WINCHESTER — Mattie’s Mobile Soft Serve owner Greg Foltz likened his business model during the COVID-19 pandemic to a plate of breakfast.
A chicken contributes an egg, he said, but a pig that produces things like ham, bacon or sausage is all in. The pig commits, he said. It sacrificed something.
Committing to finding ways to reach customers during a pandemic — what most business leaders are referring to as “pivoting” — was the topic of a Friday morning Zoom webinar for local business owners and hosted by the Lord Fairfax Small Business Development Center.
Foltz, who attended the call, shared that he’s viewing the challenges he’s faced as opportunities to establish himself in a new community.
Foltz began his soft serve ice cream bus in 2017 in Stanley.
“When I started this business back in 2017, we went out for the first time and my thought was to just go local and stay close,” he said. “You know, you’re just starting off so you might as well stay close.”
He has since moved operations to the Wingate Plaza just off Interstate 81 in the Winchester area.
“I had to pivot myself,” he said. “Yes, it’s scary, but you don’t really have another option. You’ve got to fight to go out there and get that customer base and get them to not have any second thoughts on coming back. We’re just thrilled to be in the Winchester area. It’s a challenge, but it’s an opportunity to be out there every day.”
While many businesses are finding some sort of success with pivoting, it hasn’t been easy.
Jeanne Russell, who is self-employed and offers multiple creative services, said she’s found herself having a tough time deciding where to focus her efforts during a pandemic since it’s almost eliminated her face-to-face interactions.
“My ability to pivot has been one of the reasons I’ve survived as a self-employed person for the past 20 years. Sometimes things change — because I get bored or because the economy changes,” she said. “Since the shutdown, I feel like I’m a dog chasing a squirrel. I feel like I’m pivoting too much.”
The purpose of the call was to share stories of both triumph and struggle with the hope of helping business owners like Russell find ways to keep moving forward, according to Jeff Nicely, who handles social media and content creation for the LFSBDC.
Nicely said he read a book called “The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters” and later joined the author’s mailing list. Through that mailing list, he received an email about using things like Zoom calls and the power of people sharing their stories with one another.
“The concept was pretty simple, but it was this: Stories allow us to learn, spark ideas. Stories give us courage to act. And stories give us confidence to stay the course when we find out we’re on the right path for us,” he said. “I took that concept and I thought, how could we do this for small business owners to share stories around themes on a weekly basis that might spark some ideas, create some questions, some dialogue, help us connect with each other.”
Groups he’s helped lead in the past have said that hearing others’ stories have helped solidify relationships, he said.
He said he hopes to hold a call each Friday for the foreseeable future based around a different theme.
In his own life, Nicely said he’s seen multiple examples of pivoting, like getting the LFSBDC’s webinars up and running quickly once the shutdown hit, moving his church’s services online and working with a small business to offer virtual cake baking classes.
Examples like those have been evident in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, and businesses can expect to reap the rewards, Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Sharon Baroncelli said during the call.
“Studies we see every day say the businesses doing what you all are doing — that pivot and those who are ready to change their business model and go and do — those are the ones who are going to weather this pandemic,” she said. “Studies show the course you all are on is the correct course.”
For more information or to register for next week’s call, visit www.lfsbdc.org.