Advocacy, Patronage Can Help Small Businesses during COVID-19 Pandemic

Rutgers Business School expert discusses short-and long-term actions to support local businesses 

As the coronavirus continues to unleash an unprecedented economic crisis throughout the country, small businesses face the real possibility of not being able to survive.

Lyneir Richardson, an assistant professor of professional practice and executive director of Rutgers Business School’s Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development offers suggestions on how consumers and organizations alike can help support these mom-and-pop businesses and make it more likely that they will be able to reopen when the shutdown is over.

What can the average consumer do?

From their homes, consumers can play a vital role in continuing patronage by purchasing gift cards, supporting GoFundMe campaigns and ordering services and goods online. Keep in mind, aside from restaurants, your favorite flower shop or neighborhood bookstore may also provide curbside pick-up or delivery. If you can afford it, tip extra now. Check if the local shops are changing their business models to adapt to this new “normal.” For instance, is your local health club providing online work-out sessions? Is the housekeeping company you use creating a virtual organizing service? What about a baking kit from the cupcake shop?

Aside from financial support, what other steps can we take?

The fight to save our local businesses will involve much more than the consumer’s money. Play a role in advocating with government leaders for more aid and resources, email your legislator to ask them to help, sign petitions and share them with your networks, and repost delivery menus and services on social media. People are spending more time online, which means more eyes on social media pages. Be vocal and active in your support during this time; the more we talk about these businesses, the better.

How can larger institutions get involved?

The 90 days following the stay-at-home period will be critically important, and corporate partners will need to step in. In the hardest hit areas, major organizations should redouble their commitments to shopping locally and encourage their employees to do the same. For example, Audible in Newark, New Jersey, already provides its employees with a debit card to incentivize them to go to the neighborhood restaurant, coffee shop, nail salon, etc. The company also donated $1 million to Newark Working Kitchens, a free daily meal delivery service that will provide 100,000 meals to residents and also help restaurants in the area.

Intentional anchor institution contracting and procurement will be a huge help. Encourage your offices to buy coffee from the local shop for the next three months or get your uniforms cleaned at the nearby dry cleaners — and see if you can get those contracts started now. If you had to cancel an event during the stay-at-home order, can you use a neighborhood event space or local catering company once you reschedule? These are the strategic and intentional purchases that will pay off in the long run.

How has the Center provided assistance to businesses at this time?

We are working to create a new program to help our retail storeowners and restaurateurs understand new digital platforms and how to operate more online.  And, we are answering questions about accepting Groupon, signing up for Grubhub, new marketing strategies and social media engagement. All of our long-standing core capacity building training programs are being conducted online, too.

Our team is also seeking philanthropic support to specifically help minority-owned retail and service businesses.  We want to take a surgical approach to increase the likelihood that Black and Latino entrepreneurs actually get the financial resources and technical assistance needed to survive and thrive the COVID-19 pandemic. Stabilizing hard-hit businesses, especially those operating on visible commercial corridors, will stem neighborhood decline and foster economic development progress.   

The primary focus for everyone right now is health and safety. However, once we have our arms around this pandemic, we must also save the lives of businesses that we love.

For more information about The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development, visit the website.

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