

Gaines admits that confronting the challenges of a “next normal” was not easy. “We weren’t built for this,” he notes, but continues, “we developed a good plan and have constantly learned to adapt.” One thing they didn’t’ have to do was to understand the need to respond to their community. Lost Pizza Company has always tried to give back, but they understood that adapting to a new challenge also meant taking their community spirit up one, or two, notches.

The company has actively provided free meals to the elderly and to hospital staffs and other front-line workers.

For Tim Gaines and his team at Lost Pizza, it seems their plates are full these days with new challenges and new opportunities. For Gaines and everyone at Lost Pizza in Collierville, new challenges are all about adapting to meet the customers’ needs. It’s all about taking care of business.

State Farm – Joe Sarrio

Joe Sarrio is no stranger to the world of crisis and things turning upside down. As president of the Joe Sarrio Agency with State Farm, he knows his business revolves around being there for his customers at times of crisis. His business has faced its own challenges. Sarrio notes that before the COVID-19 crisis, they were moving into the house-buying season, which would result in people’s need to purchase and adapt their insurance needs. While his agency has reached out to promote common civic goals, they also adjusted the timeline of their own goals, anticipating an impact on the housing market.

“The pandemic has been a good reminder that our business is about relationships, and having a strong local presence will be vital if you want your business to survive. I foresee a much larger portion of our sales will originate from referrals from people in our community.” Sarrio continues, “We view the pandemic as an opportunity to show our community the value of having a relationship with a local agency.”

As for facing future concerns, Sarrio concludes, “I’ve seen many business owners having to make difficult decisions, and they are putting their employees and customers before their own financial needs. Many of us will need to find ways to adapt to bring in revenue. There are so many concerns, but we must be courageous in the face of this adversity and do the best job we can to move forward in a safe and proactive way.”

As Managing Broker of Crye-Leike Collierville, Matt Morgan has overseen the challenge of working through the current crisis and has learned a few things, and, in fact, has been pleasantly surprised. “In accordance with restrictions most of our agents are working from home,” and with only three office staff members working in the office – they’ve continued to move forward, make sales and work as a team.

Like other such companies, Crye-Leike has resorted to using Zoom for meetings and training. “Typically, we might have had 25 or so agents at our meetings, and now, electronically, we have more than 35 in attendance.” They have also utilized the format to bring in guest speakers such as Kevin Vaughn, State Representative for District 95, to discuss relevant issues with their team.

For obvious reasons, they no longer have “open houses” but have relied more heavily on virtual home tours and the use of Facebook and other online platforms. Morgan notes, “I have sold several properties electronically.”

“The technological changes will definitely stand in place,” Morgan comments about the future. “We are electronically prepared.”

Crye-Leike Realtors, Collierville – Matt Morgan

As Managing Broker of Crye-Leike Collierville, Matt Morgan has overseen the challenge of working through the current crisis and has learned a few things, and, in fact, has been pleasantly surprised. “In accordance with restrictions most of our agents are working from home,” and with only three office staff members working in the office – they’ve continued to move forward, make sales and work as a team.

Like other such companies, Crye-Leike has resorted to using Zoom for meetings and training. “Typically, we might have had 25 or so agents at our meetings, and now, electronically, we have more than 35 in attendance.” They have also utilized the format to bring in guest speakers such as Kevin Vaughn, State Representative for District 95, to discuss relevant issues with their team.

For obvious reasons, they no longer have “open houses” but have relied more heavily on virtual home tours and the use of Facebook and other online platforms. Morgan notes, “I have sold several properties electronically.”

“The technological changes will definitely stand in place,” Morgan comments about the future. “We are electronically prepared.”

Two Men and a Truck – Kaylyn Harris

Epidemics or not, people are going to need to move, and Kaylyn Harris of Two Men and a Truck in Collierville knows that they will have to respond. Theirs is an essential business. As the company works their way through the COVID-19 days, they have taken steps to protect both clients and crews. While office staff has been moved to a work-at-home scenario, the nature of the business does not offer that luxury to those who do the physical work. “We asked our clients to dedicate a space in their homes where our crews can wash and sanitize,” she notes. Additionally, while team meetings once included teams standing together, the company now provides chairs, distanced appropriately – where team members can meet in safety.

When you’re an essential business, you learn to adapt quickly and safely to make sure clients’ needs are met while guaranteeing the well-being of team members. Two Men and a Truck of Collierville has met the challenge.

John Green Realtors – Allen Green

In one sense, John Green Realtors of Collierville took a step in the right direction even before the COVID-19 crisis hit the nation and the local community. “We moved into our new building, which has less square footage,” Allen Green commented, and they the company discovered that a smaller space worked out just fine as their team began to work from home. As the most obvious practical changes occurred within their office space – such as locking the front door and offering a dropbox for rental payments – the major change realized by the realty company came through technology. Prior to the shutdown, meetings had taken place at their office, and as the company looked for easier ways to work from home, they embraced Zoom for office meetings. “We’ve had better attendance,” Green says. “While technology has always been here, we’ve seen how effective Zoom has been.”

While other aspects of showing properties have been affected, such as the increase in “virtual home tours” via internet and the concern and care for actual properties – “We limit touches to avoid having to wipe down surfaces” Green has come to understand the ease of technology when it comes to meetings and the convenience and cost savings realized from the need for less office space.

The Brooks Collection – Watty Brooks Hall

“We completely closed for two weeks,” Watty Brooks says, but those two weeks were hardly wasted time. While the doors to the shop may have been closed physically, Brooks began to invest more time and effort into expanding the store’s technological presence. “We have always had a presence on Facebook, but I learned how to use Instagram to promote the shop.” The Brooks collection does not offer online ordering through their website, but Brooks notes that the number of phone calls from customers asking about specific items increased quickly, perhaps in response to both increased Facebook postings and Instagram messages. Phone calls and text requests continued to mount as Brooks and her team, like restaurants and other retail locations, began to offer curbside pick-up. “My staff was ready to get back to work” after that initial two-week period and were ready to do whatever they could to meet customers’ requests, all with the understanding that the health and well-being of customers and staff had to be of paramount importance.

Resiliency has been the key to understanding how best to work through difficult times, and Brooks is quick to confess that the past few weeks have offered an incredible learning experience. While Watty and her team look forward to the shop opening soon under whatever restrictions may be required, she also realizes that new marketing techniques like Instagram are here to stay.

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