The skill of adapting to complete the mission — honed by one local business owner while in the Army — is the key that he believes will keep his barbecue establishment alive through the challenges of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Killeen resident Steven Rossler owns a barbecue food service, which he plans to transition to full-time when he leaves military service later this year.

“Larger chains have millions of dollars to back them up, where we may be a day-to-day or week-to-week operation,” Rossler said. “At the end of the day, keeping the positivity and finding ways to adapt: adapting to the mission and finding new ways to overcome — I don’t think this is going away. COVID is something we’ll deal with for the rest of our lives.”

In recent weeks, many of Rossler’s catering jobs have changed to deliveries.

“We’re having to do more of a takeout boxes instead of nicer plates, silverware,” Rossler said. “We’re adapting to our environment, and adapting to the market as well. If we can’t get brisket, we can still get pork and chicken and other items we can smoke and serve as a taco.”

Rossler said flexibility helps keep his business afloat and helps counter challenges unique to small businesses.

Event cancellations across the state came at a crucial transition period for the Rossler family.

Steven and Kristen Rossler started Rosslers Blue Cord Barbecue, in 2016 with plans to go into the food industry when Steven transitioned out of the Army.

“The name comes from our last name, and a tribute to the infantry,” Rossler said.

The Rosslers provide pop-up barbecue catering for festivals and local events out of a food tent. Their 5- and 2-year-old daughters help run the family business by passing out napkins, desserts and drinks.

Rossler’s Blue Cord Barbecue was scheduled to work at the fourth anniversary celebration of the Barrel Brewing Company in Salado, a large event for Three Texans Winery in Temple, Pints in the Park in Waco and Red Dirt Music Festival in Tyler.

With those events rescheduled or canceled, Rossler pulled his retirement packet with the Army initially planned for late August, and that transition will be delayed until November or December, he said.

Along with major event cancellation, Rossler said the meat shortage is taxing their ability to provide brisket.

Looking ahead, Steven and Kristen have decided to look into a food truck with outdoor seating rather than the brick and mortar store they initially planned to transition to after the military.

“There’s not an implement of there can only have a 25 percent occupancy for a food truck,” Rossler said. “We can social distance in the line, or have people wait in their vehicle and observe proper spacing and social distancing.”

But with the shortage in business, the purchasing of the food truck will also be delayed until November, Rossler said.

Meanwhile, his family still serves out of their food tent with a cashier station set up at least 6 feet from where the food is prepared and packaged for pickup, Rossler said.

In addition to routine cleanliness and sanitation, which are standard for the food industry, Rossler said his family wears face masks and takes the increased health precautions suggested by the health department.

Changed business models

The pandemic has changed the way the community does business, according to Gina Pence, president of the Harker Heights Chamber of Commerce.

“COVID-19 forced local business to pivot while trying to make wise businesses decisions at an ever changing environment,” Pence said. “The continued PPP (Paycheck Protection Plan) resources needed to keep customers and staff safe have added to overhead cost along with the need to update sanitation guidelines.”

These changes have caused financial stress on many small businesses, she said.

“Most micro and small businesses have very limited capital and resources to carry them through a long term economic disaster,” Pence said. “The closing of our local businesses have affected their bottom line and we hope that our community will recover quickly. Now more than ever, we must support local business.”

Among small businesses with fewer than 50 employees, those in accommodation, food services, and retail trade — coincidentally, the sectors hit hardest by COVID-19 — employ the most workers, according to Construction Coverage, a research company that provides reviews of solutions for the construction industry, primarily software, financial products, and insurance and researches the economy to advise businesses on industry trends.

These industries, combined, account for more than 16 million employees and $362 billion in annual payroll, the study found. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, small businesses with fewer than 50 employees make up approximately 95 percent of American business establishments and employ 40 percent of private sector workers.

These 7.4 million small businesses also account for roughly a third of total private sector payroll, according to the study released by Construction Coverage.

“While each individual small business might seem inconsequential to the broader economy, in aggregate, these firms are critical to the country’s financial well-being,” the Construction Coverage study stated.

“Small businesses across the United States face dire circumstances following the COVID-19 outbreak.”

More than 50 percent of all jobs in the United States are created in small businesses, according to John Crutchfield, president of the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce.

However, although the Killeen-Temple area is home to 5,975 small businesses, the same study found the metropolitan has the second fewest small businesses per capita in the country.

Effect of military

A recent study showed while military presence contributes to the economic structure of Killeen, it may be a contributing factor to the lower number of small businesses, according to Jennifer Hetzel, director of research for the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce.

“A substitution effect is occurring due to Fort Hood’s large population that is not part of the civilian labor force and captures retail sales on base that would be captured by off-post businesses,” Hetzel said. “I did notice that other military communities are also in the bottom 15. I can’t say that that is the only contributing factor, but at a glance it seems to be a trend.”

However, Crutchfield and Hetzel agreed the trend of former military members entering the entrepreneurial scene factor into the small-business presence.

From Temple to Killeen, there are about 1.32 small businesses for every 100 residents, the study states. This includes 1,697 small business food service venues and the 8.2 percent of the population that is self-employed, they said.

This is compared to 2.27 small businesses for every 100 residents nationally, for a total of just more than 7.4 million small businesses, the study found. Almost 1.7 million of the national small businesses are food services, and 9.8 percent of the population is self-employed, the study showed.

Small businesses also account for roughly a third of total private sector payroll, according to the Construction Coverage study.

The study also referenced a survey conducted by the New York Fed, which reported that a two-month loss of revenue would cause 86 percent of firms to take a serious financial action, such as using the owner’s personal savings, taking out a loan, or cutting staff salaries.

Business plan is key

In addition to adapting to changes in the community, a well-thought-out business plan is the key to success, according to Crutchfield.

“The biggest reason for the failure of small business is under-capitalization,” Crutchfield said. “The best way for a small business to obtain and apply capital strategically is a business plan.”

If a business does not have a comprehensive plan in place, Crutchfield said they should start developing one right away.

“Any business, who has a business plan, should be redrafting that business plan to accommodate new circumstances,” Crutchfield said. “Our Business Resource Center can help in either case.”

Resources such as the BRC can help businesses develop a business plan and identify opportunities in how to operate more efficiently and effectively, Hetzel said.

“Stay open minded and flexible so you can adapt to future unexpected challenges,” Hetzel said. “Try to figure out ways to offer your services virtually going forward, and if you have an online store, make sure it’s mobile friendly.”

Additional business resources can be found on the chamber’s website at : https://killeenchamber.com/covid_19.

Decreased demand

Even when their doors were not forced to close because of COVID-19 restrictions, some small businesses have taken a hit to their bottom-line through decreased demand.

Construction and energy services were deemed essential by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, which enabled Scot Arey, the owner of Solar CenTex in Harker Heights, to continue serving the Killeen area with residential, ranch and commercial solar systems.

However, Solar CenTex did experience business loss with residents needing to delay planned projects, Arey said.

“People were rightfully concerned about making financial decision in a period of great uncertainty,” Arey said. “As the original pandemic chaos and uncertainty has subsided, homeowners are ready again to make investments in their home.”

Looking ahead, Arey said his company has also adapted to new challenges in the community by reinforcing their digital processes to allow non-touch access to initiating services.

“If a customer desires, we can perform the entire process digitally and over web conferencing up until the panels go on your roof — still need to do that in person,” he said.

While the reason for these changes is definitely not ideal, Hetzel said, the pandemic has forced business owners to make changes they’d been meaning to make but hadn’t had the time or a reason to.

“Some of these changes may end up helping them in the long run,” Hetzel said. “For example, many more businesses are offering services virtually, or curbside and delivery service. I’d venture to say that will probably become the new normal, both because they’ve opened up new revenue streams and because future pandemic scares may necessitate it.”

While there have been no cases of COVID-19 among his employees, Arey said he is prepared to send them home with pay should anyone become ill.

“Fortunately for the installers, their work is primarily outside,” Arey said. “We’ve been fortunate to not have any COVID-related illness with our team.”

Arey said he was pleased to receive financial assistance to counter the slump in business through the Payment Protection Program for his 11 employees.

“Every one of the installers has been with Solar CenTex for over a year or more, so when this crisis hit, I wanted to make sure we had all the resources they needed to keep working and meeting their families’ needs,” Arey said. “Getting that loan helped take some stress off them so other than a slowdown for the early weeks, they’ve been doing what they’ve done for years.”

The local small-business scene is heavily influenced by people, like the Rossler family, separating from the military in Killeen and starting their own businesses, Crutchfield said.

Benefits of small businesses

“Small businesses often become big businesses,” Crutchfield said. “Small businesses are responsive to community demand and they are nimble and flexible especially when compared to large businesses, who traditionally have more overhead and more bureaucratic processes.”

Additionally, most small businesses are locally owned, he said.

“They tend to hire local folks, buy supplies locally and reinvest their profits, time and talent in the local community,” Crutchfield said. “In general, small business provides a very high return to the community in which they do business.”

Both Solar CenTex and Rossler’s Blue Cord Barbecue are among local businesses that are doing their part to help out the community during this time of crisis.

Solar CenTex is allowing customers to delay payments until 2021, so homeowners can enjoy solar savings right away, and lock in their 26 percent federal tax credit.

“That means thousands of dollars of savings for our customers up front this year with no financial worries,” Arey said.

Rossler’s Blue Cord Barbecue has donated food to the ministry team at Grace Bible Church, fed more than 100 Seton Medical Center staff as well as donating meals to Garden of Hope to feed children in crisis, Rossler said.

“We wanted to show the medical staff we think highly of them and the sacrifices they’re making,” Rossler said.

Pence highlighted the challenge businesses face in the area of childcare, which still needs a solution.

“Employees cannot go back to work if day cares are not open to non essential workers,” she said.

Additionally, Pence said ongoing communication is vital to keeping the small business community alive.

“The chamber and the city cannot help if we are not aware of the issue,” Pence said.

The Harker Heights Chamber launched a recovery campaign with free services supporting local businesses, she said.

Small business owners can email the Harker Heights chamber for information on getting their business highlighted: admin@hhchamber.com

“Shopping locally will produce the largest economic impact on the community in the shortest period of time,” Crutchfield said.

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