Amid The Pandemic, Businesses Were Challenged To Abruptly Rethink, Revise, And Reimagine How To Sustain And Thrive.
When the going gets tough, entrepreneurial-minded owners capture opportunity in times of chaos. To stay successful, businesses have to be wildly flexible and reach beyond their comfort zones to adapt, innovate, and overcome unprecedented challenges.
Here, we’d like to showcase three Deeley Insurance Group clients who are staying relevant and resilient while supporting their community during these months of need.
A Maker Mentality
When Plak That started as a grassroots printing company making wood-board mementos, Wyatt Harrison was operating out of his Ocean City garage. Soon after, his business evolved into producing commercial signs, tap handles, point-of-sale displays, trophies, and awards. Because Plak That has flat-bed printing capabilities and a CNC router, the business services a niche. “This allows us to cut shapes and maximize our yield and efficiencies,” Harrison says of the technology.
When the pandemic hit, large corporate orders were put on hold. Bars and restaurants temporarily closed and cancelled orders for tap handles. Businesses with scheduled renovation projects called to say they were not moving forward with signage right away.
Harrison looked at the ample acrylic material on his shelves that would not be put to use for awards or trophies. Then he plugged into the maker and printing communities, discovering how creative entrepreneurs were leveraging their inventory and equipment to help the community.
Plak That introduced plexiglass and acrylic sneeze guards, along with clear partitions customized for businesses. The CNC machine allows for making pass-throughs and holes for hanging the barriers. Plak That donated hundreds of guards to firefighters, the Ocean City Police Department, and healthcare professionals.
The new line of products allowed Plak That to continue operating. “We were able to keep our lights on while providing products that help local businesses and others stay safe,” Harrison says.
Meanwhile, Harrison returned to his roots of mementos and décor, and the influx of online shopping has driven his e-commerce numbers. He says, “It’s going through the roof, and we are already gearing up for the holiday season.”
All about the People
Labor strains and inventory shortages have challenged retailers during the pandemic, but G&E/Hocker’s Supermarkets has an independent advantage. Because of its veteran employees and longtime partnerships with suppliers—from poultry and meat processors to dairy vendors—the store was the only one in the region to keep proteins in stock for customers.
In the early months, panic-buying quickly overburdened the supply chain. Hocker’s would place an inventory order and most shipments came in at least 50% short. Still, the store had an upper hand because of relationships, which led to new connections and new resources.
“We were able to get a truckload of toilet paper and paper towels when others could not,” says Gerald Hocker, President of the supermarket. “There was an extreme meat shortage, but we were able to go elsewhere to buy it. For a while, I was the only store that carried meats.”
Thanks to dedicated employees, the store remained open their full, normal business hours, seven days a week. Hocker acknowledges, however, that since its seasonal foreign student workforce could not travel because of COVID-19, it made scheduling a full store of employees difficult. “Many of our employees are working overtime and more hours,” he notes.
Their core staff chose to step up in a crisis, and their willingness to adapt allowed Hocker’s to continue supporting the communities they serve. “There’s an advantage to having people who have worked for us for a long time—they treat this store like it’s their own,” he says.
With more people eating at home, the grocery store business is booming, Hocker adds. Not to mention, as the No. 1 rated supermarket in the tri-state area, they have more online sales than ever before. “Our success is in the team we have,” Hocker says. “Because of them, we have been able to stay open and take care of our customers.”
Sustaining a New Venture
A state order to shut down restaurants and bars in March when the coronavirus crisis broke out prompted Burley Oak Brewing Company in Berlin to reconsider its business emphasis. With the tap room and beer garden bringing in about 60% of its revenue, and packaging accounting for 40%, the brewery needed to flip its focus.
When everyone began dining and entertaining at home, demand surged for Burley Oak’s local beers, made from locally farmed grains. Responding to the need for to-go items, owners Bryan and Nicole Brushmiller removed tables and set up shelves in their Burley Café location, rebranding it as Lost Pantry. Along with breakfast and lunch, they now offer craft beers from multiple breweries, wine, and specialty grocery items you’d find in a fresh foods market. “And we’ve upgraded our POS system to serve the segment of our customer base who want to order online,” Bryan says.
During lockdown, the criteria for being an “essential business” varied from state to state, making it difficult to plan for reopening. The Brushmillers anticipated offering food could be a deciding factor in when they could reopen the tap room.
This inspired Bryan to finish a project he started two years ago – having a small commercial kitchen at the brewery. Once the tap room could open at 50% capacity, Burley Oak safely reopened with social distancing protocols in place and a new walk-up restaurant, Uno Más Tacos, offering four taco options and a tray of nachos. It was an immediate hit at Burley Oak, selling well over 100 tacos per day.
Meanwhile, the Brushmillers remained committed to their vision of opening a new restaurant in downtown Berlin. Before COVID-19, they purchased a 10,000-square-foot historic theater, gutted the space, and restored it.
The plan is to offer an event venue with food and beverage. “We are transitioning to become more of a restaurant, and eventually build back in the theater side,” says Nicole.
With assistance from SBA low-interest loans, Burley Oak continued construction of its new venture—called The Globe—during the pandemic. The brewery hired employees to staff the new location, and The Globe Gastro Theatre opened for business on Sept. 18, 2020.
“You have to be prepared to go with the flow—to modify and adapt and be open to change,” Nicole says. “By doing so, we were able to keep our business growing and steady, and keep our staff employed.”
Expect the Unexpected
It’s important to have a business continuity plan, and just as important to be flexible enough to alter course when necessary. Local businesses like these are leading by example, staying adaptable to serve their customers and the community, and to be ready for whatever comes next.