Opening/Reopening Realities

Businesses face new challenges in an (almost) post-pandemic world.

Illustration by Tony Healey

Keith Twitchell spent 16 years running his own business before becoming president of the Committee for a Better New Orleans. He has observed, supported and participated in entrepreneurial ventures at the street, neighborhood, nonprofit, micro- and macro-business levels.


 

While it is critical for all of us to realize that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over — “variant” is now one of the scariest words in the English language — many small businesses are reopening or scaling up operations. Similarly, many entrepreneurs who held off on business launches are now ready to move forward.

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In speaking with friends who are small business owners, most are finding that their clientele is very happy to see the doors open once again. However, every one of these businesses has faced challenges connected to the pandemic circumstances, and those challenges will of course apply to startups as well. Here’s a look at some of the most common issues.

Staffing is an almost-universal problem. Unless the business was somehow able to retain its full staff throughout the pandemic, new hires must be made and trained. For lower-wage jobs, continuing unemployment benefits are keeping some individuals out of the workforce, while others are still reluctant to go to a workplace because of the virus. Entrepreneurs should prepare for a more difficult staffing process than in pre-pandemic times.

Supply chain issues continue to plague many industries. Manufacturing and shipping were both severely impacted by COVID-19. Where possible, establishing redundancies for your supply and product needs is probably going to be beneficial for the foreseeable future.

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Social distancing and other necessary safeguards are still required and important. This applies to both retail and office settings. Businesses whose staff can continue working from home at least part of the time have an advantage, but hospitality operations — especially restaurants, tour companies, etc. — will need to be careful and creative in maintaining staff and customer safety precautions. As an aside, the model of more people working remotely is almost certainly a permanent adaptation, and if your new enterprise can accommodate that, going that route from the beginning is probably a wise choice.

Reluctant customers are still restraining many businesses. Restaurants, theaters and other sectors and venues that bring larger numbers of customers together are particularly experiencing this; but across the board in retail, online shopping remains popular, which means having a strong online sales presence, and marketing it aggressively,
is essential.

Business owners are also facing tough and controversial decisions in these latter pandemic stages. In particular, face masks and vaccination are inducing some real headaches. The state has dropped its mask mandate; though as of this writing, New Orleans retained its mandate, that, too, will end. Yet medical authorities strongly recommend mask wearing in public indoor settings until we can really call an end to the pandemic.

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At this point, it is no longer viable for business owners to require customers to be masked in the absence of a government mandate. Requiring staff to wear masks is another story and is recommended until the holy grail of herd immunity is reached. The last thing any entrepreneur wants is for his/her businesses to be a late-breaking super-spreader.

The vaccination subject may be even more touchy. This is obviously an internal issue only, as there is no realistic way to require that of customers, possibly with the exception of large venues like sporting events or concerts. However, with a few limitations, business owners can require staff to be vaccinated. While this could further complicate the staffing process, entrepreneurs establishing a new business may be at a small advantage here. Requiring existing or returning employees to get vaccinated is a greater challenge than making vaccination a condition of new employment.

If you are preparing to launch a new enterprise at this time, it might be helpful to talk with a few people you know who are operating similar types of businesses. If they will share the specific post-pandemic issues they are facing, you can be better prepared to meet, and beat, those challenges yourself.

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