In the face of COVID-19, pressure on a global scale has made it obvious that a changed economy is imminent. On a local level, businesses are confronting an “innovate or exit” reality and are thinking carefully about their next steps. Hope, it seems, lives in an altered, or could we even say rehabilitated economic mindset. The focus is shifting away from what is desired to what is needed and successful businesspeople now have their gaze set on what can be repurposed to meet those needs.

In Keene, New Hampshire, small businesses are thriving where strong roots and creativity have been established. Joined by their common genesis and sturdy foundation in the Hannah Grimes Center’s (HGC) Start-Up Lab, these three businesses have implemented creative ideas to adapt and thrive at this time.

BEEZE TEES: MASK-MAKING

Beeze Tees, a screen-printing business in downtown Keene has found an ingenious way to keep busy.

 “When closures began with the COVID-19 outbreak, we were just emerging from what is the slowest time of the year,” says owner Tim Pipp. “Suddenly, there were so many phone calls coming in with canceled orders and people needing their money back.”

Pipp and his employees knew they needed to put their heads together to come up with a viable way forward.

Looking around at what resources he already had — embroidery machines, T-shirts, and a ready staff —Pipp began research into mask-making. Within days, a prototype was created, machines were recalibrated, bulk amounts of paracord purchased, and work in earnest began on making high quality, affordable masks. Now, with six of 17 staff-members still employed, 200-240 masks are being produced daily and more than 5,000 have already sold. What’s more, Pipp says with pressure to adapt quickly and smartly, the company has grown stronger. Significant procedural changes have been made that will boost efficiency for years to come.

In moving past this economic crisis Pipp comments, “The government has put a lot of money into people’s hands, I just hope everyone will think deeply about how they will spend it on a local level.”

To struggling business owners, Pipp advises the highest level of attentiveness. Tapping into the economy of people’s current needs rather than their wants is crucial at this time.

EVERYTHING DOG: SIT, STAY … ONLINE

For professional dog trainer, Denise Mazzola, the words of Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right,” have propelled her forward with gusto. Pandemic-related closures have only prompted the owner of Everything Dog to follow through with previously set goals finally. Plans for a revamped website and increased online offerings have now become necessary for survival, and the sole focus of her work.

For Mazzola, changed times simply meant devising new answers to the question she already was asking: “how can I best serve my clients — both animals and people?” A quick look at the Everything Dog website now reveals options ranging from 45-minute sessions to affordable webinars and group sessions.

“People may even find that online suits them better than in-person, once this is all over,” says Mazzola.

She knows that being able to serve a broader range and further reach of customers will be beneficial for her business in the long term.

Mazzola secured a PPP grant as well as the Economic Injury Disaster Loan to provide a financial buffer for herself and her one employee. However, she still stresses the need for frugality along with good budgeting habits.

“We already had in place a weekly budgeting plan, but these times have called for careful examination of what we truly need,” says Mazzola, who has found creative ways to reduce expenses and lower costs.

Mazzola’s message to fellow business owners is, “The only behavior you can control is your own. Approach challenges with a clear and level head and leave emotions out of financial matters.” She also adds that often what is seen as a roadblock can be the golden opportunity needed to make positive change.  

 LITTLE GREENS: REAPING BENEFITS OF LOCAL FOOD DEMAND

Annie Fernandez of Little Greens has been hard at work growing organic microgreens out of her home in downtown Keene. When COVID-19 concerns first began to heighten, Fernandez battened down her delivery protocols so that her customers would feel safe.

With people moving about less, Fernandez sees hope where others may not.

She says, “People want local food right now. They are turning their attention towards home and the immediate community — what is here and what we have.”

Little Green’s sales are up about 30%, and Fernandez is excited to have lots of new customers supporting her business.

With HGC’s Start-up Lab under her belt, Fernandez stresses the importance of a secure business plan to stay on track and plan.

“It’s easy to get excited and start branching off in so many directions with ideas for your business,” Fernandez says, “but it is important, especially in times like these, to stay focused on your initial plan.”

However, with everything in flux, she sees new space for innovation and creativity.

“For successful businesses, it is always about adapting to changing circumstances, but right now,” she says, “people are craving new ways of being and are open to a new perspective.”

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If there is no going back, it is time to think carefully about how we want to move forward. As we dive into an unknown economy, a changed world, maybe it’s not about assigning the words “good” or “bad” to our lived experience. Resilience is found in the willingness to change perspective and to seek opportunity and innovation in the midst of confusion and disarray. Success is about figuring out what works, and sharing this with others so that it can be with curiosity and hope that we move forward into a transformed economy. T

Annika Kristiansen is a freelance writer.