Business Unusual: Round Table Part 2

In the second video in a two-part interview series, Katie Hurst continues to talk change with a panel of entrepreneurs about the state of business in a post-COVID world.

Katie Hurst:
Hi, my name is Katie Hurst and I’m the Director of Communications here at Ruby. And I’m so excited to introduce our panelists today as part of our small business series: Business Unusual.

Katie Hurst:
Today, we’re going to be talking about moving forward, discussing what comes next and how businesses are planning ahead. So I’m going to start and have everyone introduce themselves. Let’s go ahead and start with Robin.

Robin DeTrude:
Hi, I’m Robin DeTrude. I am the owner of Elaine’s Salon located in Fishers, Indiana.

Katie Hurst:
Thank you, and Robust Promotions.

Greg Seei:
Hi, I’m Greg. I’m with Robust Promotions. We’re a sweepstakes and promotions agency for retailers.

Leslie Allison:
And I’m use wife, Leslie, and we’ve been doing this business for 14 years now.

Katie Hurst:
Awesome. All right. And Joshua …

Joshua Zissman:
Hi. I’m the Chief Operating Officer for an oral surgery practice outside of Philadelphia.

Katie Hurst:
Greg and Leslie, you guys have mentioned this has kind of forced you to go virtual and the remote piece, so what apps and tools have you added or started utilizing because of the changes in the way we work?

Leslie Allison:
Well, Zoom for one, and I’ve done a lot of webinars on how to do the Zoom. We’ve also gotten into the Facebook ads, the Twitter ads, the LinkedIn ads, so we’ve done a lot of advertising that way. And to that end, then there’s an app called as Zapier-

Katie Hurst:
Zapier, mm-hmm (affirmative).

Leslie Allison:
Yep. So that we get those leads that come directly to our phone. So, that way we can follow up as well. A lot of Google Share and Greg in particular has been doing a lot of Skyping with our VP and doing a lot of Screen Share as well.

Greg Seei:
Right. Yeah.

Katie Hurst:
Yeah, you guys are entering my territory with LinkedIn and Facebook ads and Zapier.

Leslie Allison:
Oh, right.

Katie Hurst:
Yeah, Zapier is a great tool because it can connect so many different things. It’s really awesome, so that’s great. Robin, how about you? What apps and new tools have you added into your repertoire?

Robin DeTrude:
Well, actually Zoom has been huge for my staff and I to stay connected and to see each other spaces and hear each other’s voices. I think that was very important for us to stay united in that way. A lot of texting, a lot of texting, some emailing, mostly Instagram on my personal and my business, some Facebooking as well for business, and Ruby. Ruby was wonderful for us. I mean, all I have to do is pull up my Ruby app, just mentioned what I need to do and you guys were all over it and it was amazing. And the fact that you didn’t even make the salon … You put our account on hold, was … I mean, you don’t understand. For a small business like ours, those expenses are … they’re overwhelming for us. And so that was absolutely wonderful.

Katie Hurst:
Oh, I’m so glad that we could be of service.

Robin DeTrude:
Absolutely.

Katie Hurst:
I mean, that’s been so hard for us, is to see our small businesses have to go through such a rough time. And so anything we can do, we’ve been trying, including-

Robin DeTrude:
And I felt that. And I felt that and appreciated it so very much. And even checking in, you guys even checked in on us. It was very, very special. So thank you for that.

Katie Hurst:
Our pleasure. Well, and so that brings me to a question that’s not on the list, which is most of you have teams or work with individuals, so what are some ways that you guys have stayed connected during this time? Leslie, and you mentioned you’re doing a lot of webinars to stay connected to what’s out there. Just out of curiosity, Greg and Leslie, what other ways are you trying to stay connected to the other folks you work with and your client?

Leslie Allison:
Right, and I would say as far as our clients are concerned, I’m going back to the old fashioned way. I’m picking up the phone and I’m calling them, just to check in to see how everybody’s doing. So there’s been a lot of that as well. Not everybody likes to do the Zoom thing.

Greg Seei:
We were able because other people are in similar situations, people … It’s all new territory. We reached out to a firm that kind of rebuffed us before because they were busy with a little company called Pfizer. We called them this time and said, “Hey, we’re still a small agency, but we really like what you’re doing with social media advertising and all the rest. And we noticed that you had the Home & Garden television account.” They said, “Yeah, we had it for five years,” and lots of sweepstakes and promotions were offshoots of that because they realized how lucrative that was for their online advertising because people were so into that product and that property.

Greg Seei:
So they took us on. They took us on without charging us and taught us things that we wouldn’t have opted for because we, not knowing what we were doing, I didn’t want to look at a $10,000 price tag while we were learning each thing. So we were able to do things now because their bandwidth was available and they weren’t charging us while we were learning, and those things are starting to take off. So they planted seeds they otherwise wouldn’t have. We learned along the way and now we’re both going to profit.

Leslie Allison:
And we’re playing that forward because Airbnb, they got shut down pretty badly as well, so they had to pivot and they went to Airbnb Experiences. And so for Easter Sunday, obviously we couldn’t get together with our family. We have four grandkids that are under the age of nine and it was breaking my heart and I wanted to do something. And so it came up on my email that Airbnb was doing these experiences, and one of them was a magician that could do this Zoom magic tricks. And so we all signed in and we, even my mom who was out in Utah, signed in on this and it was a wonderful experience. And as it turned out, we were his very first clients. And Greg and I tend to make friends every place we go, whether it’s on Zoom or in real life, however it happens. Long story short, too late now, Greg has been mentoring him every Tuesday. Greg takes an hour and gets on the phone with this young man, and he’s now doing … Go ahead. I won’t steal your thunder.

Greg Seei:
Yeah. He’s in London and he’s a magician and he quit high school and he’s about 30 years old. He’s been doing it for, what, 13 years. And he did this with us because he was targeting families for birthdays and things like that. And I said, “Well, go do corporate stuff, and you get 200 people at a time and charge per head.” And so he’s got Google and Netflix or … yeah, Netflix and …

Leslie Allison:
Dyson.

Greg Seei:
Dyson and … He’s got a bunch of huge companies that are coming back in droves. And he was one of only six things she could pick for experiences. Now there’s 10 magicians and he’s at the top of those 10 magicians. There’s tons of them. She’s done like … I don’t know, make a-

Leslie Allison:
He has six world records.

Greg Seei:
… sangria with drag queens in Portugal. I mean, she’s done some crazy crap. But anyway, his thing is just going through the roof. He’s making more in a day than he used to make in a month.

Katie Hurst:
That’s incredible. What a great story!

Leslie Allison:
Anyway, now we have taken the gentlemen of the company that you’ve been working with, and tomorrow our virtual mentoring session-

Greg Seei:
We’re going to hook those two together. The head of the company that wouldn’t work with us before is now going to work gratis for this gentleman in London who took a lockdown to go global. He had a local lockdown in London that made him go global. He’s working in the States, he’s working in Japan, all over Europe.

Katie Hurst:
That’s amazing. What a great story. Robin or Joshua, I know that’s going to be hard to top, but are there ways that you guys are staying connected with your teams or clients that are interesting?

Joshua Zissman:
I mean, there’s always the typical things, but the reality is that it’s more of a slog than anything else for us at this point. I mean, we’re just really trying to make sure that we maintain our patient base and that we’re reaching out to as many people as possible. I think the thing that made it most interesting, I don’t know if the other folks on the call applied for PPP?

Leslie Allison:
Yes.

Greg Seei:
Yes.

Joshua Zissman:
So that experience was a whole different universe as well.

Leslie Allison:
Yes!

Joshua Zissman:
Our bank was a little bit … interesting is one way to put it, but it was at 5:30 AM on a Saturday morning that we got our application in because the bank didn’t have the application ready until 4:00 AM. And so my controller said, “We need to get on the phone together, Share Screen so we can fill out the application.” So it was just a whole … which we got. We got the PPP money, which has saved the practice, but it was definitely one of those things that, it’s like, “Okay, what else am I going to do at five o’clock on a Saturday morning?”

Greg Seei:
Right.

Joshua Zissman:
So that’s not about spending time doing the kind of lovely things that you guys did, but it was just an interesting experience to have to make those things work like that.

Greg Seei:
Yeah.

Katie Hurst:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). So talking about PPP is actually a great segue into the next question… what factors do you think will make or break a business’s success post-COVID? And Josh, let’s just stick with you.

Joshua Zissman:
I think it really depends upon the business. We have good friends, quite frankly, who have a hair salon and other friends who are restaurant owners, and I really feel badly for them. I mean, I don’t know what else to say. We have friends … It’s a personal note; I’m vegetarian vegan. One of the best vegetarian vegan restaurants in the country is in Philadelphia and they’ve been shut down and it’s been … it’s horrible. I mean, they are really, really struggling. They were super successful. They have three restaurants, two in Philly, one in Washington DC, and they were just killed. And it’s just awful to see people who were … I mean, you had to call months in advance to get a reservation at these restaurants. I mean, that’s how successful they were. And they’re down to doing some takeout Friday and Saturday night for a limited number of people who order a day or two in advance. I mean, it’s awful.

Joshua Zissman:
So, from our own business perspective, we are doing okay. I really am not sure what it’s going to take to survive because the pattern of patients coming to us is very different. Normally we get people who would make an appointment two, three weeks in advance. Now they’re making the appointment the next day or the day after. So, I look at my schedule right now for the rest of the week and I see a lot of white space, which is not a good thing. And I’m sure that from the hairdresser, from a salon perspective, that hole in the schedule is a scary thing. So we’re definitely hoping that the pattern of appointment making will go back to the old way, though I don’t know if it will or not. And once our referrals come back online, maybe that will help as well. But in the meantime, it’s definitely a situation where we’re gritting our teeth every day until we see the next day’s schedule and the next two days’ schedules fill up.

Katie Hurst:
Well, and so Robin, since he specifically was just mentioning hair salons, have you seen something similar where it’s just the level of appointments is pretty unpredictable?

Robin DeTrude:
Actually we are booked solid, and if anything, we cannot get new people in or anything for about three weeks out. Now, having said that-

Joshua Zissman:
I was going to say the big differences is that in Pennsylvania right now, in our area, hair salons are not allowed to be open.

Katie Hurst:
Oh, gotcha. Okay.

Robin DeTrude:
See, they’re in that different phase.

Joshua Zissman:
They’re really hurting.

Robin DeTrude:
Yeah. Now having said that though, the way that we have to book now cuts my stylist’s income down. So, we can’t double book. We can’t squeeze someone in. If you don’t have an appointment, you cannot come in the salon. It’s just that simple for right now. Which also makes people that want to come in and buy product or buy a gift certificate for Mother’s Day or anything like that, that does hurt our bottom line. But at the same time, for right now, I think that the most important thing is, is that as an owner, I have to keep my staff; I need them to feel safe, I need our clients to feel safe and cared for, and communication is key. You know, we have signs on the door; we have signs as you come in. They can’t go past a certain place in the salon.

Robin DeTrude:
So hopefully once those … I’m thinking those things will be lifted and then we can go back. Just like what Joshua said earlier, I don’t think it’s ever going to go back to the way that it used to be. I could be wrong about that, but honestly, I think we’re looking at a new way of doing business and I hope we can get some form of new normal, where it’s comfortable again and our lobby is open again, because our salon is beautiful and people love to come and hang out. That’s what they do. And they sit with other clients and whatever; they’ve gotten to know each other. And those days are … for right now, those are done.

Katie Hurst:
Well, and sticking on you for a second, what factors do you think will make or break a business’s success? I know you mentioned your husband also owns a small business.

Robin DeTrude:
Yes. Well, I think that we need to stay … You have to communicate. I think that’s one of the biggest things right there. You have to communicate. Say what you mean and do what you say. And if that means you keep signs up or you keep your mask on and hold on to these guidelines, then that’s what you do. That’s what you do. And I think organization is key. Those things, being able to organize your schedule … Our schedule looks so different now. And you have to make time to do extra sanitation measures. You have to make time to make sure that laundry is in the perfect place because it has to be contained, and then it has to be washed in a certain temperature and certain soap now. I mean, it’s a lot. It’s a lot, but my staff is rising to the occasion. They’ve got it. They’ve got it handled.

Katie Hurst:
So I want to finish with … we’ve talked a little bit about some of the difficulties, we’ve talked about some of the changes, but you guys are amazing small business owners. You’re doing your best to get through it. So let’s talk about your wins. Let’s talk about some celebrations. So with Greg and Leslie, let’s go ahead and go to you. What has been your biggest win in navigating these times?

Greg Seei:
The rigors of going through the stuff with the social media advertising, that we didn’t have much experience with, made us create some assets. One of those was a video. That video got noticed by a editor of a publication and so we’re going to get some free earned PR out of it. And that’s going to help our transition into the new sector that we’re going after, C-stores and fuel retailers. So, just-

Katie Hurst:
That’s awesome.

Greg Seei:
… one step led to another and then kind of snowballed.

Leslie Allison:
And to me, it was making new friends, making our friends overseas.

Katie Hurst:
I love it. Well, Josh, how about you and your biggest win in navigating COVID?

Joshua Zissman:
I think the biggest win, quite frankly, is throughout the whole thing, as of right now, we’re able to keep all our staff on. There was some level … I mean, staff was furloughed, but basically we were able to bring everybody back and we maintained their benefits throughout the whole period. So, hopefully we will obviously be able to continue now keeping people working and keeping her benefits, but no one lost their benefits throughout the two and a half months we were only able to see emergent and urgent patients. So I’m really happy that we were able to do that, and I think the staff is too. That to me is the biggest win, which is of course coupled with hopefully our level of busyness and things like that will start to rise back to our old levels.

Katie Hurst:
That’s incredible.

Greg Seei:
Joshua, do your benefits include dental?

Joshua Zissman:
Yes, they do, as a matter of fact. I was actually instrumental in getting dental added, which is actually … It’s an interesting thing you should ask that because many dentists and oral surgeon offices do not have dental because the doctors say, well, they’d just take care of their staff. But that doesn’t help if you have to be referred out to an orthodontist or whatever. So I personally wanted dental coverage because this is an oral surgery practice, not a dentist office. So yes, we do offer … Actually we have a full … We just revamped our 401k program; we added life insurance and AD&D. So the benefits are actually … been enriched during this period as well.

Katie Hurst:
That’s incredible. I really have to commend you for taking care of your staff like that, and really striving to make sure that everyone … that was your number one goal of making sure that people were able to continue with their benefits, so nice work on that, sir. Raising my glass to you.

Joshua Zissman:
And actually one other piece of it, which I thought was … So the managing partner, throughout the time that people were laid off and were collecting unemployment, he also sent out three different rounds of $100 checks to everybody. I mean, they weren’t working, but he just said, okay, this is something he wants to do. Because frankly, we have a lot of single moms in our practice as employees, and whatever it was, it was a great added thing which he absolutely didn’t have to do at all. He just felt it was something he really needed to do. So it was very, very cool.

Katie Hurst:
That’s great. So Robin, we’ll end with you. What has been your biggest win in navigating COVID?

Robin DeTrude:
Again, I cannot sing their praises enough, my staff. My staff … I knew I was a lucky gal before COVID hit, and let me tell you, my staff has rose to this … it’s rose to the occasion, this nasty virus, and just has lifted me up. They followed my lead, but most importantly they trusted me to lead them through something that we’d never been through before. And unity in the salon is key, and at Elaine’s we have that.

Katie Hurst:
Oh, that’s so wonderful. I mean, working in such close quarters, typically you can’t avoid but get close-

Robin DeTrude:
Absolutely.

Katie Hurst:
I love it. Yes. Well, thank you so much, you all, for participating in this wonderful round table. Your stories are so incredible, and I know that other business owners are really going to benefit from having your insights and what you’ve learned come out of this. So thank you so much. For those of you watching, be sure to check out the rest of our Business Unusual series and subscribe on our YouTube.

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