15 Tips from Small-Business Owners Who Pivoted and Prevailed
The pandemic has crippled thousands of small businesses in Hawai‘i and forced tens of thousands of people to find new jobs. Amid these personal tragedies are stories of grit, perseverance and transformation.
Collaborate with other businesses to dual-market products: Kevin Suehiro, owner of the hot-pot restaurant Nabeya Maido, piggybacked with the Donut King next door in Market City to add sweet treats to some of his hot-pot deliveries and pickups.
Erin Kanno Uehara, owner of Choco Le‘a, used her faith in Godto release the stress she felt amid the pandemic, knowing that many things were out of her control.
Be flexible, says Brittany Horn of Pacific Coffee Research in Kona. “If you have a super tight grip on what you expect, that’s not going to carry you. The vision and purpose should be the guide.”
Connect with a community – your fellow small-business owners, your customers, your friends – because they are a source of strength, purpose and ideas.
Keep innovating, even if just on small things. For instance, Kalyn Kim, owner of the shave ice outlet Shimazu Store, has invented new recipes, including lemon peel gummy bears, to appeal to customers and improve sales.
Focus on your purpose in life, rather than just keeping your store afloat. Doing so lets you see a bigger picture and consider new ideas.
Prioritize your community. “We wouldn’t have survived if we didn’t have the kind of community relationships we do,” says Madeleine Longoria-Garcia of Pacific Coffee Research. “The businesses – such as the restaurants – that stayed in business were generally the ones with a very good local following.”
Journaling can express your frustration and allow you to ask: “What the heck do you want me to do today?”
If you don’t have one already, create a digital email customer list so you can offer regulars promotions and other opportunities.
Brainstorm with other business owners from different sectors. “Take the ideas from other people and think about them and be open to change,” says Suehiro.
Take small action steps daily. “Just keep moving,” says Kanno Uehara. This is also a way to begin planning for the future.
Help your employees understand you’re all in this together. And don’t hesitate to pitch in wherever needed, including with things like janitorial work, to show your employees how much you care. “A lot of business owners forget what it’s like to be bottom line,” says Suehiro. “My dad is a carpenter and he told me the shogun cannot be a shogun without the samurai.”
Build your social media to better reach local clientele and build online sales.
Take care of your mental health. “Taking time away from the business is important and gives you fresh perspective,” says Longoria-Garcia. And don’t forget about the well-being of your employees and former employees: “Get on a Zoom call together once a week and check how they’re doing.”
Suehiro likes to make people laugh and says that when he and his employees are laughing, they feel better.
This article appears in the May 2021 issue of Hawaii Business Magazine.