According to a profile published by the US Small Business Administration, there were 30.7 million small businesses in the US in 2019, which accounted for 99.9% of all businesses in the US. Also, this report indicates that in the third quarter of 2017, there were 241,000 startups established, while simultaneously, 226,000 establishments closed up shop.
However, fast-forward to 2020, where new businesses are dealing with a whole new variable: the impact of the global pandemic. Below, find out how one new business discovered its unexpected niche during the peak of COVID-19 crisis – and how it continues to thrive – along with starter tips to keep in mind from a seasoned entrepreneur.
A New Business Launches Out of Necessity
Zachary Hiller has a background as an intellectual property attorney. For the past decade, Hiller has helped companies (namely startups) establish and protect their brands via trademarks, patents, and copyrights. Hiller, now the vice president of Houston, Texas-based William Price Distilling Co. (WPDC), attributes much of the company’s new success to his prior experience. “What it has given me is a unique perspective on how to launch a brand,” Hiller shares. “As such, I am largely in charge of sales and marketing. I could talk to you for hours about what is needed to launch a brand. I have all sorts of ideas and goals for the distilling operations.”
Originally, WPDC was slated to open at the end of the year. Then, the pandemic hit. Luckily, thanks to the equipment and ingredients at WPDC’s disposal – and Hiller’s dedication to finalizing the company’s full federal distilling permit – the founding team was able to obtain a special permit from the FDA to begin producing hand sanitizer, instead of potable spirits, as early as March.
“From there, it was really about gathering all the stuff we needed to distribute a finished product,” says Hiller. “As we waited for raw materials to arrive to our facility, we bought the first batch from a nearby distillery and leaned on friends and family in the industry to locate reputable vendors to get all the packaging.” Then, once Hiller and his teammates learned how to make hand sanitizer on their own, they were focused on cutting costs and scaling up so they could provide as much hand sanitizer to as many people that needed it, for as low a cost as possible.
“Was I expecting to ever sell hand sanitizer? No. Do I know the ins and outs of the business yet? Maybe,” shares Hiller. “What I do know is we set a few short-term and long-term goals for the company through this production and it is my responsibility to make sure we achieve them.”
To illustrate, those goals are two-fold. First, to help launch the brand and introduce it to the community, and second, to help as many people as possible out the gate. Additionally, Hiller shares that most of the money WPDC has made on this venture has been donated to first responders, frontline workers, and has gone into funding their Adopt-a-Bar program, which supports the Texas bar community through recurring state closures.
A Change of Plans
So, has WPDC shifted gears into producing spirits just yet? "No. Just hand sanitizer for now,” Hiller says. “We have not even begun construction on our facility yet. We got as far as asbestos remediation when COVID hit.” Furthermore, WPDC plans to break ground in late July, with the hopes of opening a tasting room sometime in late December. “Our big still is likely a good 8 to 10 months away – it is currently being designed in Scotland and will be assembled as soon as the factory reopens.”
Looking back, Hiller says WPDC’s initial goal was to use this opportunity to introduce the company to Houston and help as many people “weather the storm” as possible. And, he thinks they’ve largely accomplished that. “Those first few weeks we had lines down the block, and we could not pump out hand sanitizer fast enough. We had a good bit of network and radio media coverage that helped spur the initial growth.” (Hiller also credits apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for spreading the word.)
Then, once the neighborhood hype settled down, Hiller’s team began calling essential businesses to make sure they had what they needed to remain safe, and were not subject to price gougers. “As we have streamlined our processes and lowered our cost, we have passed that directly to the consumer,” Hiller says. “We have a price-match guarantee to help drive other producers down to a normal price.”
As for the future, Hiller says not much has changed. WPDC still aims to be a premier spirits provider in the Houston market and beyond. “This has just accelerated our launch,” he offers. “We are not supposed to be open yet; we are really just doing this to help people.” Moreover, WPDC plans to continue producing hand sanitizer as long as people need it. Even when they don’t anymore, Hiller says they will likely keep making it in small batches so they can always have a few bottles in stock to pay homage to how they got their start.
How to Handle a Lull
Best-selling author and entrepreneur Violette de Ayala has launched four business ventures. Her latest is FemCity, a 100-branch, members-only networking club that provides women in business with the tools they need to launch and thrive. “I struggled with my first few businesses and learned along the way,” de Ayala says. “I had always wished I had had a mentor or someone to guide me while launching and growing each business.” Then, once de Ayala reached a place of entrepreneurial success, she paid it forward and committed to helping women launch and grow their businesses and networks with one another.
For those currently struggling with their businesses, de Ayala says now is the time to take a step back. “Review, regroup, and pivot into a scalable business model, and one that has multiple streams of revenue,” she explains. “Look to see what’s working, what’s not working, where your passion and talent hold steady and start to think outside of the box when it comes to providing services and/or products that fit all of those components.”
Tips for Launching a New Business Right Now
For those still eager to launch, despite the lingering pandemic, de Ayala offers a handful of helpful tips to guide your new venture:
• Create a focus group: Gather a group of just 3 to 5 people that are in your ideal market/demographic and pitch them your idea, the purpose, your intention, and price points. This is a great way to edit, tweak, or revamp your business idea prior to investing a ton of money, time, and energy.
• Do your research: Check out domains, social media handles, and competitors. Spend time researching what’s out there, currently, and how you stand apart from the crowd.
• Consider your investment: Create time blocks on the hours you will spend on launch and development, along with determining how much money you have to invest. Then, create a schedule with those two components in conjunction with your 6-month, 12-month, and 3-year plan. Will you work on weekends? Are you going to create a budget with your current savings? Spend time thinking and committing to the amount of energy and funds you are ready to invest.
• Create a marketing plan: Whether you hire a freelancer or do it yourself, come up with a marketing plan and strategy on how you will launch and get the numbers needed that are reflective of your short-term and long-term plans.
• Keep it simple: Instead of attempting to capture everyone’s attention with the desire to sell to every single person, keep your eye on your goals, keep your messaging and branding on point, and above all, keep your offerings uncomplicated.
Still, if you are worried about the stress associated with doing it all on your own, don’t be afraid to delegate. “Most new business owners are scared to hire for a lack of funds and trust,” says de Ayala. “In order to be successful, you will need to hire and delegate. You may be able to fill all the roles all the time at the start, but this will exhaust you, and you will only grow so far.” Unless you only want to run your own business for 1 to 2 years, de Ayala strongly encourages you to seek out the right candidates to assist with your business.
As for networking, stay plugged in online. The beautiful thing about networking online is you can do more than you ever could in real life, and from the comfort of your home office,” de Ayala says. Join networking groups that are hosting virtual events, as well as online communities. “Create your own, too!” de Ayala exclaims. “Join LinkedIn and Facebook groups, comment, share, and make friends. Always come from the point of view of being in service for others through the outreach and shares that you post, and business will find its way to you.”