Necessity is the mother of invention. The ancient proverb, which first appeared in Plato’s Republic, seems to be proving true as Tampa Bay Area small businesses fight for their survival because of the economic impacts of COVID-19.
The virus has caused widespread disruption in our lives. Many businesses have had to dramatically change their approach to stay afloat during this crisis, choosing to offer delivery or offer products or services they’ve never offered in the past (like rolls of toilet paper with your food order.)
Below are a few examples from Working Women of Tampa Bay Founder Jessica Rivelli.
Intensity Academy Gourmet Sauces
Some entrepreneurs like SaucyQueen Michele Northrup completely pivoted in response to COVID-19. Northrup, CEO and Founder of Intensity Academy Gourmet Sauces
, has been successfully producing community events in the Tampa Bay Area for years. She has a group of more than 200 local vendors who showcase their goods and services at farmer’s markets, etc.
After large group gatherings were discouraged and then banned, Northrup asked herself what she could do to bring income to her vendors.
“After a spark of entrepreneurial spirit, I realized we could bring the market to our customers!” she shares.
Northrup’s innovative concept is to deliver a sampling of what you would find at a typical farmer's market to your door. She sources products from her local vendors to provide a $60 bag and a $100 box filled with items like fresh produce, baked goods, sauces, spices, honey, hummus, teas, jam, dessert items, soaps & more.
This pivot to her business has been a huge success and she is providing 12-15 vendors a week steady income. In just 4 weeks, she sold 200 bags/boxes using social media and word of mouth to market the new venture. The project is also generating donations for the Working Women Foundation’s gift card buying campaign which is helping women-owned small businesses who have been impacted by closures, etc. Northrup has already raised $1,000 and hopes to continue in the next few weeks with fun-themed boxes already in the works.
“I’ve been blown away by the response,” Northrup says. “Our customers are thrilled to have these one-of-a-kind local products dropped off at their door. They’re posting photos on social media and tagging the vendors. It’s incredible. Plus, we’re able to donate to one of our favorite foundations with some of the proceeds.”
RSBP Events + PR
Restaurants represent another industry that has been hit hard by the “shelter in place” orders. Many have focused on take-out and delivery to survive. One restaurant PR veteran wanted to help.
Brooke Palmer Kuhl, of RSBP Events + PR
spearheaded a campaign to encourage more people to order food from their favorites. Tampa Bay Takeout Bingo was born after Palmer-Kuhl was introduced to a similar concept going on in Orlando.
“I just saw it as a free way for restaurants to have fun, and to get their name out that they were open,” says Palmer-Kuhl.
There are currently boards for 16 neighborhoods live on Tampa Bay TakeOut Bingo
. On each bingo card, there are 24 locally owned restaurants. The idea is to fill up the entire card by collecting receipts from take-out purchases made at each business. Once you visit all 24, email your receipts for a chance to win $250 cash and gift cards from your favorite restaurants.
“Restaurants are reinventing themselves right now. Takeout Bingo is an added reminder that, hey we’re here, and we have great food. The support has been great all around.” explains Chad Johnson, Executive Chef of Haven.
Caterers like Lennise Germany have experienced a dramatic decrease in revenue because of across-the-board event cancellations. She owns Livy O’s, an event space in Brandon.
“As the leader of our organization, I could have panicked, but instead I took a moment to reflect. I asked myself, 'what got us this far in our business?',” Germany says.
Then she remembered that selling individual and family meals was how her business originally got off the ground. She went back to the basics and created a menu of family-style meals that are available for take-out or delivery. The menu varies from week to week with selections that feed 4-6 and will remind you of home-cooked meals for Sunday Supper like pot roast and baked ziti.
has seen a fantastic response to their weekly meals from a community of loyal customers.
“We’re not making anywhere near our gross sales,” explains Germany. “However, the good in all of this is I haven’t had to fire a single employee. That’s gratifying.”
Many in the food industry are turning to feeding first responders. Leslie Ann Ciccone, Founder of (swah-rey)
, a dessert shop with 2 locations in St. Pete and 2 more on the way, launched the Minis for Medics Campaign.
Sharon Hayes, CEO of Bayfront Medical Center in St. Pete, preparing to share minis from (swah-rey) with her colleagues.
She packages up her bite-sized mini cupcakes in 36-count boxes to be delivered to hospitals, care facilities, firehouses, and police stations. She’s invited the public to contribute by donating as little as $3 through The Help Fund MINIS for MEDICS Campaign.
In just a few short weeks, Ciccone and her staff have been able to raise more than $3,000 and deliver more than 3,800 minis.
“We are regularly delivering to the local hospitals in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, and Largo areas. We look forward to adding fire and police stations as the contributions continue to increase.”
, a social club and movie theatre in Safety Harbor, has also been delivering meals to first responders daily since the beginning of April. They’ve dropped off nearly 500 meals through their Feed the Frontlines campaign.
Owner Rachel Fine shares, “It’s giving me meaning right now. This is a devastating time for all of us. I don't know how to solve this crisis, but I do know how to feed people. If I can put a smile on a nurse's face, that's what I'm hanging on to. That's what's keeping me going."
Only time will tell what the “new normal” will look like after the world of business starts spinning again. As we’ve seen, the global pandemic has already fueled the next wave of innovation. For the small business owners who have pivoted during this stressful time, they will likely be stronger than ever with new products and services they never would’ve entertained if COVID-19 hadn’t forced their hands.
Jessica Rivelli is the Founder of Working Women of Tampa Bay, the largest women’s networking organization in our area with 750 members and 20+ events per month. They’ve pivoted to providing online educational programming via Zoom during this time. She also created the Working Women Foundation which provides seed money to women start-ups.