UPPER CUMBERLAND — Leaders of both the Upper Cumberland Development District (UCDD) and the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at UCDD joined Congressman John Rose, of Tennessee’s Sixth Congressional District, for a virtual town hall meeting held Tuesday. During the meeting, participants discussed challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and returning to pre-pandemic operations.
“These are very interesting times, to say the least, for the country and very interesting times in Washington (D.C.),” said Rose.
While businesses across the country grapple with the new normal amid the COVID-19 pandemic, discussions regarding the next piece of Coronavirus legislation stalled in recent weeks. As America returns to work, small business owners have struggled to maintain pre-pandemic levels of operations and sales but are beginning to see an uptick in sales and productivity.
Britt Akers, owner of One Hour Martinizing in Cookeville, says his peak season — prom and wedding season, that is — was derailed as the ripple effects of the pandemic closed schools and halted social events.
“We saw our business drop over half,” Akers said. “It was a shock. The PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) money helped us to bridge that gap and retain our employees.”
Akers says as regulation and safety measures have relaxed, business is picking up.
“We’re not back to normal,” he added.
Kellie Fitzpatrick, owner of Lenny & Eva, headquartered in Baxter, says as brick-and-mortar stores closed amid COVID-19 concerns, fans of the popular wholesale jewelry line shifted to making purchases online. Prior to the pandemic, Fitzpatrick estimated approximately 80 percent of the business’s incoming revenue came from wholesale with direct-to-consumer sales accounting for the remaining 20 percent.
“We’re starting to see those stores (brick-and-mortar wholesale buyers) purchase again, which is a good sign,” Fitzpatrick said.
As businesses continue to navigate unfamiliar territory, Rose says the way we do business will change but that he foresees Tennessee recovering quickly.
“I think Tennessee is in a fairly good place relative to much of the rest of the country,” said Rose. “I think our state and local leaders have handled this fairly well under the circumstances and, as a result, I think Tennessee stands to bounce back quicker than many other places around the country; and, certainly the US, I think, has the possibility of bouncing back quicker than other countries around the world.
“We need to seize that opportunity and take advantage of that chance to come back quickly and get our economy back on track.”
An entrepreneur himself, Congressman Rose offered advice for other entrepreneurs and small business owners during these uncertain times.
“I would just say, listen to your customers. Try to hear what they’re saying,” he said. “You’ve got to observe how they’re reacting to you because obviously serving them, serving their needs, addressing their demands is what’s going to keep you in business.”
To learn more about various loans and assistance programs available to small businesses, contact SBDC at UCDD at ( 931) 520-6081 or call UCDD, (931) 432-4111.
About the Upper Cumberland Development District: The Upper Cumberland Development District provides regional planning and assistance to the 14-county Upper Cumberland region to promote economic growth and community enhancement. Find UCDD on the web at www.ucdd.org and at facebook.com/UCDDconnect.
About the Small Business Development Center: For over 30 years, the Tennessee Small Business Development Center (TSBDC) network has been empowering small business owners, entrepreneurs, and individuals with a business idea to innovate new products and services that compete in the global marketplace. TSBDC is a network of certified professional business counselors conveniently located. Based in Cookeville, Tenn., SBDC at UCDD serves the 14-county Upper Cumberland region.