This year, Visa committed to digitally enabling 50 million small businesses around the globe in an effort to get local communities back to business in the wake of the pandemic. Here, we profile three businesses that have innovated to survive and thrive, no matter the challenge.
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The business challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic are many and varied, and there have been few unaffected. Small businesses in particular continue to feel the pinch and stress of ever-changing conditions, and have had to adapt quickly to new circumstances, reduced cash flow, operating restrictions and cautious and wary customers.
It’s times like these that we see the best of our communities: people and businesses rally together, acts of kindness shine through, and people support each other through tough times.
Through these extraordinary events, we all need to lend a hand, and corporations like Visa are no exception. During Covid-19, Visa doubled down on its support for small businesses, providing tools, tips and guidance to help these organizations adjust to their new normal. Through small business resources, contactless technology and funding for those in need, Visa has pitched in to let small businesses in the US and around the world adapt and innovate.
“Small businesses are the backbone of the global economy and the world won’t bounce back until small businesses bounce back,” said Suzan Kereere global head of merchant sales and acquiring, Visa. “Organizations like Visa have a responsibility to contribute. We have scale, resources, expertise and infrastructure – we can and should play an important role in crises like the one we are facing.”
Keewa Nurullah, Kido
Kido is a children’s clothing brand and boutique in Chicago, Illinois, with an admirable goal. “We focus on representation and inclusivity, with a curated book collection, a clothing brand alongside other independent brands and a selection of gifts and toys,” said founder Keewa Nurullah.
She started Kido as a place for diverse families to learn about different cultures and come together in the city of Chicago. With the recent Black Lives Matter movement and civil unrest, many families are seeking to diversify their children’s reading material, and Kido focuses on being able to provide unique and original stories which include children of color and children with disabilities.
“When the pandemic came, we pretty much stopped all the events we held in the space,” Nurullah said of the store’s frequent story times, cultural celebrations such as Holi and MLK Day, live music and other events. “We were closed for five months, shutting down in March and reopening in August.”
The reopening came after a total rethink of the store, including layout and hygiene procedures. “We changed the interior of our store so that merchandise was up and out of reach of children,” she said. “We put up clear barriers at the registers, we spread everything out so everyone has more space, and we prioritize contactless payments.”
In September, Nurullah and Kido were the recipients of a sought-after Visa and IFundWomen Grant program for Black women-owned businesses in which Visa granted 25 women with $10,000 grants and an annual coaching membership to IFundWomen to help women grow and run their businesses during these challenging times. She plans to use the funding to cover back rent, which she was able to defer, and to restock Kido in advance of the holiday season to ensure her customers have a good range of goods for their children.
“I feel pretty confident about the future,” said Nurullah. “We’re lucky to have a strong community rallying for us. Families want their kids to have some semblance of how things were before Covid-19, so parents are more proactive in supporting a lot of the small businesses including Kido.”
Sarah Hillebrand, Togather Restaurant
Sarah Hillebrand opened her restaurant and networking location, Togather Restaurant, in January 2020. The concept is to have strangers eat a meal together, connect and be inspired. It’s a place for social and professional networking that counters the disconnection people can feel in big cities.
“We were open for six weeks and then we had the first lockdown,” said Hillebrand. Timing like that could mean closure for a startup that requires face-to-face interaction, but Hillebrand was quick to adapt.
“I changed the concept of the restaurant to offer good food to people, delivered from the restaurant,” said Hillebrand. “I moved all the events online. From a mental health perspective, people missed mingling and meeting new people, and hated sitting in their small apartments staring at the walls…we held meetings over Zoom at a large digital table.”
Hillebrand’s innovation enabled her to apply for and receive a Visa small business grant comprising an entire social advertising campaign across Instagram and Facebook, worth €1,000.
“Visa asked small businesses all over Germany what they did during this crisis, and we were among ten businesses with the greatest ideas,” said Hillebrand. “It helped a lot to bring new customers and guests to me.”
Germany ended its first lockdown at the beginning of June, and Hillebrand was able to run her restaurant as she had conceived it. She didn’t expect the reaction of her community.
“We’d only been open for six weeks (in January) so who knew that we existed?” she said. “But people were demanding to meet in the restaurant. I was happy to see how my business developed after the restart. I could see the potential of my concept.”
But on 2 November, Germany again entered lockdown, meaning the closure of restaurants, bars, gyms and venues – including Togather. “We’ll move back online in this lockdown,” she said. “To be connected with my community I need to do everything online.”
It’s a tough demonstration of the new normal, but Hillebrand will continue to offer take-out to her community, and to offer vouchers, which she says helped the business in the first lockdown. She takes each voucher purchased as a supportive shout of ‘see you soon’ from her community.
“I’m still worried about whether we’ll survive until next year,” said Hillebrand. “But I’ll fight to my fullest to achieve this.”
Jim and CANDYCE Thieken, Tiki Botanicals
Jim and Candyce Thieken run Tiki Botanicals in German Village, a neighborhood close adjacent to downtown Columbus, Ohio. “We sell bath and body care items as well as candles, the majority of which we manufacture right in house,” said Jim.
German Village is a region of Columbus popular with visitors from across the state, the country, internationally and benefits from attendees to the city’s many conventions.
“The biggest effect of the pandemic on us has been overall loss of foot traffic,” said Jim. “We’re seeing a drop off due to shortened hours and business closures. There’s less reason to come to the neighborhood to do shopping. We’re six blocks from downtown Columbus, and we used to get a lot of lunch time traffic, but everyone is working from home now.”
German Village also enjoyed many nearby events, including Halloween and Christmas parties, group tours, theatre in the park, all of which have been cancelled.
Luckily for Tiki Botanicals, being a supplier of hygiene products such as soap, Ohio deemed the store an essential business and they have been able to continue operating throughout the pandemic.
Jim and Candyce were quick to seize upon opportunities to supply essential hygiene and body care products, noticing the shortages especially of hand sanitizer. “We have capitalized on new product development,” said Jim. “We developed a moisturizing hand sanitizer and an essential-oil-based face-mask mist which have both been amazing. It’s helped those who wear a mask for an entire shift, like healthcare workers and salon workers.”
The couple opened the Tiki Botanicals store only in April 2019 and were quick to maximize their points of contact, and the ease with which customers could order online. They found a useful resource in Visa’s Small Business Hub.
“There’s lots of fabulous information about grants, small business loans and the paycheck protection program,” says Jim. “It’s a fabulous resource.”
Jim and Candyce have noticed that people seem to be adjusting to the new normal of the world, and that foot traffic in German Village is picking up. “We never had a normal year, so we don’t have normal to compare to, but we’re very positive,” he said, saying customers have adapted to measures such as wearing masks, social distancing and limited store capacity. “The biggest thing is people are getting used to this as the new norm and they’re starting to venture back out.”
To learn more about how Visa is helping small businesses on the road to recovery, visit the Visa Small Business Hub.
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