Business as usual
In the aftermath of our recent feature on how companies dealt with the shutdown, businesses from all over South Florida continued to share their COVID-19 stories with us. Here are just a few of them.
By SFBW editorial staff
Kevin Sheehan Jr.
President, Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line
Business backstory: The only two-night cruise sailing from the Port of Palm Beach to Grand Bahama Island and Nassau gives travelers a mini-getaway option that the larger cruise lines don’t—with many of the same perks (Vegas-style entertainment, kids programming, on-ship shopping, multiple dining options, casino gambling). According to its website, Bahamas Paradise was set to sail again, starting July 25. (bahamasparadisecruise.com)
The impact: “A vital part of our decision-making process was ensuring that every party was involved, and as working from home became part of the new normal, we were forced to adapt and implement new levels of communication across the business. Steps like communicating via daily calls and Zoom meetings, as well as collaborating on projects and webinars with travel partners across our virtual call center, were key in maintaining a core infrastructure across all our teams while working remotely. As for those onboard our ships, we made the decision to take Grand Classica out of service early in order to repatriate our crew members. Moving forward, we will conduct business with a start-up mentality, keeping an eagle eye on costs and control.”
The path to reopening: “Prior to the crisis, the cruising industry was already experiencing an uptick in ‘micro-cruises.’ As travelers ease back into travel, we’re confident that they will be looking for shorter cruise options, which has always been our business model. As the only short-cruise product on the market, we understand the dynamic—our product is successful, and we’re easily accessible since we’re so close to home. What we’re currently doing to prepare for the increased travel demand post-COVID is installing improved health and safety protocols across our fleet. … These updated procedures include:
• Extensive sanitization processes at entry of port terminal, ships, and passenger walkways.
• Social distancing measures at all onboard dining and entertainment areas.
• A two-step sanitization process for all common areas and guest cabins with hospital-grade disinfectant.
• Closing two-passenger stateroom decks to reduce crowds onboard.
• Implementing a fresh air ventilation system to ensure healthy air quality onboard.
The future: “Our ‘micro-cation’ concept gives travelers a quick yet memorable cruise vacation that departs from West Palm Beach, so it’s easily accessible, yet feels a world away. We’re known for our friendly staff, unique dining experiences, award-winning onboard entertainment, our one-of-a-kind Cruise & Stay Program, and more. Travelers who choose to set sail with us can expect the same quality when we return this summer.”
President/CEO, Junior Achievement of South Florida
Business backstory: Through its multiple programs—as well as two JA BizTowns and JA Finance Park—thousands of Broward County students learn the concepts of entrepreneurship, finance, and work-readiness from this Coconut Creek-based nonprofit organization. (jasouthflorida.org)
The impact: “COVID-19 has had a far-reaching impact on all sectors, in particularly the nonprofit sector. The loss of revenue for nonprofits will span across every source: individuals, corporate, events, government, foundations. Junior Achievement of South Florida was impacted financially and will realize decreased revenues of about 20%. We took major cost-cutting measures, unfortunately, including eliminating staff positions. On a positive note, COVID-19 strengthened our team’s passion and commitment to our mission: financial literacy and workforce development. The JA team became even more cohesive, collaborative and creative.”
In the interim: “Leadership has worked hard over the past three years to eliminate debt, control spending and build reserves to prepare for an emergency situation or economic crisis like this. From a program perspective, JA had already begun to offer digital programming to our schools, so we were able to respond quickly with online and virtual resources for teachers and parents.”
The future: “We expect that this will have an impact on how the JA World simulations are conducted in the future. In addition, we will work on redesigning and repositioning our administrative work spaces and likely move toward a blended remote/in-person work environment.”
Giving back: “In addition to partnering with Broward County Public Schools, JA partnered with private and charter schools to offer digital programming. We also partnered with key community organizations on a campaign to bring literacy to all Broward County children and families. This campaign included distributing activities and materials around financial literacy, reading literacy and health literacy.”
Founder, SOL Yoga
Business backstory: DeFrancesco says that discovering yoga changed her life “in the most unexpected and profound ways.” She pays that forward by offering a variety of classes for students of all levels at her popular SOL Yoga studios in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. (solyogaflorida.com)
The impact: “Like most businesses, protecting the safety of our clients and my staff was the important priority when COVID-19 first started to make an impact. We closed our doors at both locations in early March. … Many of the teachers who work for SOL Yoga continued doing what they do, only from their homes. Like I’ve said before, you’re only as strong as your team, and my team is like family. Thanks to their dedication, I was able to pivot the business focus without losing the trust or loyalty of SOL Yoga clients.” (NOTE: The SOL Yoga studios have reopened with updated health and safety protocols that follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.)
Surviving the shutdown: “Since they were no longer able to enjoy physical connection, we focused on creating social togetherness instead. We launched free live yoga classes on Instagram, featuring some of their favorite teachers, along with adding a collection of videos to our website. The response was incredible. We were able to collaborate with other companies and brands as well, reaching over 100,000 people during any class.”
The future: “SOL Yoga is more than a place to practice yoga. It’s a company committed to giving Floridians the most beautiful, clean and safe destinations to take care of their health and happiness—a place to connect with others, shop our boutiques, enjoy a smoothie or an acupuncture treatment, and more. We will continue to be as meticulous with our cleaning and safety measures, only amplified for greater security and safety. … In addition, we will continue to offer online classes and videos for those who prefer to practice from their homes. We don’t want to rush anyone; we’d rather give people options that work best for their schedule and comfort level. Finally, we’re going to offer new incentives with our pricing—not only to reward our clients for their loyalty but because we know we won’t be running full capacity until the government says it’s OK to do so. … We will never take for granted the pure joy of practicing yoga together with others in a studio environment! Ah, yes, namaste.”
Business backstory: The holistic pet store offers pet accessories and a self-bathe station for dogs while educating pet owners on natural pet food. (petnmind.com)
The impact: “As a holistic store, everything we carry is high-quality and can’t be found everywhere like mass-marketed pet foods—so our customers depend on us to be open and available. The major disruption was that all of our employees opted not to work for their own safety. I have been working alone, which became tough to do after a few weeks, so we cut our hours temporarily. Rather than seven days a week, our hours are Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. until things return to somewhat normal. People have been buying in bulk, which has challenged our inventory levels, but we have been able to accommodate with no major issues. As we have self-washing services for pets, we have taken steps to make sure people waiting their turn for the tub remain socially distanced.”
Roll with the changes: “Curbside is new and has become really popular. Customers call ahead to pay, then I bring it out when they arrive, touch-free. As supply chains become more taxed, we believe people will see the importance of shopping at local businesses. When the internet and big stores are out of stock, smaller, more-focused local stores save the day as our distribution channels are often separated from the big guys and dedicated to smaller businesses.”
The future: “We have to increase our accessibility and the ease of doing business for the customer. If they need it delivered or they no longer want to shop in-store, we must accommodate that efficiently. We also have focused on disinfecting high-touch areas. Our website has been available for shopping, and customers are beginning to use it more. We have seen the importance of having customers’ contact information so that we can easily make announcements, [and they can] communicate efficiently with us; that will be a major focus moving forward. Overall, our approach and mission will not change. We are here to offer the best-quality pet products as well as educate, and pet parents will still require that even as we create our new normal.”
Giving back: “We have offered discounts to long-time customers who have had their employment paused and even donated pet food to customers who absolutely couldn’t pay. My wife’s business, Giant Slayer Consulting, in partnership with petNmind, sold “Fear Is My Enemy” T-shirts with all proceeds going to individuals who lost their jobs. We were able to raise a few thousand dollars that helped multiple families with cash to buy essentials. Our mission as a company and as a family is to help, and this pandemic doesn’t diminish that goal.” ♦