Turning “business as unusual” Into “business as usual:” A postcard from social- distancing Western New England

Restaurants everywhere are switching from a dine-in to a takeout and curbside service business model during the corona virus crisis.

By Mark G. Auerbach

With cancellations and closings, social distancing and more, many small businesses are trying to figure out how to find the new “business as usual” during the corona virus crisis.

Yes Computers is a small independent Apple-authorized retail store and service center in Northampton, MA. Northampton is a college town, and its retail base includes many small businesses and few name brand or big box retailers. With schools on hiatus, and much of the market gone, Yes is keeping its name in the forefront by offering “curb service,” as they described in an e-blast to current and former customers. Patrons can call ahead and place orders and pick them up at the door. They can also schedule service, and drop off their stuff to a sales associate at the curb. With many nearby computer stores closed, those needing sales, service, and support are only a phone call or parking space away. Definitely not “business as usual,” but for those who have to ramp up a home office, it’s a godsend.

Nini’s, a small family-style Italian restaurant in Easthampton, MA, was forced to close for all but take-out. Rather than shutting down, they’re offering their entire menu to go. Customers prepay with a credit card and are told when to arrive; a restaurant worker will have the meal packed up and brought to your car.

Vermont Public Radio is offering its underwriters, many of them small businesses, a boost during the crisis. Current underwriters can change their on-air mentions to reflect changes in their hours or operating policies on short notice for no additional charge. VPR will provide bonus mentions for them to make sure the word’s out. For new underwriters who want to use VPR to get their message out, the underwriting team will also offer them bonus mentions. It’s an example of a nonprofit organization helping the local business community adjust to rough times.

Lesli Blount, who coordinates VPR’s underwriting program, says “This is all moving so fast and businesses are changing how they deliver their services to adapt. I wanted to remind them that we can help get the message out. And we truly are all in this together.”

The LAVA Center, a small nonprofit arts incubator, black box theater, and community space in Greenfield, MA, is moving its open mic program online, so up and coming musicians can still try out their material before an engaging public, courtesy of the internet.

Be novel and creative

As your business model adjusts and changes, you need to keep your name in the public eye. People have short attention spans and If you disappear from view, they’ll latch on to someone else. And you need to be novel and creative as you get your name out.

The Metropolitan Opera, certainly not a small business, has shuttered down the rest of its season of live performances, which impacts the public radio stations coast-to-coast who air their Saturday matinee broadcasts and the multiple cinemas and performing arts centers that livestream their performances in HD. So, the Met is livestreaming archival performances nightly at 7:30PM. They will keep their name and performances in the spotlight for millions, many who can’t afford to see them live or catch their broadcasts on a regular basis.

To keep in touch with colleagues, clients, and customers, go online. A high school math teacher colleague of mine, who both teaches and tutors in-person, is switching to online teaching, using some of the offerings of Google Suite…messaging, hangouts-meets and videoconferencing. He recommends programs like Facetime and Skype as well. There’s also a host of free conference call platforms out there.

One note of caution. If you’re working with younger people, high school and up, they’re accustomed to online learning, and they adapt well to the technology. If you’re not tech savvy, or you’re communicating with someone who’s not, remember to add in time for a learning curve and for getting used to the mode of communication.

Be creative in the ways you reach out to your customer base and adapt your business model. Something clever, yet easy to use, helps you stay in the limelight and provide the service your customers need.


Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn. Mark also produces ArtsBeat in print in The Westfield News, on radio for Pioneer Valley Radio and on radio/TV on 89.5fm/WSKB, and WCPC15.

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