Over the past month the Billings Chamber hosted a series of industry specific roundtables (restaurants, bars, retail, and general small business) where innovators such as yourself share what you have learned and what practices others can put into place. If you are interested in participating in future peer-to-peer roundtables, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Special thanks to Visit Southeast Montana for sponsoring this important series!
Here are a few of the takeaways that participants found helpful:
How people eat out may never be the same due to innovations and widespread acceptance of take out, third-party delivery and curbside to go. Overall, take-out style will change business models, which has challenged those without a drive up option. There is less tipping when people get take-out or buy gift cards.
Even when local capacity was restricted to 75%, most restaurants were operating at 50% (current restriction) to allow for the necessary room for social distancing.
This is challenging because some are restaurants are at capacity and can’t handle more customers even though sales revenues are down. Focus has been on to-go orders via website, online ordering, and gift cards. There is some uncertainty on what to advertise. Who you are marketing to today is very different than before.
Many are reporting staffing numbers are down due to lack of catering opportunities or they are unable to fill vacancies. This is causing managers to be at max capacity and exhausted. In some cases part-time positions have evolved to fulltime employment to retain employees, which comes with the added cost of benefits. Quarantine is also causing workforce shortages and faster results for testing would be helpful. Some suggested that if you have multiple locations and need to convene managers from those locations you do so via Zoom rather than in person to avoid direct contact and potential spread that could severely disrupt operations if any would need to quarantine.
Availability of food products is better than it was a month ago but specialized packaging is causing disruptions. Costs are up. May need to go frozen not fresh in some cases. Gloves are very hard to find.
Corporate gifting (online orders) is going strong and has changed to include more individually wrapped items (snack and candy items specifically) to be safe. Private shopping and virtual online shopping has increased. Businesses have even partnered to provide more options for private shopping at multiple locations. Making the most of empty spaces helped give more distancing for customers and created reasons for shoppers to come back to the business.
With people entering locations with masks and hoodies, theft has increased and it is difficult to identify the perpetrator even when reviewing with security cameras. Be vigilant was the only advice. .
Annually (previous to the pandemic) Yellowstone County sees approximate $500 million of new direct spending by visitors. Pent up demand will soon drive new visitors and money to small business once again. Regionally, RV sales have increased and it is helpful to have wide-open spaces and numerous campgrounds. Some places in Southeastern Montana are enjoying small events that are able to meet local and state health guidelines (such as the recent Christmas Stroll in Miles City). The Northern Cheyenne Reservation is closed due to high COVID-19 cases. Traffic on Highway 212 remains similar to last year but shop sales are not as high.
Recent ACTION taken by the Billings Chamber of Commerce to help:
- Currently advocating for Federal relief for small business. Town Hall events will be developed in January to share information on any relief package congress approves.
- Continued conversations with the health department and the other county departments and state agencies to advocate for business and to keep businesses informed of changes to regulations.
- Shop local campaigned themed “Keep the Cheer Here” is active. Future shopping promotions will also remind people businesses are open, to buy gift cards, to order takeout and to tip for all of those services.
- Additional Town Halls being scheduled include information the vaccine, when they will be available to the general public and what you—as an employer—need to know from an employment attorney.
- Launched weekly COVID-19 Business Support news providing reliable, relevant and timely comminutions that the business community needs.
- Items to review and possibly take action: a bill will possibly be introduced into the state legislature this year to continue sales for alcohol with takeout orders. Alcohol sales can increase the total ticket sale up to $10 dollars per order.