The Power of the Pandemic: Starting a Business During a Global Lockdown

To say that small businesses have been ‘hit hard’ by the COVID-19 pandemic is almost an understatement at this point. Over a year into this pandemic and small businesses are struggling to stay afloat. Issues like cash flow shortages, significant loss of customers, increased stress and mental health problems, decreased revenue and supply chain shortages have all threatened to drown small businesses. Some businesses owners, who have been unable to handle these multiple changes have been left with no choice but to close their doors for good. 

So, when thinking about how challenging it would be to operate a business during a worldwide pandemic, imagine trying to start one. Well, for some entrepreneurs even the innumerable threats COVID-19 posed on the economy and infrastructure couldn’t stop them from starting their own business.  

Starting a business is no easy job and starting a business during a pandemic is even harder. For Taylor Smith, owner of Taylor Smith Personal Training, the pandemic did not discourage her from opening the doors to her private gym weeks before the second lockdown. 

Taylor Smith might have opened her business during a pandemic, but she learned all she needed to know from her family owned business. Her family’s guidance pushed her to open her doors.

Training clients to better their fitness goals became a passion for Smith. Before starting her business, she trained clients at GoodLife Fitness. During the first lockdown, Smith trained people on her own time. The lockdown posed many threats for Smith, so in order to keep paying her bills, she started training her clients virtually. The pandemic made her realize she could be her own boss and control her schedule.

“I was training people on my own schedule,” said Smith. “Outside or at their housing, in the garage, mostly a person’s house six feet apart. I got really used to being on my own and being independent that way and not having a boss.”

Smith took her career into her own hands. The support from her friends and family allowed her to open her business with ease. She found second-hand equipment that still looked and functioned like it was new. Smith was able to keep opening costs low and seek the benefits of a business owner.

Taylor Smith’s facility might be small, but there is room for growth in the building and her clients. Smith hopes to expand her business in the coming years to make room for another trainer.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has created some challenges for Smith’s business. The biggest challenge she faces with her clients is the mask restrictions. She only trains one client at a time or partner training from the same household. She still needs to follow all government-issued guidelines and adapt her training to be done with a mask.

Smith currently has a full schedule of clients and hopes to expand her business in the coming years. She hopes to hire another personal trainer to take on excess clients. Smith expects to expand her private gym and make it bigger when the time is right. Her business grows daily, and she continues to change the lives of her clients.

The Sherbrook bagel shop Hudson Bagels, born in July, 2020 continues to thrive regardless of COVID-19. In the midst of a pandemic, co-owners Jessica Wylychenko and Chris Silva invented their New York/Montreal hybrid bagel in hopes of creating a beacon of happiness for foodies in Winnipeg. 

“The pandemic inspired us to bring our idea forward now, when people needed it most,” said Wylychenko. 

Despite the pandemic, the two had been doing some reflecting and decided to pursue their dreams in defiance of everything going on in the world. It was the moment when an empty store on Sherbrook Street hung up a “for-sale” sign that Wylychenko and Silva knew the time was right.  

“Our idea of Hudson Bagels was brought to the forefront because we could see it coming to life in that space,” said Wylychenko.

Hudson Bagels shop sidewalk view on Sherbrook Street. Photo sourced from: https://www.yelp.ca/biz_photos/hudson-bagels-winnipeg?select=hsk6wkAYkYC97Hg3Bt6QZw

Wylychenko admits there is no perfect plan while opening shop during a pandemic, but they did what they could to prepare for the worst by constructing multiple backup plans. They started with pick-up and online ordering, eventually landing in St. Norbert farmers market where they sold out in hours. The two co-owners feel their launch wouldn’t have been as successful if it wasn’t for Winnipeggers being so accepting of business conditions. 

“Some days are hard to figure things out, but it’s the support of Winnipeg that gets us through,” said Wylychenko.

What next after COVID-19? 

While Taylor Smith – Personal Training and Hudson Bagels have been able to start up and find success during COVID-19, what will happen to their businesses after the pandemic remains unknown.   

“I don’t think there’s going to be any huge differences, to be honest. People who enjoy going into GoodLife and who enjoy going into box gyms are still going to go. There’s going to be a little bit more of online personal trainers. So, I think you’ll see a bit more of that. But for the most part, it won’t look that different,” said Smith.  

As for the bagel shop, Wylychenko and Silva feel success has yet to be achieved and the future holds many more surprises such as a drink menu, a booth at the Third and Bird market, and many more partnerships.

“We just wanted to create a product that had some elements of affordable luxury,” said Wylychenko. This particular mission of Hudson Bagels is one that will continue to appease Winnipeggers with or without pandemic. 

For small business owners, there are many reasons to be optimistic that business will improve after the pandemic. But there are also concerns that people will stop supporting local businesses or forget about all these new businesses. The question of will online business takeover is a good one and one that has no clear answer, yet. The COVID-19 pandemic has without doubt destroyed many small businesses, but those who still remain 12 months later are now beginning to ask the big question, “What happens next?”

 

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