New York City’s response to the novel coronavirus was swift, triggering mandatory shutdowns of all non-essential businesses across the five boroughs. For Lindsey Peers, owner of The Craft Studio, an educational art studio that offers child-friendly classes and workshops, this meant an indefinite suspension of parties — and revenue.
Lindsey, however, quickly recognized an opportunity to pivot to adapt to the new reality introduced by COVID-19 and social distancing. Thinking and adapting quickly, Lindsey led her team to mobilize the experiential-focused business to be a virtual program.
1. Where was your business at before the pandemic broke? What had you recently achieved? How was business before?
My business was thriving before the pandemic. Our two physical locations — the Upper East Side and Tribeca in NYC — were bustling with parties, classes, camps and workshops. We were gearing up for our summer programming in the Tri-State area. I had plans to start exploring opening a third location.
2. As news started to spread what were the first actions you took? Where did you turn for reliable information and advice in a world where so much was unknown?
As soon as I heard what COVID-19 was, my entrepreneurial side started to panic. As a primarily experiential, in-person business, a pandemic would put business that involved people gathering to a halt. My team thought I was overly worried at first but pretty early on I started to think about how we could “pivot.” Since they are rockstars, they got on board to help me. I always wanted to sell our craft kits; we quickly developed a line out of all the materials we had ordered for cancelled classes and events. In addition, I knew that some parents would want the virtual support, so we filmed videos with me instructing the craft and provided parents the supplies and virtual tutorials.
3. Many of your offerings were hosted classes and parties in-person. Can you talk about how you worked through cancelling events, and transparency with customers? How have you pivoted to offer classes virtually, what is working for you right now?
Yes, our clients put down a small deposit to secure their dates. Normally we only allow a two-month rescheduling period limited to parties. But due to the situation, we extended the re-schedule period to a year and also are allowing customers to apply the discount to a camp. We are lucky in that people want us to be there when this is all over and were really happy we offered the extension. In addition, we want to be there for our clients and their families during this difficult time. Every weekday, we offer a free activity on Instagram using simple household materials. We are offering online live classes; customers can have the supplies shipped to them if they need. And we are doing online parties with either a simple project out of household materials or shipped kits. People are loving the fun vibe and a great way for kids to still feel special and engage with each other.
4. Having multiple locations, how has this affected your workforce? Have you been able to repurpose any employees into other roles? What things did you consider when making tough decisions?
This broke my heart, the fact that I have no events running and studios closed meant I wouldn’t have work for most of my 42 employees. Leading up to being closed I had as many staff members work as I could to get the kits off the ground. I was transparent and continue to be with the entire team from the beginning. I want them all back when this is over and told them I would do all that I could to have every job waiting for them when this is done. I directed them on how to file for unemployment as I knew that would be the best option with little money coming in. Even with the kits and online offerings we don’t even come close to being able to sustain our fixed costs or the bills we have from ordering supplies and materials for all the cancelled events. I applied for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) so I can get the rest of the team back ASAP. Our team is amazing, and they have been so supportive.
5. What is the most meaningful support you have received thus far? What has been an imperative factor in keeping your business afloat through this time and what advice do you have for other SBOs?
The most meaningful support I have gotten has been from my family, friends, great clients, and other business owners. I really have called on my community for advice and support and mostly strength. My fellow small business owners and I have had moments when one of us is feeling defeated, and we take turns reminding each other how vital we are to the community and how much we will be welcomed back. Keep pushing small business owners…we are what make our communities special and unique. If any type of business can get through this, it is us.