While the pandemic seemed like the end of the line to many small businesses, some already were pursuing positive survival strategies.
Others pivoted by adopting new practices, enabling them to grow.
Mitzi Villalobos’ Bride on a Budget Events has surfed the pandemic riptides successfully. The South Side resident started her business part time in 2016 and went all-in last year.
“When the pandemic hit, at first we could barely go to the grocery store. But, people were not willing to put their love life on hold,” she said. “When I started applying for financial assistance, LiftFund helped me financially, and also helped me learn about other resources. Participating on Zoom with a SCORE (a network of volunteer commerce experts) business mentor has helped a lot, too. “
“I stay affordable with very low overhead. I do almost everything myself, working from home — so, no lease or electric bills. I invested a lot in getting … software that can do all the things another employee might.”
— Mitzi Villalobos, Bride on a Budget
The job still involves old-fashioned, in-person meetings, but real-time online chats are fine, too.
“I live on the near South Side just 10 minutes from downtown, so I can meet brides there, or even on Zoom now,” she said. “And, we’re tailoring our service to really intimate events – in October, I did a wedding at the Hotel Contessa for just 10 guests.”
Her business has actually grown during the health crisis.
“Post-lockdown, people still want beautiful weddings, but they are really on a budget, and I think our name has truly saved us. My friends in the industry are struggling, but this is our best year ever,” Villalobos said.
Meanwhile, Kela and Kevin Nabors, owners of Organically Bath & Beauty in The Elms Shopping Center, 11854 Wurzbach Road, were doing well enough in 2019 for the former to leave her career and focus solely on the family shop.
Then came the coronavirus outbreak.
“March was a total loss. We went from maybe $10,000 to $15,000 a month to, like, zero,” Kela Nabors said. “We moved all we could into our living room and sent out pending orders. We felt lost.”
Kevin Nabors took an extra part-time job to help cover expenses. They applied for COVID-19 relief grants, and the nonprofit LiftFund — which, with the city, has helped distribute federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds — came through with $25,000.
The couple shifted to a virtual business format, expanding their online store and shifting their popular in-person essential-oils classes to Facebook Live.
“People who found us through the online bath-bomb classes started shopping online. The grant helped us keep going. We moved back in the store in May. Before the pandemic, we got maybe one online order a week. In May, we got 20. In June, business tripled again,” Nabors said.
The pair rented a second space in The Elms for packing online orders. The business, now about six times its pre-pandemic size, increased staffing from three employees to eight. They’re giving back, too. Profits from their soap end package sales go to the San Antonio Food Bank.
“Small-business owners who have managed best in COVID reiterate the same things,” said Ryan Salts, director of Launch SA, a nonprofit entrepreneurship and small-business center created through a partnership between LiftFund and the city.
His best advice: “Be flexible, maintain your website, diversify how you sell when people can’t walk in the door or find your product on a shelf. Stay relevant with your social media. Make your loyal customers feel like champs. Be involved with the community.”