In this Q+A, Julia Truilo said restaurants will need to continue their take-out and delivery efforts, and that retail stores are poised for one-on-one service.
The COVID pandemic has emphasized two things for our community regarding small businesses, said Julia Truilo, executive director of Ormond MainStreet.
How much we miss them when they're closed, and how fragile they are during a crisis.
In the beginning, Truilo said many people may have relied on sites like Amazon to deliver the goods, thinking they will be delivered without delay.
"Suddenly that isn’t the case, and we see that the local sourcing and the local vision is really important," Truilo said.
Most of Ormond Beach's small businesses are "mom and pop" businesses, often leveraged on the owner's personal credit, Truilo said. That leaves many especially vulnerable their income stream is disrupted.
With the governor allowing restaurants and retail to operate at a 25% indoor capacity, what does that mean for these businesses? The Ormond Beach Observer recently spoke with Truilo, and this is what she had to say about that, the financial health of her nonprofit and the importance of businesses connecting with customers.
Q: Since the start of the pandemic, have you seen Ormond MainStreet’s role in the community shift?
A: Yes, I have. I think that it emphasized something we had always been doing in the background, which suddenly became more visible and more necessary, and that is communicating information to our downtown stakeholders and businesses, and also making sure their information was getting out to consumers — a two-pronged effort that is part of what we do year-round every day, but it really came to the forefront as people needed new lines of communications and needed someone to consolidate all that stuff in one place.
Q: Do you think many of our local restaurants will reopen, or will some wait until the indoor capacity limit is higher?
A: I think there will be a few that wait, but really remarkably, many of our restaurants have been able to remain functioning. So, to them it’s a little extra that they will add. It’s 25% of whatever your Fire Marshal says capacity is on the wall, and that includes all your employees who are in the building. If you have two employees and your capacity is 25, as many of our smaller businesses are, it’s not very many customers at a time. I think one of the things the businesses are working on, and which we are encouraging them to work on, is keeping all these channels going at once.
[25% of capacity] won’t make bank for you. You’re going to have to continue to do take-out and delivery.
Looking ahead for instance to Mother’s Day, which is coming up [on Sunday May 10], that is the biggest restaurant day of the year — no question. So you have a potential for people to want to be in your restaurant and not be able to service the need. You have a large group of your customers who are either afraid to return or are in a sensitive health issue where they won’t be able to go out for a while still, so you’re going to need to be able to service take-out and delivery at a higher volume on Mother’s Day while you are servicing a higher volume of dining room customers.
Q: Retail is also reopening on Monday with 25% indoor capacity. How will this impact businesses in the downtown?
A: For a lot of our really small stores, again, they’re going to have capacity issues if you’re occupancy is 15 and you have two employees in the store. You really only can have one or two customers at a time, but they don’t expect to have 300 people show up at any given moment. I think they’re just glad to be able to speak to their customers and be able to help them. Small boutique businesses are a small one-on-one proposition anyway.
You want that personal service, so our small businesses are already poised to do that. I think there’s going to be some issues they’re going to have to work through, but I think being able to have their customers come in, at least some, is going to be great for them.
Q: Some nonprofits are expressed a degree of financial struggle due to canceled events and low donations. How is MainStreet faring?
A: Well, MainStreet is going to have some financial struggles as well. We count on our volunteers to do a lot of what we do. We lost in Celtic Festival our biggest income generator of the year because we had to cancel our festival, and quite frankly, we don’t know that we’ll be able to do festivals until next year.
I also think for nonprofits in general, many of our corporate donors will find themselves in less positive financial territory than they have been and they may look at their donations and reduce those. Most of our donor base is small donors and I think that we feel comfortable that they will stick with us, but I think all nonprofits are going to have to work what they do and understand what they do. We’re going to stick with it no matter what happens. We’ve got a lot of work to do and lot of things to get done. We’ll figure it out.
Q: What advice do you have for local business owners?
A: Talk to your customers. If you’re not an e-commerce kind of guy, pick up the phone and call your customers and say, “Hey, I’ve got something special,” or “I miss you and we’re going to open next week and I want you to know that.” Send them a post card. Old-fashioned ways of communication are not gone. I think customers will appreciate that.
If you are absolutely a social media person, and you’re Instagramming all the time, make sure that you are talking to your customer, letting them know what’s up with you. I would also say to look for the opportunity in this crisis. Do you have a chance to put your toe into e-commerce if you’ve never had time to do that before? Do you have an opportunity to learn something you didn’t know? Take a good hard look at your finances and decide whether you need to change some of the ways you go about operating.