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Regional Report: Pivoting Your Business Model

A GPEC Virtual Series

“It took one pandemic and five days to get our act together,” says Cindy Dach, co-owner of Changing Hands Bookstore located in Tempe, Ariz.

On Wednesday, the Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC) hosted the latest installment of its virtual series, ‘Regional Report,’ where we explore industries throughout Greater Phoenix impacted by the pandemic. The hour-long webinar centered on how local small businesses have shifted their day-to-day operations, innovated, and engaged the community to sustain during this uncertain time. Cindy Dach sat on the panel with Chris Camacho, president & CEO of GPEC; Kimber Lanning, founder of Local First Arizona; Monica Villalobos, president & CEO of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (AZHCC); and Aisha Tedros, owner of A.T. Oasis Coffee & Tea Shop.

Arizona has 571,000 small businesses across the state, making up 99.4% of all companies and accounting for one million workers. Small business is the lifeblood of the region’s economy, but it’s been one of the hardest hit sectors as a result of COVID-19. Nearly 60% of eligible Arizona small businesses have received federal funding through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), but for many business owners, shifting their entire occupational model has been the only lifeline.

Kimber Lanning shared tactical examples of how small businesses across the region have, and should pivot in our new normal, including bolstering e-commerce efforts, expanding services, diversifying payment options, and staying attuned with the needs of the community to help provide solutions. As a small business owner herself, Lanning’s record store, Stinkweeds, has had to reinvent itself too.

“We now have four different websites that we’re selling through in addition to taking phone orders, and curbside pickup and mail orders,” she says. “In our little store we have six different types of payment coming through. It used to be people walked in the store for the most part and we’d get an occasional mail order.”

But it was Lanning’s community-centric message exemplifying how even in uncertain times Greater Phoenix becomes Greater Together.

“Reach out to the people in your community. Call the longtime customers that you’ve had. Work together to come up with solutions because people do care a lot about small businesses like yours,” she says. “Please don’t face this alone, reach out to other people and they will help you find a way.”

Tedros, a native of Eritrea in northeast Africa, is the proud owner of A.T. Oasis Coffee and Tea Shop, located just east of 46th Street and Thomas. She imports green coffee beans directly from Ethiopia and customers have become accustomed to her specialty espresso drinks and smoothies, and African and Middle Eastern dishes. Her business was alive and well pre-COVID, but with the governor’s executive order shutting her doors, it’s been difficult to stay afloat, but she embodies the undeniable spirit that makes Greater Phoenix unique.

“We’re going to stay open,” she says, while fighting back tears. “A lot of people touch us like Hispanic Chamber, they come for us in very difficult time – we couldn’t even pay our rent. It’s very touching. It’s very emotional.”

With her doors closed, Tedros quickly transitioned to delivering orders within a five-mile radius. She bolstered her online presence to allow people to order coffee from all over the country and leveraged social media to promote her products. She quickly realized the power of community and all those willing to lend a hand.

“Our customers tell everybody. We have people calling from other states. From Ohio, from Chicago, from everywhere,” she says. “It’s really touching [that] people care.”

Lanning and Villalobos both discussed how their organizations have stepped up to support the micro-enterprise community with resources and micro-grants helping hundreds of the smallest and most vulnerable business owners. Local First Arizona, a nonprofit supporting locally owned businesses, has distributed 218 grants totaling $470,000. AZHCC, the premier advocate for the state’s Hispanic-owned businesses and more than 2 million Hispanic consumers, has assisted more than 65 small businesses through Small Business Success Grants totaling $100,000.

“In our own pivot strategy, we turned our business development team into grant response specialists, Villalobos said. “I think it’s local communities and local community organizations that will provide the answer and have been providing solutions for our local small businesses. Whether it’s Kimber’s [Lanning] work at Local First, CPLC [Chicanos Por La Causa], the Hispanic Chamber; we’re all working to help these businesses.”

Cindy Dach owns Arizona’s largest and oldest bookstore – Changing Hands. She hasn’t secured PPP funding, so it was paramount to come up with inventive solutions quickly. For a business established in 1974 that prides itself on being a community gathering place, it was an emotional journey before figuring out the business aspect.

“Suddenly, in March, being a community gathering place became a liability,” she says. “It was first heartbreaking, then pivoting from grief to how do we make sure that we’re here in the future.”

She utilized her creative staff to continue connecting people with books and beautiful gifts, but also leveraged the power of marketing automation to connect with customers to better understand what they needed and to be transparent about where the store was business wise.

“People started saying what can we do? So, we did a gift card campaign, which in the first couple days was just magical. It actually has been continuing,” she says. “Then we started coming up with really creative ideas like the book care package.”

Through an online quiz, Dach’s team was able to curate a collection of books that matched the customers interests gleaned through the online engagement. This grew into themed gift bundles that included a gift and a book. ‘Crazy Cat Lady’ was just one example Dach shared with attendees.

There is an undeniable spirit about Greater Phoenix, a spirit rooted in strength, collaboration and resilience.

“I applaud the community for all the rich support of one another, and business to business, and we’re going to get through this together,” says Chris Camacho, president & CEO of GPEC.

Use #GreaterPHXtogether on social media to share the positive stories about how our community is coming together.