Re-imagining their businesses helped local entrepreneurs survive pandemic
By Janice Hayes Kyser
LOS ANGELES — When COVID-19 shut down the city last year, the party was over — quite literally — for event planner Monique Hogan, owner of L.A.-based Monique Hogan’s Weddings and Events.
Rather than close her business for good, though, Hogan took her party-planning skills on the road, offering customized decorations that clients could post in their yards to safely celebrate weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and other milestones during the pandemic.
Hogan’s so-called pandemic pivot is a scenario that many agile women business owners are familiar with. As millions of women have been forced out of the job market during the pandemic — including some 30,000 in Los Angeles due to a lack of child care, underfunding and overrepresentation in the hardest hit service industries —many women entrepreneurs like Hogan have seized the moment to re-imagine their businesses and keep their doors open.
“They say necessity drives invention. I certainly found out just how true that is over the past year,” Hogan said. “It has been a humbling and overwhelming time for all of us, but it has also presented new opportunities to grow.”
While her struggle has been real — she’s had to lay off employees and make other sacrifices to stay afloat — she said she’s found a new passion — mentoring Black women who are just starting their businesses.
“I have learned a lot about myself, my business and the goodness of my community,” she said. “I hope I can share what I have learned in a way that will make us all stronger.”
For other business owners, the pandemic has inspired innovative ways to deliver unique products and services once things get back to normal.
Sandra Caldwell, director of Kids Artistic Sense, Inc, an educational center for children located in West Los Angeles, said while her business was shuttered, she had an epiphany: She could expand her base of budding young artists by delivering art products and classes to clients online.
That’s how “1 Month Art in a Box” was born. The box, which will be sold on Amazon starting later this month or early May, contains canvas, paints and step-by-step curriculum.
“Given the rich relationships we have with our students and parents — as well as our wanting to meet the demand from parents for continued art learning … we knew it was time to innovate and pivot,” Caldwell said.
That brand of ingenuity and flexibility has become an economic sign of the times, said Lawren Markle, senior director of communications at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC).
“Reinvention has proven to be the most important aspect of business resilience and revenue recoveries during the pandemic,” Markle said, “as businesses have launched online stores, social media marketing and changed business models.”
Markle said business owners struggling during the pandemic can get survival tips from the LAEDC, which hosts webinars to help small businesses adapt to the new business realities. The organization also provides one-on-one consulting to help diverse business owners develop strategies to keep their businesses solvent.
For assistance contact LAEDC at (213) 622-4300 or email at email@example.com.
Markle offers these survival tips for small businesses:
• Take It Online: Create an online presence to expand your market. If they can’t come to you, you can go to them.
• Follow the Money: Research grants and loans and shore up your financial resource pipeline. Markle encourages entrepreneurs to apply for the forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans which are available through May 31, 2021.
• Make New Alliances. Markle suggests exploring potential contracts with the city and the country, as both entities are making an aggressive push to diversity their supplier base.
Rosalind Pennington, owner of the popular bar, restaurant and nightclub, New Townhouse, located in the city’s Airport Quarter, took Markle’s advice. In fact, she credits her contract with the city for helping her business survive.
“We were totally blessed to get a contract with the city to provide meals to seniors during the shutdown,” Pennington says. “That kept our doors open and allowed us to stay in business while doing something positive for the community.”
Like many restaurateurs, she is offering takeout, delivery and outdoor dining at her venue, but it is the new element of her business, bulk cooking and catering, born out of the pandemic, which she believes will sustain her during future economic ups and downs.
Pennington says she is also working with the Black Business Association on another opportunity that will bolster her business and provide meals for the city’s burgeoning homeless population.
“To be able to give back to the city that has supported me over the years and to make it through this crisis is something I am eternally grateful for,” Pennington says.