Four Schoharie County businesses who’ve pivoted their way through the pandemic offered insights and advice when SchoCoForward hosted its third Business Recovery Roundtable.
Panelists Jacqui Hauser, Studio for Art and Craft; Chris Guldner, Bull’s Head Inn; Carrie Edsall, Black Willow Pond Farm; and Josh Loden, Apple Barrel, all spoke to the ways they stayed in touch with customers after COVID-19 forced them to close their doors—though in Black Willow Pond’s case, it was more a case of those customers beating down their doors.
“And finding ways to survive and even grow,” Mr. Guldner said.
Even before COVID, Ms. Edsall said, her farm, which sells everything from grassfed lamb to Creamline milk had a strong online presence—something that came in handy last March when people were panicking, looking for groceries.
“We had it,” she said, and they watched as their local following was joined be shoppers from across the country. “Our New York City friends were just trapped.”
The farm pivoted, ramping up shipping, allowing customers to both shop online or arrange for pickup at their Cobleskill farm, and even “taking them along on chores” through a variety of online platforms, including Shopify.
“We quickly learned to build boxes,” Ms. Edsall said, and set aside three days a week for shipping. “We figured, ‘If Amazon could do it, why couldn’t a little farm…’”
Ms. Hauser and Mr. Loden also found their own ways to make little big.
Ms. Hauser said she pivoted her Main Street, Cobleskill business from a place where people could come in to create to a one-stop online shop where they can order art kits, arrange for pickup or shipping, and then follow along on the Studio’s YouTube Channel for how-to videos on their own time.
“Not everything we did worked,” Ms. Hauser said on the things she tried. “But this did.”
Before COVID, the Studio did a lot of events and fundraisers, Ms. Hauser said.
Efforts to continue that through Zoom parties didn’t go as well as she’d hoped—but adding a tab and dedicated page to her website for to-go fundraisers has been a success.
At the Apple Barrel, Mr. Loden has a background in marketing.
He pivoted by throwing all the rules out the window, hammering his online followers a couple of times a day and launching his popular “Hot Date With Josh,” fun and silly videos that highlight the shop.
“There are no rules in a pandemic,” he said.
Like Ms. Hauser, he said, “We threw a lot of things at the wall. Not all were successes. We just kept going. Pivot, pivot, pivot.”
While restaurants were still closed, Mr. Loden said they turned their café into a place for to-go orders and ecommerce.
They also remodeled their entire store “to get people excited” when they could return.
The Bull’s Head also used the down time to create places for outdoor dining, Mr. Guldner said—something they’d never had before and were able to capitalize on quickly once dining regulations were relaxed.
Like the others, the Bull’s Head expanded its online presence and to-go orders—where to-gos still make up about a quarter of their sales, a figure that doesn’t seem to be declining.
Mr. Guldner said they also pivoted with employees, letting servers become drivers or even construction workers for some of that outdoor dining space.
“None of what we did was very flashy,” he said, “but we were prepared to change. We knew what we wanted to become and we had our staff’s willingness.”
The SchoCoForward Alliance is made up of the Schoharie County Chamber of Commerce, Destination Marketing, the Sharon Springs Chamber of Commerce and SEEC.