During a webinar on Monday morning, three Killeen entrepreneurs hammered out ways to keep small businesses alive during the coronavirus crisis. The online forum “Entrepreneurs Adapt!” was hosted by the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce and was one in a series of informative sessions.
The chamber’s director of research, Jennifer Hetzel, anchored the webinar that featured Beth Funk, owner of Life Moves Yoga, Josie McKinney, chef and owner of Let’s Eat Texas, and John Valentine, founder of the nonprofit Operation Phantom Support.
“A disaster can disrupt our lives but it can force us to be innovative,” Hetzel said.
She suggested to business owners that they become cellphone-friendly, keep detailed records, and research resources at the local, state and federal levels that are available to small business owners.
Consumers can have a big impact on the local economy by buying online, purchasing gift cards and donating to nonprofits.
“We’re encouraging people to shop local and support the businesses that are open so we can be stronger when this is over,” Hetzel said.
All three businesses had to switch gears when the virus struck.
Operation Phantom Support, which offers support for first responders, veterans, active-duty military members and their families, had to scale back its food pantry from two days to one. Now the pantry is open only on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The organization sets up tables in the alley behind its thrift store at 401 N. Eighth St. and people can drive through and load up the food items they need.
Valentine said that they are not able to offer as many fruits and veggies as before, but every Saturday there are nonperishables boxed and ready to go. During the last few Saturdays Operation Phantom Support has given food to more than 900 people.
“We’re having to do a lot to adapt … something like this really opens a businessperson’s eyes,” he said. “But in the military, we learn to adapt and overcome.”
Also adapting is one restaurant in downtown Killeen.
Let’s Eat Texas, at 207 East Avenue D, was a relatively new restaurant when the mitigation measures were put into place.
“We had to really think outside the box and come up with ways to keep normalcy in people’s lives by keeping dinnertime somewhat normal,” McKinney said.
That’s not to say she wasn’t worried, especially as a series of catering jobs got canceled.
“I thought we might have to shut down completely.”
But she grew up in Alaska, where adaptation is a part of life.
“We’re taking the positive out of the negative,” she said.
People can still enjoy the homestyle cooking because McKinney began offering dinner kits and some grocery items, as well as takeout and delivery options. McKinney also owns Let’s Cook Texas, a cooking school. Classes had to be canceled but she is looking into virtual methods.
The coronavirus has brought social media networking to the forefront for business owners.
“We had 10,000 shares by the end of the week after I posted about the dinner kits,” McKinney said. “Now I have customers that I never would have seen … people are coming from all over the county to pick them up.”
McKinney also suggested that business owners collaborate, even if they might otherwise be competitors.
“This is a time for us to do what we can to support each other,” she said.
Life Moves Yoga also is working in a new arena; instead of face-to-face classes, they have started offering a virtual library and online classes featuring teachers from past and present.
“There’s never been a more important time to take care of yourself and tap into your powerful internal resources,” Funk said. “Physical space is important but it’s really about connection, community and teamwork.”
All three business owners expressed their worries as well as their innovations.
“This time, it’s now or never,” Funk said. “You can’t push up your sleeves to work if you’re wringing your hands. We have to move on to our new normal instead of wishing for how things used to be. We’re staying positive but it’s been really, really hard. We’re in bed at night wondering how we’re going to keep our doors open, but we’re using technology to let people know we’re still here.”
The restaurant industry already was a challenging arena before the COVID-19 restrictions.
“There’s a lot of pressure to find ways to keep employees working,” McKinney said. “We’re making everything to order, cooking and baking every day, and were taking requests.”
Valentine said that he has only eight employees, so everyone can still come in to work.
Operation Phantom Support has 40-50 regular volunteers.
“I’ve been having to fend them off because they care so much about this community and they’re motivated,” he said.
As a former soldier who was deployed, he said that times are tough for military families at home but also for soldiers on deployments.
“They need to be reassured,” he said.
He also suggested to business owners that they be honest with their employees.
“Don’t keep them in the dark,” he said. “Fear is a dangerous thing because it makes people do things they normally wouldn’t do.”
All three entrepreneurs were thankful for community support and for social media “likes” and “shares.”
Valentine emphasized that his organization is in need of monetary donations.
“It’s an opportunity to do the right thing for your neighbor,” he said.
Funk reminded people that better days are in front of us.
“We need to plan for what is going to happen on the other side of this, and to just keep pushing forward instead of looking back,” she said. “Don’t forget to dream about the days ahead.”