On The Rebound: ‘By the Time the Fall Gets Here We're Going to Run Out of Money'

"It's a cliche that 'the show must go on,' but that is a true thing."

What's the next move? What's the right step? For small business owners looking to pivot and keep their businesses afloat those are just two of countless critical decisions that will mean the difference between survival or shuttering their doors for good.

In our series 'Rebound,' we spotlight a handful of small business owners across the country dealt a crippling hand by the COVID-19 pandemic and the steps they are taking to right the course. Here are their stories.

Dog Days Ahead

For Andrew Rosenthal, the founder of LA Dogworks, the city's gradual loosening of restrictions means his business may actually have a chance to get back on its feet... or rather paws. Many of his previous clients were in the restaurant industry, so when bartenders and waitresses who would normally drop their dogs off for grooming and pick up after shifts suddenly weren't around, LA Dogworks took a major hit. Also, dog boarding wasn't in much demand with everyone was stuck at home. But now business is slowly coming back and they've been allowed to resume some services.

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"They wouldn't allow us to do grooming at first because it just didn't seem to be a necessity," Rosenthal said. "So the governor said, 'OK, we'll allow dog grooming.' That was a big relief for us."

And unlike the vast majority there's also a rare silver lining in the pandemic for his particular line of work, says Rosenthal. "There are a lot of COVID puppies, I call them. People went out and got puppies to keep them company. A lot of them are new dog owners. And now these puppies that they adopted are now getting to be dogs and they need training," he says.

Rosenthal estimates from this time last year his business sustained as much as a $500K hit, but he chooses to remain optimistic.

"[Those dogs] need a place to go. They need socialization, dog-to-dog socialization. So I think that it's a positive thing. As they need training and a place to go. We'll be here. So I think."

Rosenthal said what comes next is the need for creative thinking, some solid marketing and some good promotion. "It's just time to roll up your sleeves and do what you need to do to get it done."

The Cliche is True: The Show Must Go On

It's been a sobering few months for Brian Kelly, marketing director of the Seacoast Repertory Theater in New Hampshire. On the bright side performances have now resumed with relaxed restrictions and social distancing rules in place. But, audiences to date haven't been eager to return at the numbers hoped for.

"Audiences are increasing at a rate that... I would like to accelerate a little bit," says Kelly. "We have a really exciting show and it is not selling great." Reviewing sales figures, Kelly says they range anywhere from 12 to 18 attendees per performance. "I really hoping new sales pick up. Nobody likes to play to a crowd of twelve."

The crowds may be slow to return but the performers aren't letting that impact their mindset. "They're still giving 100 percent. They haven't checked out. They haven't given up on this. And I don't think they ever will. You will not let down the person next year. They will not let you down," says Kelly. "This isn't just a self-preservation thing. We truly believe that art makes community better."

Time to Make the Donuts

For Darnell Reed, chef and owner of Luella's Southern Kitchen, it's all about the next pivot. And specifically for Luella's that means pivoting from summer items like cobbler to fall items like donuts.

"We had the luxury to open it during the summer when all these nice fruit, fresh fruits and things were in season and we decided that we're going to switch some of our cobblers and we're going to start making donuts, which I think would be a good sale, Reed says. "So the donuts will be starting this fall."

Reed says so far the Chicago restaurant has been able to keep itself afloat thanks to the money received from the Paycheck Protection Program. But he's looking ahead and he has cause for concern.

"It seems like once the fall gets here, we're going to run out of that money. So what's going to happen is we will actually have to have one to two people possibly going back on layoff. I hope there is like a vaccine soon, because if we go through this the entire next year, I think I think even my customers would be like, 'When are you letting us in?' I'm trying to hold out until it's like a little bit safer before we actually start the dining option."

For Reed, he's also thinking beyond the fall and hopes everyone will take measures to prevent a second wave and a return to lockdown restrictions. "This is not just thinking of us when the restaurant industry is back... [We hope] we'll all learn from this experience."

ABOUT REBOUND: COVID-19 has impacted every facet of our lives. For small business owners, those impacts are even greater. To better tell those stories, we decided to launch a series about how small businesses are faring throughout the coronavirus. But a raging pandemic presents some obstacles for traditional journalism. Business restrictions, reduced hours of operation, and social distancing guidelines have changed how journalists tell their stories.
So we flipped the script.
We identified six small businesses across America and supplied them with a camera. In REBOUND, these businesses take you behind the scenes during COVID-19, to show you just how much things have changed throughout the pandemic. REBOUND tells the stories of these small businesses and how they are bouncing back from an unforeseen pandemic.