The COVID-19 pandemic is a public health disaster and economic crisis rolled into one event. For many small business owners, the prospect of closing permanently became very real overnight. Business.com followed up with the entrepreneurs we previously interviewed regarding their experiences and concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic and applying for loans through the Paycheck Protection Program. Through the coming weeks and months, we will continue to follow their stories as they fight for the survival of their businesses in a world combating COVID-19.
Looking for resources on how to help your small business through the COVID-19 pandemic? Visit the business.com COVID-19 resource page.
Edgar Comellas, owner of Aces Wild Casino Parties
Aces Wild Casino Parties is an entertainment rental business based in Orlando, Florida. Aces Wild brings the casino to your event, including dealer tables, dealers, decorations and even exotic animals.
Aces Wild Casino Parties has three full-time employees and works with about 80 independent contractors at any given time, owner Edgar Comellas said.
After applying for a Paycheck Protection Program loan through Bank of America on April 6, and then again through Merrill Lynch on April 9, Comellas was finally funded on May 5. He said he received $5,000.
“At the end of the day it’s like a double-edged sword,” he said. “I am glad I did not get a large amount of money, because you have to spend it, but you only have that one way to spend it.”
Covering wages and salaries is difficult, Comellas added, when his employees are only working on a limited basis. Many businesses opted to return their Paycheck Protection Program loan by a May 18 deadline set by the U.S. Small Business Administration for similar reasons.
“I’m relieved in the sense that I’m not in a position where I’m worried about how I am going to spend this money,” Comellas said.
At the moment, Comellas is concerned about the midterm economic recovery coming out of the coronavirus pandemic. Florida has begun the reopening process, but that also means certain relief measures are coming to an end.
“For me, in the event industry, it’s a weird place to be,” Comellas said. “I am getting requests and calls for quotes for events in October, late November and even some holiday parties already. But I’m also looking at how things are actually going to start shaking out now that doors have opened.”
He said relying on reserve cash to pay certain expenses, such as rent, through March and April have left things thin for the traditionally slow summer season.
“The event industry goes down in the summer normally, so the fact that no events are being booked adds a grim prospect,” he said. “It’s very hard to even budget.”
However, pivoting to remote casino parties via Zoom video conferences has offered Comellas an alternative revenue stream for the time being. He said he is offering special deals and discounts to encourage new business. Ultimately, though, he is preparing for a return to his more conventional events that look different than they used to.
“I need to be able to have the equipment for my staff and to provide basic safety, like masks,” Comellas said. “One of the biggest challenges is going to be that an event space that used to hold 100 people is now going to hold 50 or 60. We can’t cram the same amount of people into the space, whether operationally or because people don’t want to be in close quarters.”
Comellas echoed his previous sentiment that recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. He added that small businesses should consider how to build economic resilience into their business plans for the future.
“Rather than putting Band-Aids over it, let’s see how we can restructure,” he said, “whether that is employment, paid time off, how we pay our staff, how we provide benefits or even how we classify small businesses. Rather than telling ourselves we’re out of the woods, let’s prepare.”
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Todd Spodek, managing partner of Spodek Law Group
Spodek Law Group PC is a law firm in New York City that provides litigation services for criminal defense as well as divorce and family law. The firm employs 10 people.
Managing partner Todd Spodek, was approved for a Paycheck Protection Program loan under the initial round of funding for the program. He applied through Chase Bank on April 6 and received $200,000 by April 17. Since then, he has worked on establishing a pro bono program for first responders, as well as an outreach campaign to check in on old clients and legal adversaries.
“Things are getting a little bit better in New York,” he said. “It’s still restricted, but certainly better than it was. A lot of people are slowly coming to the conclusion that life has to go on one way or another. We’re nowhere near our normal workflow, but we are getting there. Every day it is getting busier and busier.”
Spodek emphasized that his law firm is not at its normal anticipated levels of business, but he is optimistic and has retained 100% of his staff. The firm has been generating some new business even while the court system in New York has remained closed for litigation.
“Every single person is busy, and we have new business – not at the levels we want it to be, but it generates enough income that we can take a loss for a month or two, knowing we’ll recoup it later on,” he said. “There was a period of time when nobody was calling; there was no new business, and it was a ghost town. I’m grateful that is not the case now.”
Leaning into a long-term marketing strategy has been essential to bring in new business during an otherwise difficult time, Spodek said. Embracing the idea that conversations and goodwill do more for service-oriented businesses like a law firm than hard sales pitches has thus far helped the firm to weather the storm of COVID-19.
“The long-term marketing aspect is that we’re a law firm that does good work and cares about our clients and relationships,” Spodek said. “For example, we carry a large [accounts receivable] on a monthly basis. We went through each one and made accommodations and worked out new arrangements and opened a dialogue about it. We weren’t charging interest or late fees or sending them to collections. All those gestures pay off. It’s incremental in improving your relationship with someone.”
For small businesses struggling with the coronavirus pandemic, Spodek said it is worthwhile to adapt to the change in normal business patterns and plan for elements of your business you don’t typically focus on. This could include cutting expenses, evaluating financing options or even considering whether physical locations are necessary. Spodek’s firm is considering whether it really needs three physical offices in the future, potentially reducing monthly rent expenses significantly.
“Use this time to your advantage,” Spodek said. “Forget about making money. You’re not going to make money right now. Make sure you and your staff can eat; cut expenses and plan. At six months to a year, you might have to take a loan or restructure your business. You have to be prepared.