It’s Time to Reopen: 10 Business Owners on What the Future Holds
Navigating the new normal.
Slowly, but surely—and with certain safety precautions—life is beginning to return to a bit of normalcy. As restaurants return with outdoor seating and salons reopen with selective services, both business owners’ and consumers’ spirits are lifted. While there is a newfound excitement lingering with the reopenings of our go-to spots, there is also an understanding that the return will be fundamentally different as we continue to navigate this new normal.
From reduced occupancy and a shift in space to touchless payments and scheduled store visits, business owners have gotten creative when it comes to offering solutions for their community. Many owners were forced to completely shut their doors over the past few months and have taken the time to reflect and maximize on their missions by re-engaging with their community’s needs through social platforms, implementing new staff structures, and focusing on areas of improvement within specific strategies—it was a slowdown that no one asked for, yet one that was terribly needed in many instances. With reopenings on the horizon, these business owners aren’t forgetting what led the world here and are reopening with thorough sanitary and safety procedures and detailed precautionary plans and are observing and listening to their cities’ mandates. At the end of the day, these business owners created their businesses out of passion and a labor of love, and while the future is uncertain, returning to safely serving their communities is what matters most.
Ahead, 10 business owners and thought leaders in their respective industries—from retail, to restaurants and hospitality, to spas, to boutique fitness—reveal what their new normal looks like as they begin to reopen.
“As far as reopening, it’s all pretty much up in the air for us. We’ve observed what’s happening in L.A. right now, as they are a bit ahead of New York in the phases of reopening, and L.A. yoga studios have to have mats distanced six feet apart. For our space, instead of having 55 mats lined up mat to mat to mat, at SKY TING, we can only really have about 11. So the business model for SKY TING doesn’t really work anymore with that implemented. You have to get creative. At this point, we may consider closing a few of our brick-and-mortars and may just keep one or two and designate one as a filming studio and continue to do the live streaming, because at this point we have more of a global audience. People are tuning in from all over the world to practice SKY TING, so we definitely want to continue to serve a bigger market. As our studio doors have been closed, we’ve seen such an increase in subscribers in SKY TING TV and Instagram; we’ve grown by almost 400 percent, so we’ve been able to send out surveys and community feedback in that way. These have been super helpful in navigating what our community wants—for example, we’ve had a lot of prenatal class requests—and because we are such a small team, we’ve been able to be really nimble and tailor our classes to focus on what is going on in the world. We were going to start having people pay for our daily live streams, but we decided to keep it free for our community, as everyone is struggling financially. Instead, we are shedding light on different organizations to donate to and have been able to raise a lot of funds for these amazing charities.
“Yoga in person is so special, so valuable, and so different from online. That’s how we studied it, and that’s how we like practicing it. Even if we aren’t making money off of the classes, we will still have them at limited capacity to continue to build our community. Everything is always changing right now based on what is happening; if you would have asked us at the beginning of quarantine, we would’ve never imagined that we would be considering closing a studio. This summer we are also exploring outdoor classes and are in talks with a few different parks to get permits.”
“We launched our Digital Studio in October 2019, so we were already on a growth trajectory when the coronavirus began spreading in North America. Since then, we have seen a significant increase in subscribers in the US and Canada. We also opened up availability for Europe, Australia, and New Zealand to meet the growing demand for the practice abroad. The work of The Class has always been an ‘inside job,’ centered around bringing awareness and creating a space to process and release so we can engage with one another from a more connected place. Our mission and the core of who we are has always remained the same. If we truly take this time and do the ‘inside’ work, when we reconnect, we will have embodied, and therefore understand, the power of our presence and our ability to evolve. We continue to innovate and expand our digital content to support our community during this time. We have radically increased our daily live-stream schedule to accommodate time zones around the world and have added a variety of on-demand classes (including The Class Prenatal, The Class for Kids, The Class Focus, and a series of collaborations with musical artists) to support individuals and families practicing from home.
“We are monitoring the city and state regulations in New York and Los Angeles and will open slowly and cautiously when we feel that we can protect the health and safety of our students and teachers while teaching our method. One of our Vancouver studios has already opened with limited numbers of students and heightened cleaning protocols. In the meantime, we encourage students everywhere to continue to use our Digital Studio to take Class with all of their favorite teachers. We will continue to expand and evolve our work, providing new on-demand, self-study resources and experiential extensions through our Digital Studio, and in person, when available. We have begun a series of Remote Retreatment—a three-hour version of our destination retreats pre-COVID. Our Summer Cleanse will be released shortly, just without the meal-delivery option in New York City. And we have an exciting self-study video-on-demand project that will debut later this summer. We will continue to innovate and adjust to the changing landscape of our industry.”
As new salon owners, Mark DeBolt and Ryan Trygstad had to push their opening in April due to COVID-19 and have spent the past few weeks planning and perfecting their opening come next week.
“We spent a lot of time working to create a workplace that made our salon guests and team members feel safe and healthy. This included making changes both big and small. When we wrote our COVID-19 plan, we thought about every part of the client’s experience, from first walking through the door to checking out at the front desk. Clear and consistent communication underscores everything we are doing to prepare to launch during COVID-19. We built a page on our site to teach our clients about what to expect. The topics we cover are pre-communication, social distancing in the salon, the usage of PPE including KN95 masks and gloves, touchless payment, and also what additional sanitation practices we’ve planned to maintain a healthy environment. Being a new business, we felt like we really had to over-prepare to gain the trust of our clients. In a way we felt like we had more to prove. We’ve thoroughly outlined our COVID-19 precautions that we will be implementing in the salon on our website, which addresses everything from pre-appointment protocol and payment practices to sanitation and spa spacing.
“We see this as a new way of going forward and plan to adhere to the state guidelines and do everything we can to take care of all of our team members and clients. One of the silver linings of opening our business during this time is that we are opening with very strong procedures and a duty of care to our salon clients and team members. We’ve really taken the past few months to have genuine face time with our team, from training on social media and COVID-19 seminars to simply just checking in to hear how they are coping—this gave us the space to connect with the people we want to build this business with.”
“While I don’t have a brick-and-mortar, I sell as an artisan at a farmers’ market in Westwood, California. The market has been closed the last several weeks, but has recently invited me to come back. At the market, I set up my own tent, table, and products. Before COVID-19, I was at the farmers’ market about four to five days a week—it’s a lot of work, talking, standing, smiling, welcoming people into the space, as well as sharing and educating. But when you are there and hear from the people who have bought your product, and it works, and you continue to educate more and more people, it gets better. Returning to the farmers’ market, the tents will be spaced out six feet apart, there will be signs that state ‘no mask, no service,’ and there will be security on both openings (the entrance and exit). As cases spike, they are only allowing 20 people to come in at a time, and there will be signs at each vendor’s booth that state ‘don’t pick up the products if you aren’t going to buy it.’ It will definitely be different, as my products are typically sampled and tested within my tent. It’s scary that I could be exposed to the virus, but several of the products I make can actually help resolve many of the ailments that people have. So it means using single-use tools that will allow them to experience the products and possibly creating samples that people can take away with them. I am wearing masks that I change out three different times during the day, wearing gloves, and occasionally wearing a head wrap to protect my hair. I also provide gloves to those that may want to touch my products and sanitize the containers with alcohol after people leave my booth. As far as the next few months, I’m shopping for a good lab that can make my products the way I do, and I anticipate that taking approximately five to nine months to complete, as I’m very particular about what goes in them. It will include raising funds to increase production and webinars to educate the masses about the benefits of plant-based products. By educating the community about these benefits and allowing them to experience Nena’s Organics personally, they will see effective, organic, plant-based alternatives to medicine. Throughout the last week at the market, as it reopened, I’ve noticed people buying a lot more natural remedies that help them feel better, like herbs, supplements, sea moss that eliminates mucus, black seed oil, charcoal toothpaste, and so on.”
“Right now we’re reopening New York for retail hair services. It has been so nice to see clients again, as many have been asking when we were going to reopen. Now it is such a special feeling, even though you can’t physically touch—I’ve been moved by the kind words from our clients. They remind me and my team why we are working and why we are doing what we are doing, because we love service. We love helping people.
“At first, we had to close both locations, in New York and Philadelphia, and now as we reopen, we are really monitoring and paying super close attention to what each city is allowing. We always took sanitization really seriously. For me, cleanliness is next to godliness, especially in sesthetics. We always adhere to strict rules, but now those rules are even stricter: The mask will be worn at all times by therapists, our therapists will do temperature checks, and everyone will remain at six feet distance. What’s nice for us is our space is big—and I think that’s our super advantage, rather than being in super-tight quarters.
“I think massive sanitization is the key. I, personally, am very strict with this, and these are the rules in becoming an aesthetician. For the masks: Forever we will be wearing masks, even with a cold—it’s a good habit to have when protecting others. This is the new normal. As a founder, I am going to remain vigilant about the rules and regulations. In terms of self-care and education, we are looking into virtual consultations, providing access to customers who don’t feel comfortable walking into a spa. We want to create an opportunity for all of our clients. As far as beauty trends, we will be using more high-tech machines, like LED lights. LED lights kill bacteria, so using technologies like that will be important.
“We’ve tried to stay connected with our community digitally—the relationship as a spa owner is magical, because you know these people for 10 to 15 years or longer. It’s a special connection. I think we are going into a different world, but it will be a better place.”
“I’d originally planned to open t.a. in March; then the stay-at-home orders were given in NYC, and we had to make an immediate pivot to launch e-commerce within 24 hours so that potential customers could shop a small percentage of our offerings while our physical doors were closed. We also amped up our digital presence with Instagram lives, with designers featured in our store, editor picks on our Instagram feed, influencer takeovers showing our followers their quarantine style, and more. We’ve thankfully been able to build a great community online and create an excitement for when we open our doors on July 8th! To ensure everyone’s safety, the store will be limited to five guests at a time to maintain social distancing, and masks will be required. The store will be carefully sanitized throughout the day, and all tried-on garments will also receive proper sanitation before returning to the sales floor. We’ll offer private, one-on-one appointments for guests who feel more comfortable shopping alone from 10 to 11:00 AM and 5 to 6:00 PM, which guests can book directly on our website. In the midst of the pandemic, customers are more geared toward intentional dressing and shopping, and t.a. is extremely intentional in terms of our buy-and-store curation. For that reason, we’ll continue to work with up-and-coming designers who participate in only one or two market seasons. We’ll also continue to comply with New York City and the mandates given by Governor Cuomo.”
“We just reopened our Oakland store last week, and we are reopening Palo Alto on Wednesday. We are making sure, first and foremost, that everyone is being very careful with wearing masks—our employees will have masks as well as our guests. We have limited staff and are spacing out shifts, while also having some of my non-sales team still working from home for the time being. We are limiting our customers to two people at the same time. So in total we have only four people on the actual sales floor at all times. We have disposable masks and disposable gloves, hand sanitization throughout the store and in the back of the house for our employees working in the stock room area. We are also still heavily emphasizing setting up appointments through the website rather than coming in and just browsing. We’ve set up virtual calls and appointments to pre-pick items and consult with our sales team, so we can set up the fitting room for them prior to the customer coming in. We will have a sign that will state “closed for 15 minutes to disinfect the store” in order for us to wipe things down thoroughly without feeling rushed. And we’re still offering curbside pickup as a lot of our customers are opting to pick up after they place online orders.
“Any time a customer tries something on in the fitting room, we sanitize the dressing room with a spray and wipe down all of the shelving within the dressing room with gloves, and we then move the product to a rolling rack and steam the product before it goes back out on the floor. We’re taking it very seriously. In fact, we have someone at the door letting guests know that we are at capacity for those who wish to wait and shop safely. For the rest of the year, we will see that this will be our new normal. And even into 2021, this will be a part of our business. With COVID-19, it’s been a moment where I can overall reflect on my business and personal life. The pace in which I was going was really fast. As a buyer, I was traveling so much and not being in the store as much as I wanted to be in there. So I do like that the pace has slowed down, and I think this is a great opportunity for the industry to rethink how much product we are really putting out there, how many deliveries there are, and how many seasons we are pushing at once—and we do really need the chance to slow down and catch up. This will allow our customers to be in the present and in the season with us, rather than pushing the next season.”
“As a restaurant, we are following all of the guidelines set forth by the state to ensure the safest possible environment for our guests to dine in. This means tables that are either at least six feet apart or separated by a partition, sanitizing stations, and procedures including cleaning off menus between each use, wiping down counters with solutions that kill viruses and bacteria on contact, having the staff wear masks, utilizing outdoor space for tables, and on and on. These steps can be a little cumbersome, but they are small sacrifices in the grand scheme of things. The most unfortunate side effect from COVID-19, which I am very much hoping is temporary, is having to downsize our staff. Our restaurant is owned by myself and my husband, Anthony, and we plan to use our own manpower to fill in the positions that we have had to let go. This means some nights I am a waitress and Anthony is the dishwasher, or vice versa. We have been so torn on not hiring all of our staff back immediately, but we realize that with capacity limitations and spacing limitations, we have to do all that we can just to keep our business afloat so that we are able to provide jobs for anyone.
“Outdoor dining was permitted as of last week, and our first night was a big success. Of course, to call it a success is relative, since we went from max capacity being 16 tables and 10 bar seats (which is still a very small restaurant) to seating four tables outside. But all things considered, it was a success. Our four tables were full almost the entire night, feedback from our patrons was all positive, and wearing the masks and ensuring everything was sanitized and spaced out all proved to be doable—this gives us the hope and inspiration that we need to carry on. If things go as planned, we should be able to seat 50 percent of our dining room in two weeks, which will bring us one step closer to some normalcy. Of course, we cannot wait until this is all behind us, but making dining out a safe and fun experience for all is our primary goal at the moment. One step at a time is what we keep telling ourselves.
“I’ve been accused of being an optimist before, but I think the future is bright for us and for our city. There is something about New York City that speaks to people in their souls—it draws you in and makes you feel alive, and I don’t think that can ever be tarnished. The loss of life that we have experienced all across the world is a tragedy, there is no other way to put it. But we honor those people by living our lives to the fullest. I hold the vision of the streets of New York full of life, and I know that we will get back there.”
“Through the entirety of COVID-19, the restaurants remained open with delivery and takeout—and we fed 60–70 hospitals as well. We kept a nice supply chain to feed the hospitals. I kept it open even though we were losing a lot of money. I’ve been in the neighborhood for 23 years, and it didn’t feel right closing. Yes, we were losing money, but we have community loyalty. The second week of July, we will get to open the inside of the restaurant. Right now it’s outside seating only, but that will include the parking spaces outside of the restaurants. The city has allowed us to put tables outside where we couldn’t before. As far as reopening—it’s really simple: We will be wearing masks, changing the gloves often, constantly washing our hands, and wiping everything down. This has forced us to operate cleaner, and everyone will take it more seriously—obviously we always have, but now it’s so much more important. As far as everything else, we were able to fix a lot of our systems that we wouldn’t be able to fix because we were open. In order to change the system, you need to have some time to change. Fortunately, we were able to change systems to save money and produce less waste.
“Over the next few months, I’m hoping to get back to being busy and keep this strong sense of community. I’m trying to save New York. I’m trying to remind people how cool it is to be here and to come back, as we realize a lot of people left. Whatever I can do to continue to serve my community, I’m going to do it.”
“Our industry, of course, was one of the hardest hit. Beginning in the middle of March, we had to let go or furlough 90 percent of our workforce. Our industry has high leases and real-estate commitments, so we had to completely fundamentally change the way we work. No one really knew how long this was going to last. I think, now, business is coming back quickly—much more quickly than anyone expected. It’s been an interesting process as a company with properties in Italy, Spain, UK, and Germany and now looking at the US. We’ve seen such a positive opening in Italy and Germany that we can’t help but be a bit optimistic for the future. There’s a huge pent-up demand for travel, and people are desperate to get back out there, especially our demographic. There’s a continued hope to get back to travel, so we are looking at a much stronger outlook now.
“In regards to what we have to change now, we’re going to be very different businesses in terms of how we operate. What we do is all about being social, and that will be a bit more difficult with the social-distancing measures. Check-in will now be online, you will get your keys on the computer, occupancy will be reduced, and there will be no interpersonal contact. This will only be for an interim period, as we’ve seen in Germany it’s beginning to safely return to normal. There will be less guests in the F&B spaces; most F&B spaces will move outside, which we believe will create a demand in New York. We are seeing the first markets—like Germany and Italy—where things are ‘back to normal,’ which is really great to hear. All our staff across the globe will be wearing a mask and have to be third-party certified in COVID-19. We take this super seriously, and it will continue to stay like this.The positive thing is we are bringing back staff rather quickly—it’s amazing to be able to bring everyone back again. As industry leaders, our responsibility now is that we manage to get people back into employment as quickly as possible.”
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