CLARKSBURG — 2020 has been a year for the books for all small businesses within the Mountain State. With COVID-19 shutdowns and more, several small business owners have ideas of what would make 2021 a successful year for them.
Ted Armbrecht, owner of the Wine Shop at Capitol Market in Charleston, said despite the trials and tribulations 2020 has brought to the business world, he considers himself lucky.
“I feel very fortunate,” he said.
Whether good or bad times, people tend to still purchase alcohol, he said.
“I think we have been a little bit more fortunate than some of my other small business compatriots, and I feel fortunate in that regard,” he said.
His Wine of the Month Club, which sends out at least 23 boxes a month and is growing, also has helped, and his customers have enjoyed the service, he said.
For a more successful 2020, the first thing that would be beneficial to his and all business in general is a return to more normalcy, Armbrecht said.
“Getting back to a return to normalcy where we can continue to increase the foot traffic and get people feeling comfortable again being out in public, I think that’s going to be key in getting out in front of the virus so that people are comfortable getting out and about,” he said.
Having an increased online presence to be more informative to customers, he said, as well as online distribution, also would help make the year a success.
“The alcohol industry is a little more difficult because of all the state laws that govern shipping and transportation of alcohol. That’s a bit of a roadblock, but in spite of that, we’ve seen more interest in trying to ship wine out or deliver wine either to somebody’s door or by curbside pickup,” he said.
A downturn this year, he said, was the inability to do wine tastings, but thanks to platforms like Zoom and social media, Armbrecht said he is thinking about doing something online to take the place of that.
At The Capitol Market, he added, the success of his business is incumbent on the success of the other businesses in the market. Any way the market can find to increase the comfort level of people coming to the market physically would benefit everyone, he said.
Joey Riddle, owner of Joey’s Bike Shop in Elkins, said he, too, has had a successful 2020, with bike sales up 70% from past years. From March to June, the shop sold a year’s worth of bikes.
In addition, the shop has completed more than 500 bike repairs this year alone.
“We’ve had our best year to date this year… Mainly because people are stuck at home so they bought bicycles, so we’ve had a great year. 2021 is going to be a little different because we have nothing to sell.
“In the bike industry, there’s a huge bike shortage in the U.S. Typically this time of year we have 100-plus bikes on the floor. This year we have 10… I can see 2021 being a lot rougher on the bike industry,” he said.
With supply chain disruption and shut down factories, he said it could take about three years for the industry to get back on its feet.
Despite that, he said he anticipates his shop to still be busy despite fewer sales.
“We can concentrate on doing service. We have people coming three hours away to get bikes worked on. If we have to tighten our belts, we will,” he said.
In general, small businesses need the support from the public more than ever in the coming year, he said.
Though online shopping is part of life now, buying locally has major benefits, he said.
“Give Amazon a break and come downtown,” he said.
In addition, businesses can benefit from more federal aid in the coming year to help pay employees, buy inventory and pay bills to keep operating, he said.
Pam Wagoner, owner of Depot Florist in Martinsburg, said she believes an important component of success next year is avoiding another shutdown.
“I think with any small business is we just don’t want to get shut down again if we can help it. That’s in the best interest of all Americans. Otherwise I can be successful. I just pray we don’t have to get shut down unless it would save lives,” she said.
This year, she has utilized online services, delivery and curbside pickup options more so than in the past, something she sees continuing.
As other business owners do, she hopes to see increased foot traffic to her business when its safe for the public to do so and people are comfortable.
“We put all this money into this inventory, but people are nervous about coming out. We buy the inventory a year in advance. We had no idea this was going to hit — and neither did any one else, so it’s not like we are the only ones in that boat.
“We used to buy products, your Christmas merch, a year in advance. That kind of stings. Then when people are leery of coming out it’s a big catch 22,” she said.
As other business owners have said, The Cupcakerie owner Anna Carrier of Morgantown said an easily accessible online presence is a key factor for success going into next year as well as the wellbeing of customers.
“In order to be successful in 2021, small businesses must be easily accessible online and via mobile devices. Customers need to be able to purchase products with a few clicks of a button and book appointments for services via the internet,” she said.
“Business owners need to be extremely sensitive to customers and their needs, providing accommodations wherever possible. Businesses also need to make sure social distance can be always maintained. This may mean meeting via Zoom or curbside pick-up. Whatever the method, customers need to feel safe,” she said.
Though communities have rallied behind small businesses throughout the pandemic, it will be even more important for that to continue in the coming months, she said.
“The beginning of the year is traditionally slower for small businesses. However, small businesses can’t handle slower right now. Communities need to come up with innovative events and promotions for the small businesses within them so there are still businesses standing when this is all said and done,” she said.
In addition to continued community support, more federal funds would also be beneficial to many, she said.
“As a business owner in the food service industry, if restaurant shutdowns happen again in West Virginia, there needs to be more CARES Act money available. Restaurants are barely breaking even currently, and bars are in the red. Without financial assistance, the number of businesses that close due to COVID are going to increase tremendously,” she said.