Butler County’s small businesses: ‘This is the time to be adaptable and creative’

Small business owners are marshaling their forces to generate buzz and create solutions they hope will help compensate some for downturns in sales during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sara Vallandingham of Sara’s House in Hamilton said it’s “pretty obvious” that businesses won’t be getting much in the way of walk-by customers.

“People aren’t really out and with other businesses closed, we’re not really catching their (foot) traffic,” she said.

To combat that, Vallandingham temporarily closed the shop and moved it entirely online, but has been flexible enough to provide a streaming video tour if someone called about an item, walking them through the store, and a purchase. Invoices are being sent via email.

Posting daily Facebook Live broadcasts is helping to drive local customers to purchase items from the shop, then retrieve them via curbside pickup at a designated time.

MORE: Hamilton’s open restaurants and businesses: How to get updates on where to eat and shop

Vallandingham also seeks to keep Sara's House connected to customers via regular social media posts, including other stores' promotions and uplifting posts. Because she lives in an apartment above the store, she said it is easy for her to respond to customer needs.

“I would be up for some … appointment only, if somebody wanted to walk through, but I’m not keeping normal shop hours because it doesn’t really seem to be where it’s at right now,” she said. “I just think this is the time to be adaptable and creative.”

In reaction to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s March 15 announcement of no indoor dining, concerned Lindenwald Station owners Mike and Donna Cooper stayed up until 2 a.m. Monday, hashing out the details that would lead to the restaurant’s first curbside service just hours later. They created “drive up” and “order here” signs to post outside the business and laminated numbers for servers to place under the windshield wipers of customers’ vehicles, which sat parked until servers retrieved their order.

“We were all worried and our employees were worried, but we wanted to keep them working, keep our customers served,” said co-owner Donna Cooper.

MORE: ‘We’re nervous, obviously’: Butler County restaurant, bar owners work to endure shutdown

Lindenwald Station also quickly designed a new drive-up window, which Mike Cooper installed. Its first day of use was Thursday.

“It’s been slower, of course, but our customers have been very loyal (and) they’re very pleased to still be able to come get their dinners and their lunches,” Cooper said.

The restaurant, will likely adapt to less business per hour by extending its hours, she said.

Local chambers of commerce or community-based organizations have sought to keep small businesses afloat by providing links to online guides highlighting a store or restaurants corona-related accommodations, specials and altered hours or dates of business.

That's included a Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce business guide (www.hamilton-ohio.com/explore-hamilton), a Fairfield Chamber of Commerce restaurant guide (www.tinyurl.com/ffrestaurants) and a Downtown Middletown Inc. business guide (www.downtownmiddletown.org/how-you-can-help).

MORE: How Middletown’s community is responding to coronavirus concerns

The latter listing includes Middletown's Spoken Bicycles, which is using its website and social media presence to publicize its existing free pick up and delivery for bikes. That's helped boost the amount of bikes owner Otto Bohn has serviced, in addition to the amount of in-shop repairs becoming increasingly brisk.

“I mean, everyone’s at home, so (bike riding) is one of the things they can just go out and do,” Bohn said.

Spoken Bicycles also has offers beer-to-go specials for 32-ounce and 64-ounce growler fills and a “build a 6-pack” option.

The business also changed its weekly group 5K and bike rides to virtual meetups by utilizing a web app.

Another downtown Middletown business, Grandpa Joe’s Candy, tackled the challenges of decreased foot traffic by offering a daily Curbside Deal of the Day. It also informed customers that its sweet treats are available via DoorDash.

Liberty Twp.-based SpotOn Productions, which provide solutions to business through video, saw its bookings drop by approximately 30 percent last week because clients either canceled events or sought to save time or money, according to co-owner Kerry Murray.

MORE: Coronavirus causes several changes for Hamilton’s city government: What to know

“They’re not having the event, (s0) obviously the videos are not going to be happening either,” Murray said.

SpotOn can still visit companies to record voiceovers and film interviews for companies seeking to inform clients they can still fulfill order. It’s also getting creative by instructing companies how to record footage with their own mobile devices, including how to improve lighting, audio and filming angles.

Companies can then send that video to SpotOn for it to edit, add graphics and adjust various audio and visual elements. That way the companies eight employees can “create something quickly and take it up a notch to make it something people want to watch,” Murray said.

“We’re making sure that we’re here to serve our clients, our potential clients, in new and different ways,” she said. “And also, the importance there is to keep our people busy and to keep business moving forward so we keep the staff that we have and love in place and can (ensure), when this subsides … that we are ready to just get back to doing it.

“To me it’s (all about) strategy and adapability and knowing that we’re all in this together.”

MORE: Coronavirus: Chief Justice advises releasing high health risk inmates; first possible Ohio death reported


Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce business guide: www.hamilton-ohio.com/explore-hamilton

Downtown Middletown business guide: www.downtownmiddletown.org/how-you-can-help

Fairfield Chamber of Commerce restaurant guide: www.tinyurl.com/ffrestaurants

West Chester-Liberty Chamber Alliance business updates: www.facebook.com/ChamberAlliance

About the Author