The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and Facebook hosted a Small Business Roundtable to connect virtually with Chicago’s small businesses and hear about the challenges they are experiencing as a result of the pandemic and how they are overcoming them. Jack Lavin, President & CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber, and Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, welcomed 10 small business owners to share their stories and understand how the two organizations can continue to help the business community grow now and into the future.
“The importance of small businesses to Chicago and our economy cannot be understated. The pandemic has been devastating for many small businesses. Many have had to close their doors temporarily. Many are still closed. But some have persevered and stayed open by reinventing themselves or pivoting to be able to continue serving customers.”– Jack Lavin, President & Chief Executive Officer of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce
Back of the Yards Coffee Co
Back of the Yards Coffee is a Latinx- and woman-owned coffee company in the South Side of Chicago with a mission as bold as its coffee. This company supports local, hires local, and gives back to its community – but had to adjust quickly after the pandemic halted 75% of revenue on day-one of the closures. They quickly partnered with third-party delivery options and contact-less pick up options to ensure their customers could continue to safely purchase their coffee.
Owner Jesse Iniguez credits Facebook for allowing his business to grow and survive. He relies on his Facebook page to provide updates, communicate with the community and even watch their initial crowd funding page spread on the social media platform, which raised $17,000.
A family-owned laundry chain, Bubbleland, has made getting to the laundromat easy for years with their limo service. The pandemic interrupted the regular business practice and Bubbleland worked with a local tech company to create a laundry delivery service that provides safe practices to employees and customers.
Utilizing their Facebook page and ad spending, Bubbleland provided this necessary service and kept their business going, seeing 400% growth in the laundry delivery service and allowing them to expand and reach new customers in a 40 mile radius. Facebook offered them an audience that would have been too expensive to reach in alternative advertising.
Good Food Brands
Fueled by locally sourced ingredients and employees from under-supported communities, good food and a good mission define this company. Before the pandemic, most of their business focus was on corporate offices. The shutdown forced owner Jordan Buckner to pivot to a new product and offerings, a subscription snack discovery box full of amazing products from local minority-owned businesses. Instagram and Facebook offered them a way to showcase these new products and link to partnering businesses, expanding reach and growing their audience.
With authentic recipes by a mother and grandmother collaboration, Honeydoe was founded to bring delicious Syrian dishes to Chicago. What started with sweets became a full catering service that was forced to pivot when the pandemic greatly impacted events. Honeydoe now offers weekly home delivery meals that quickly formed a loyal customer base and supported the business enough to rehire 50% of their workforce, which is predominately refugee woman from Syria.
Facebook and Instagram provided visually pleasing galleries to showcase their food and new weekly delivery option. The Pixel tool on Facebook helped the team learn about their audience and provide the right content at the right time, including a promotion for Ramadan.
“Many businesses stayed open by creating a digital presence and reaching new customers through Facebook and Instagram. For some, making the shift online has been a huge success. Thanks to the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, I got to hear a lot of these success stories firsthand.”– Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and Founder of LeanIn.org
The pandemic caused Joy — of Joyful Designs — to delay some of her projects due to her inability to access the spaces she was asked to design. But it also made many newly remote workers re-evaluate their home spaces and seek design skills to help adjust to this new reality. Turning the business to offer more e-design services, it became clear that the company’s Instagram page was the way to reach new audiences and easily share before and after content in Reels and live videos. By and having 24/7 access and engaging with customers through comments enables Joy to help more customers improve their spaces and stay happier while working from home.
One of the largest, completely independent, women-owned distilleries in the U.S., KOVAL has an international presence and plans to open a tasting room. During the pandemic, their European exports had to stop and they turned to their Facebook account to grow their e-commerce sales in the United States. They became a local leader in pivoting their business model and began making hand sanitizer that was shared with first responders, hospitals, and retirement homes.
The new role they played in helping to improve the Chicago community’s safety went viral on The Kelly Clarkson Show and led to new donations and volunteer efforts to support and expand their reach with hand sanitizer.
Learning Dimensions is a Chicago-based educational consultant company that aims to design and provide transformative learning solutions and experiences to organizations that meet the demands of the 21st century learner. Pre-pandemic, most of their services were offered in person so adjusting to virtual trainings demonstrated a need to develop an online presence and reach new audiences.
Focusing on their Facebook page, Learning Dimensions found clients they wouldn’t have otherwise- and are providing valuable trainings to help businesses survive the difficult pandemic climate.
This family-owned ice cream parlor and restaurant, located on the Southwest Side of Chicago and proudly serving the city’s diverse and hard-working citizens, increased its online presence and adjusted its operations to accommodate a limited walk-in customer base and increase online ordering. After closing the dining area due to COVID-19 restrictions and losing all walk-in traffic, Razpachos increased its presence on social media — focusing on Facebook and Instagram — to enter its customers’ homes virtually.
A community-focused enterprise, Razpachos doubled its commitment to the neighborhood. Their efforts, from sponsoring a community “little library” in a nearby park to donating products, helped to keep certain disadvantaged areas in the community afloat.
Vanille Patisserie is a bakery specializing in French macarons, custom cakes, and French pastries with an incredibly loyal fanbase. The pandemic halted daily business commuters that frequented their top performing shop in The French Market and owner Sophie Evanoff knew the business would need to pivot, refocus their efforts, and come out stronger.
The team began creating boxed lunches for frontline workers and creating fun, pop-culture themed goodies that performed well on visually stimulating platforms, including Facebook and Instagram. Partnerships with local influencers resulted in thousands of followers and increased sales to help sustain the business.
With its bright colors, amazing desserts, neon signs, and adorable to-go cups, this café is known as “IG Gold.” The shutdown of indoor dining limited the engagement this women-owned business loves, but their e-commerce set up helped them transition and helped other small businesses. In order to keep providing their customers with their iconic marshmallows, XO Marshmallow immediately offered free shipping and partnered with other local small businesses that didn’t have e-commerce to offer box sets to their customers.
Their strong Instagram and Facebook pages became a relatable place for every day check-ins and light-hearted commentary. XO Marshmallow saw the positive impact they were making on their followers and even donated proceeds to organizations focused on mental health to ensure we all made it through a difficult year together. Their smart actions led to 2020 being their highest revenues to date.
The pandemic has certainly challenged businesses; however, with a focus on digital and a little creativity, businesses have been able pivot for new-found success. Follow and check out the 10 businesses above, and consider how you can reinvent or shift your business for a positive outcome.
3 Things Small Businesses Can Do to Succeed Online
Though the pandemic has been devastating, many entrepreneurs stayed open by reinventing themselves, write Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce CEO Jack Lavin in Crain’s Chicago Business.