Lifestyle

How Are Texas Small Business Owners Coping Amid COVID-19?

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The times in which we find ourselves are unique and unprecedented. Although many Texas small business owners understood there may be a need to have online platforms, for some, it was near impossible to do with any foreseeable direct benefit (i.e. mechanics, tax preparation specialists, local grocers, and so on). For others, an online platform made perfect sense, but they were still competing with big business for the same dollar, at often limiting margins. COVID-19 and the Coronavirus pandemic have created the “perfect storm” for small businesses, and these desperate times are bringing out either the best in them and their customer, or forcing their hands in some cases.

In an e-interview given this week, Leslie Workman, owner/operator of The Free Range Exchange in Post, located in West Texas, responded to questions posed with respect to the uncertainty that the coronavirus pandemic has brought with it. Not only is there a lot of personal fear and uncertainty with respect to the future of our health and that of the economy, but there are a lot of small business owners who are facing the possibility of closure as a result of the changing way in which we’re doing business. Over the course of the last week of March 2020, more than 6.65 million Americans filed for unemployment assistance. 24 percent of America’s small businesses have had to temporarily close their operations in response to health regulations, state requirements, and the pandemic fear.

How Are Texas Small Business Owners Coping Amid COVID-19?

Photo: The Free Range Exchange

When asked how she would define the experience she’s had as one of Texas’ small business owners in operation during the pandemic, Workman said bluntly, “First, pure panic and fear…honestly I’m not a worrier…but this was terrifying. I own my building. I don’t lease it. So, the idea of foreclosure scared me greatly. Now I’ve learned I’m an ‘essential business’ because I sell local beef and eggs and other niche grocery items… but then the guilt/pressure sets in for your neighbors and friends… just a prayer they’ll find ways to make it. I try to continue to buy from them to support them.”

Throughout the U.S. there are 30.7 million small businesses. In Texas, that number has been identified as 1.78 million. Considered the backbone of the American economy, when small business owners take a hit, everyone suffers. When asked what types of stresses The Free Range Exchange was under in the midst of social distancing, physical closures, and moving to more of an online presence, Workman noted, “Oddly enough, I ended my contract with my webpage stuff in December. So… I have no website. Facebook and Instagram have saved my bacon! No doubt. I still have foot traffic but limit it to 10 at a time. In such a small town it doesn’t seem like it would be an issue. However, when you’re the only thing opened, it does tend to be the local ‘hangout’ still.”

How Are Texas Small Business Owners Coping Amid COVID-19?

Photo: The Free Range Exchange

Add to the threat of closures and transition of operations the huge personal toll that stresses to small business owners can have. With respect to coping and dealing with personal issues as a result of current economic change, Workman said, “It put a strain on my marriage initially – just because I was so stressed out. This is all we have. It was from an inheritance that I bought this building…so if it fails, I’ve wasted my chance. I’ve been very careful with my time and spiritual energy. Spending little to no time with people who aren’t a positive energy. That’s all you can do. Pray and surround yourself with positivity.”

Workman doesn’t have employees at The Free Range Exchange, so subsequently she has not been required to face the devastating choice to do layoffs, as many of the small business owners across the U.S. have had to consider. Although she is a single operator with no employees, that doesn’t mean she hasn’t had to evolve or that this new business atmosphere has been one to which it’s easy to adapt. “I did apply for the disaster loan for small businesses. I don’t qualify for anything else. Oddly. I’m like a micro teeny tiny business apparently…I had no idea the broad range the words ‘small business’ covered,” she explained. In terms of being creative to meet the changing needs of her environment and customers, Workman said she “had a constant request” for hand sanitizer in the store. “So I made my version ‘hippy hanitizer’…It’s a witch hazel base. And only has critter killing essential oils. No harmful alcohols or fragrances. I just made it with stuff I had on hand and it sold so quickly…75 bottles in 13 minutes…I’m so thankful I did that,” she expressed. As a health food store, her customer base has continued to look to her for selection and great price. “I help people prevent disease & sickness every day. It’s what I do. It’s hard for people to look my way from conventional ‘we will just fix it if it breaks’ instead of ‘regular tune ups.’ People have started realizing that the hospitals are turning them away. Doctors aren’t offering help besides ‘stay home.’ Well, what if they can’t? What if they’re essential…where’s their help? That’s why I get up and earn zero pay. I just like to help share what God gave us and how to use it.”

How Are Texas Small Business Owners Coping Amid COVID-19?

Photo: The Free Range Exchange

Places like Entrepreneur.com and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce provide online supports in the way of guidance and direction with respect to what small business owners can do in view of the COVID-19 and Coronavirus pandemic. Other supports can be found in more local terms, such as networking groups you may already belong to, social media groups you’ve connected with, and guidance from your local lender and government offices. Getting the emotional support you’ll need to operate your entity in a healthy fashion is also crucial. The key words appear to be balance and adaptability. As one small business among the approximate 1.78 million in Texas, Workman and The Free Range Exchange have their work cut out for them. A tip of our hats goes out to them, as the local backbone of an economy that the Lone Star State has been founded upon.

Follow The Free Range Exchange on Facebook at this link and on Instagram here.

Other supports can be found in more local terms, such as networking groups you may already belong to, social media groups you’ve connected with, and guidance from your local lender, cash advance services from OpenCashAdvance, and government offices.