Local businesses navigate through uncharted territory
With the global pandemic creating massive uncertainty for many, it's been a harrowing past six weeks for local business owners.
Traci Cliffman, owner of Kitchen Essentials, discussed the ramifications of the pandemic on area businesses.
"It's been a setback for all the small businesses due to the restrictions and the stay-at-home order," Cliffman told the Daily Mail.
Now offering curbside service, Kitchen Essentials also allows customers into the store, but Cliffman has limited the total number who can be in the store at one time.
"I'm allowed to have a minimal amount of people in the store," she said. "Ninety-five percent of our business is done curbside."
Cliffman, who opened Kitchen Essentials in the summer of 2014, has been doing everything possible to adapt to the ever-changing landscape.
"Since all of this has started I’ve changed what I’m doing and what my hours are several times — just trying to figure out the right thing to do, what is best for everybody,” she said. “But as a small business, we still have our expenses. It’s honestly a day-to-day basis, you try to figure out what you should do.”
While some in the public realm are questioning what precisely constitutes an essential business, Cliffman’s company offers products relevant to the crisis. Tea, for example, can help with stress and allergies, as well as boost one’s immunity.
“I had one gentleman who said ‘I’m so glad you’re open, I didn’t think you would be, I need my tea.’ He drinks immunity tea.”
Cliffman said she deliberated on whether or not to stay open at the onset of the pandemic.
“It’s just hard to know what to do,» she said. «That was in my debates, of, ‘do I open, do I close?’ It’s just so hard to know.”
Cliffman indicated curbside pickup has been quite the revelation. Prior to the pandemic, it’s not something she offered. She began by offering it during a two-hour window in the morning, and then another two-hour window in the afternoon. Steadily growing in popularity, Cliffman said she plans on keeping it around for the foreseeable future.
“I’ve been thinking about that in my mind, that this has worked so well, I think it might be something actually that we just continue to offer,” she said.
Cliffman said many Kitchen Essential products are posted on the company’s Facebook page. After viewing those items, customers can place a curbside pickup order via calling the store, FB messaging, or by email. Cliffman said customers can pay by phone prior to pick up, or when they arrive out in front of the store. Customers who opt for curbside pickup generally do it for the benefit of limited contact. Cliffman said the only contact they would have with a curbside pickup customer is to take the payment from them.
“Most of the time we just set their purchases in the car, we don’t even have that contact, besides them handing us the check or money,” she said.
Cliffman said coffee, herbal teas, locally produced honey, and cookware are among her top-selling products. “There are certain teas that will help with stress. And, obviously, this has been a stressful time for everybody.”
Missouri Governor Mike Parson has recently begun touting his “Show-Me-Strong” recovery plan, a phased re-opening of the economy. Restrictions were already set to be lifted May 4 on gyms, barbershops, and beauty salons. Cliffman said an easing of restrictions likely will not impact her current operations.
“Right now I’m not going to change anything, as far as even letting more people inside the store,” she said. “I will have to look at it at that time (May 4), and honestly see what is recommended by our county and city leaders.”
Cliffman said she has stringently adhered to safety guidelines and precautions.
“We always disinfect our door and the credit card machine on the counter with sanitary wipes. And I do have hand sanitizer up by the register. We also wipe down, after every few people come in.”
Mark Hedges, who owns local business Chair Mart, has also managed to keep his door open through the midst of the pandemic.
“I’ve been utilizing my website, where people can take advantage of that to do orders,” he said. “We definitely aren’t having the foot-traffic we normally do, by any means. But we have still been selling some stuff, and utilizing our videos (posted to FB page) and website.”
Hedges said there’s typically never more than one customer in his store at any given time, noting that he’s well within the state-mandated guidelines of no gatherings of 10 or more people. “We’re trying to take our precautions and keep everything clean here.”
Added Hedges: “I’m hopeful they can get (the economy) back and going. Because it definitely puts a hurt on small businesses. When you can’t get out, people aren’t out buying stuff.”
Hedges said his company is still delivering furniture to customers, but is practicing social distancing while doing so. Hedges also mentioned that he’s been keeping his employees busy with various projects, such as painting the store, which has helped avoid a cut-back in hours and potential layoffs.