Since the COVID-19 pandemic began shutting down most Pennsylvania commerce in mid-March, many businesses and industries have been devastated.
But a few companies have found ways to take what they do best and reimagine it for the new reality of the COVID-19 economy and they are thriving – or at least surviving.
Lehigh Valley Business talked to some creative professionals who are adapting their business to meet the needs of today.
Protecting the people with plastics
Jim Heacock, co-founder of JH Plastics in Allentown, said as a manufacturer of products ranging from storm window replacements to semi-conductor and chemical enclosures for manufacturing there’s always a demand for the company’s products and his staff is used to being busy.
But nothing has compared to how busy the company has been since the COVID-19 crisis hit. Business has been non-stop since it switched over to making protective gear for businesses that have remained open through the pandemic.
And now, Heacock is happy to say, the manufacturer is beginning to make protective shields and equipment for a wider range of businesses that want to be ready when it is safe to reopen.
“The customers that came to me initially were contractors that do a lot of service for the food industry,” Heacock said. “The first surge was grocery stores and medical and they were in a panic.”
One thing led to another and soon they had switched over to making protective shields for high-risk areas such as cash registers. Another big initial client was Lehigh Valley Health Network, which needed similar protection for areas like reception. The health network also asked JH Plastics to make protective shields for the intubation process to be used in emergency rooms for patients with COVID-19.
Now orders are coming in for smaller-scale projects like restaurants or dentist offices that haven’t had customers coming in, but hopefully will soon.
He said the manufacturer is producing the protective products as fast as it can, dealing with issues like materials shortage because of the global demand.
He’s also seeing some of his normal industrial work begin to return.
“That’s a good sign,” he said.
A quick re-write for restaurants
It was about a year ago that Shift4 Payments of Allentown released the most updated version of its signature point-of-sale product, SkyTab. The company hoped the tablet-based system would revolutionize the at-table order taking and payment processing of restaurants and the system quickly gained popularity with customers.
Then, in March, the pandemic hit.
“All of a sudden most of our customers had to close their doors and switch to take out,” said Mike Russo, chief technology officer of Shift4. “We found that our existing customers were using their SkyTabs for takeout.”
The company saw an opportunity that, with just some minor software rewrites, they could come up with a new, simplified product that would let any restaurant use the software in a non-integrated way, to develop an easy-to-use online ordering system for their restaurant. Russo said it’s similar to the type of online ordering platforms used by services such as GrubHub and DoorDash to drive delivery sales for member restaurants.
“But they charge fees, sometimes substantial fees of 20% or even 30% percent, and a lot of places can’t afford that right now,” he said. “With SkyTab Takeout anyone can have an online ordering solution without getting a third party involved.”
He said restaurants can order a free SkyTab on their website and it will be delivered in two-days, or they can download the software for free and use their own in-house computer system to take orders and payments.
During the Covid crisis, the company isn’t even charging its standard credit card processing fees as an extra bit of help to those in the struggling industry.
The SkyTab Takeout system was released April 28 and by May 1 Shift4 had more than 100 restaurants adopt the system.
While the company isn’t making any money on the new customers now, Russo said they hope that after trying the system, they’ll get customers to continue with the product after things return to normal.
“These are the things we’re doing to be creative and innovative,” he said. “All of a sudden we have potential customers because of something we did for good.”
Karen Ford, owner of Balloon Works in Palmer Township, is now finding herself busier than ever thanks to some quick thinking and adjustments to her business plan.
Her primary source of income is designing large-scale balloon displays for events, and events were among the first things to fall as social distancing began to combat the spread of COVID-19.
“We got hit earlier than most because people were cancelling events,” Ford said.
One of her first big cancellations was for a St. Patrick’s Day party. By the time the event was cancelled, however, she had already started making her balloon displays. Not wanting to risk her relationship with her client she didn’t want to charge them anyway. But, she also didn’t want to lose money herself.
She went on Facebook and asked if anyone would like to buy the balloon displays for their own parties or to decorate their home, and quickly sold them. In light of the looming shutdown, people wanted to make their yards bright and festive.
The idea clicked and she decided to capitalize on the shut-down situation by selling lawn balloon bouquets and displays to families celebrating birthdays, or other milestone events at home.
“It really took off,” she said.
With word of mouth and people sharing their balloon displays on social media she started receiving a landslide of orders. Now, instead of a handful of large events per week, she’s delivering anywhere from six to 12 lawn displays a day, seven days a week.
Averaging between $50 and $250 dollars, they’re smaller displays than she’s used to, but the volume of business has kept busy but in business.
If they can’t come to you…
Few businesses have been hit harder by the pandemic than mom & pop retail stores. No customers means no income. But Rose and Clayton Moore, owners of RC Moore Vintage in Hellertown, decided if their customers couldn’t come to them, they would go to their customers.
A musician, and a bit of a ham at heart, Rose began hosting daily entertainment of Facebook live, where she plays piano, with trivia and a name-that-tune challenge that can win viewers gift certificates.
She’s had the support of other businesses in the area, for example Comfort Suites donated overnight stays as prizes for her trivia.
She said the shows keep her regular customers engaged with her shop, which sells luxury vintage hats and clothing as well as dolls, housewares and other items from the 1800s through 1985.
It brings in sales when people see things online. She delivers it herself to locals, and mails goods to people out of the area.
Having the internet shows keeps them entertained and the shop in business.
“It’s not what it used to be, but it’s not dead,” she said.
Many businesses are taking the time to help others during the crisis. The list of creative ways businesses have found to help those fighting COVID-19 on the front lines is long.
Just about every spirits manufacturer in the region switched gears from making vodkas and whiskeys to making hand sanitizer for health care workers and emergency responders.
Applied Separations of Allentown found a way to take the personal protective wear their staff uses and sanitize them so that they can be donated to health care workers. The company basically took the equipment and baked it long enough to kill any virus, but not long enough to destroy the PPE.
Several organizations and institutions have partnered to create the Berks PPE Network to create protective equipment out of the Goggleworks Center for the Arts in Reading. Using technology such as 3D printing, the innovators are making products like protective shields that can be worn over the face to protect against. COVID-19.
Game Face Grooming of East Stroudsburg, which manufactures anti-bacterial body wipes aimed at the men’s hygiene market, has put their product to good use in the fight against the spread of the virus. The company has donated 500 packages of wipes to Street 2 Feet, an organization that is assisting the local homeless community.t