Social distancing was a term created in connection with the COVID-19 outbreak as a means of encouraging people to avoid group gatherings and stay at home. Such encouragement was necessary as the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, known as SARS-CoV-2, can be transmitted via close contact with infected persons.
But many people are starting to realize that human connections and a sense of community are more necessary than ever! The sense of loneliness, anxiety, and depression aggravated by the pandemic can be decreased with social interactions. The distance should then not be social in nature but only physical.
Even the World Health Organization (WHO) uses the term “physical distancing” as a way of emphasizing the point.
With that said, here are six small, independent businesses that have been adversely affected by physical distancing measures but have adopted innovative ways of overcoming the challenges. These businesses, furthermore, have found creative ways of strengthening a sense of community and social connections among their customers.
How 6 Small Businesses Are Adapting To The New Normal
#1 Thinking Outside the Box
In 2013, Enrico Casati and Jacopo Sebastio established among the first direct-to-consumer brands in Italy. Known as Velasca, the company bridged the gap between designer handcrafted shoes and fast fashion shoes.
Their business model meant that everyday consumers can purchase handcrafted designer footwear directly from the manufacturer. The shoes were more affordable without compromising on high quality because distributors, resellers, and retailers were removed from the equation. The business has since then expanded to more than 30 countries, launched 10 retail shops across Europe, and sold more than 100,000 pairs of shoes – and counting.
Velasca isn’t just known for its beautifully crafted footwear! The brand is just as well-known for its compelling storytelling and it has stood it in good stead in the coronavirus pandemic. With its headquarters in one of the world’s pandemic epicenters, it had to make hard decisions. These included closing its retail stores and implementing a work-from-home policy for its employees.
Despite these radical changes, fortunately, Velasca continues to tell compelling stories and connecting with its close-knit community! In early March 2020, one of its customers sent a shoebox with a unique design made by her son. As Enrico says, “It was a real masterpiece.”
They were inspired to create the #VelascaBoxChallenge where the Velasca community submitted their unique artwork on Velasca shoeboxes. The community members were encouraged to cast their votes on the artworks. Then, the four boxes with the highest votes will have their artwork recreated on the limited edition shoeboxes.
And that’s not all. Velasca also uses its Instagram account in pushing its shoemakers in the spotlight! It’s the good kind of spotlight, too, since the shoemakers’ stories as well as their family backgrounds, hobbies, and remote work setups are showcased.
Indeed, Velasca is creating a strong sense of community through approachable storytelling, striking visuals, and curated content. Even in the new normal, such a community will continue, both in the virtual and physical sense.
#2 Bringing Its Classes Online and Encouraging Movement
When the COVID-19 crisis hit Toronto, Misfitstudio was among the first businesses to close its doors. According to Amber Joliat, its founder, the instructors were feeling unsafe and putting themselves at risk of getting the coronavirus. Staying open wasn’t worth the risk, thus, the temporary closures.
Misfitstudio, a fitness studio in downtown Toronto’s hip Ossington strip, is committed to the creation of a sense of community via physical movement. Its typical classes include Pilates, yoga, and aerobics dance classes inspired by jazz and ballet, as well as post-natal and medication classes. Of course, these face-to-face classes have been suspended due to the risk of coronavirus infections.
Fortunately, Misfitstudio also offered digital classes even before the pandemic hit and these have become its lifeline. The fitness studio has offered a video subscription for nearly five years, said subscription of which was originally intended for clients who cannot attend its classes.
Nowadays, it continues to offer video subscription classes as well as live-streaming classes, both of which are geared toward clients who prefer group workouts. These classes provide a sense of community while still in the comfort and safety of their homes.
Misfitstudio also offers free classes via its Instagram Live as part of its effort to connect with people outside of its community. These free classes provide opportunities for people to get off the couch and move their bodies at home. These are also venues for sharing meaningful conversations on a wide range of mental health topics including anxiety, transformation, and grief.
The strong sense of community that Misfitstudio has established before the pandemic is still as strong as ever today. Even when regular clients moved their fitness sessions from the studio to their homes, they still showed their solidarity. Proof of it: Misfitstudio branded merchandise sold out in March.
#3 Providing Support and Meals to the Hospitality Industry
Jessica Koslow, the chef, and owner of Sqirl are known for capturing and highlighting the subtleties of local seasonal fruits through artisanal jams. In fact, her unique jams are among the reasons for her enviable culinary reputation. Sqirl, her restaurant, is also well-known as the must-visit spot for Los Angelenos for breakfast and lunch.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, Sqirl was a crowd favorite with lines of customers waiting outside for a chance to enjoy Koslow’s famous sorrel pesto rice bowl, ricotta toast, and flat tots. Since the start of the outbreak, it has been temporarily closed.
But Sqirl wasn’t just the one affected by the outbreak. In fact, the entire hospitality industry has been adversely and heavily affected by many restaurants and hotels closed. This meant that hundreds of thousands of employees have also been laid off.
Koslow has adapted to the new normal by taking on new projects that continue to bring in the money and, thus, providing employment for its people. Among these projects are selling jams and coffee as well as merchandise online. Koslow is grateful for the new opportunity since it’s keeping the business alive.
The Sqirl’s team’s most notable goal is providing assistance to individuals in the hospitality industry. Its first initiative, surprisingly, was non-food-related – the Clyde Dye. Clyde, one of its employees, tie-dyed shirts and sold them with the proceeds shared equitably among the front house and kitchen staff.
The restaurant has since branched out to tie-dyed shirts and totes as well as copies of its cookbooks. The proceeds were used in maintaining the employees’ healthcare insurance, among others.
Beyond its staff support, Sqirl also has its Framily Meal where it offers unemployed hospitality professionals free meals and essential items. These initiatives are being made to ensure that people in the hospitality industry are staying connected and cared for during the pandemic.
#4 Raising Awareness about Women Artists
In 2011, Liezel Strauss co-founded Subject Matter, an online art platform that challenges the exclusivity of the art world and inspires new buyers of artwork. Strauss, a curator, and supporter of the arts co-founded it when she became aware of a National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) campaign. In it, individuals were asked to name five women artists.
The NMWA wanted to highlight the sad truth that only a few women artists are actually represented in the national art world. Proof: In the past decade, only 11% of the purchased artwork made by the top galleries in the United States came from female artists. Strauss couldn’t get her head around it, especially as she didn’t notice it.
Her inspiration for printing the names of five female artists on shirts came from an episode on Queer Eye, a Netflix show featuring Antoni Porowski. Strauss uses the brand ArtGirlUprising in promoting female artists who don’t get as much attention and acclaim in the art world as they deserve. The shirts are a way of starting conversations and getting people to ask about these artists and their work.
Part of the proceeds is given to organizations including NMWA and Women for Women.
During the quarantine, Strauss wanted to do more in supporting the art community. She then launched a series of online classes known as #ArtGirlsWFH, available as live streaming content and as pre-recordings.
The online classes tackle a wide range of subjects including business management for artists, building communities, and homeschooling management. Most of these classes employ artists as their teachers.
Strauss says that #ArtGirlsWFH is about building a community and allowing people to interact with each other. For now, #ArtGirlsWFH is operating at a loss but it’s slowly growing its base with social media check-ins and virtual coffee sessions.
#5 Inspiring Purpose and Hope
Who would think that jewelry can spark hope and inspire purpose? But that’s exactly what the people behind Purpose Jewelry want to do with its handcrafted artisan jewelry!
Take note that Purpose Jewelry is the social enterprise component of International Sanctuary, a non-profit organization working toward the empowerment of girls and women who were once victims of human trafficking. Purpose Jewelry employs them in making jewelry while also offering them opportunities in income, healthcare, and education.
International Sanctuary has centers for survivors in Orange County, California as well as in Mumbai, Tijuana, and Kampala.
When the outbreak started, their joint project was the #SparkOfHope campaign. It asked individuals to share their stories about people, events, and places that brought them to hope in life. It was a successful social media campaign that truly touched people and inspired hope in others.
The campaign wasn’t limited to social media either. The team also encourages its customers to write inspiring messages or choose from inspiring messages to send to their gift recipients. The jewelry is then both a physical gift and a gift of hope for, indeed, words are powerful.
Today, the team focuses on checking in on its volunteers’ well-being. There are 500 volunteers who have influenced both International Sanctuary and Purpose Jewelry, and their conversations bring hope among themselves and in others.
#6 Ensuring Growth and Making Connections Through Baked Goods
How can a bakery enjoy exponential growth despite its closure and with everybody becoming amateur bakers? Let’s ask the brains behind Brodflour, a Shopify newbie merchant with its physical space in Toronto. Opened in 2019, Brodflour uses local heritage grains for its in-house milled flour and bakes its goods in-house, too. The bakery uses local heritage grains since it contains nutrients and oil that have been lost due to commercial milling processes.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, Brodflour has also made several changes to its operations. These changes included temporarily closure of its café and providing delivery services for its packaged items. Its recent change is in offering its in-house jams and flour through its online store.
Indeed, its in-house flour is its current bestselling product and main income source. Before the outbreak, most of its sales came from baked goods, meals, and coffee. Nowadays, the bakery sells flour in two days what it used to sell in a month and the number doesn’t include sales from its wholesale clients.
This was due to the increase in baking at home as a quarantine activity. But with the shortage of flour supplies at regular grocery stores, some people looked for alternative sources and Brodflour was ready for it.
The great thing about Brodflour’s growth was that it was organic, just like its flour. The bakery didn’t do extra advertising beyond its regular posts on social media and its interactions with its clients.
The posts are also useful for its community members. These discuss matters like updates on its operations, information about different types of flour and their uses, and even recipes on favorite baked goods. The interactions allowed Broflour to strengthen its connections with its existing retail customers while also opening the doors to the wholesale business.
The coronavirus pandemic may have closed some doors, created new unknowns, and resulted in the new normal. But these savvy businesses have found creative ways to not only survive but thrive! Along the way, they have also supported their customers, suppliers, and employees in their own special ways.
We should be inspired by their stories and, in so doing, spread hope and sow opportunities among our fellowmen!