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At the Colorado Springs Relax the Back store, owners are trying to find new ways to get customers inside. After weeks of waiting the doors are finally unlocked and the open sign is on once again.
“We were having a great month before things slowed down and came to a screeching halt,” owner Jeannette Graham said.
She and her husband bought the store, a warehouse, and two more shops in the Denver area in 2008 right when the recession began. She says they didn’t know any better back then about navigating these types of difficult times, but this is a whole other ballgame.
“For us in the beginning, a lot of things are made in China and supply was shortened, or we were having longer wait times for certain products,” Graham said.
But then the pandemic hit here and their store had to close. Like many other small businesses their biggest issue was needing to make money today to pay yesterday’s bills. As a shop specializing in health and wellness items to make people more comfortable, they couldn’t make money off purchases such as to-go orders.
“We started reaching out to people we owe money to and asked 'can you wait?' Try to work with those people and see if they’ll wait. That’s what we’re all doing. We’re all waiting,” Graham said.
She said a lot of people worked with them and with some others they just tried to pay what they could. The Grahams laid off their dozen or so employees and immediately enrolled for several programs and received the federal Paycheck Protection Program loan.
“The interesting thing is the clock starts the minute the loan is approved. So we’re paying employees not to work,” she said.
Having their shops and a warehouse in different jurisdictions added another lay of stress, but they say things have been pretty cohesive in the Springs.
“As we all get ready to reopen in different phases we’re dealing with multiple municipalities, the Governor says on thing, the mayor or health department says something else. Colorado Springs seems to be all on the same page,” Graham said.
While closed, they did phone consultations and sold a little bit online. They saw an increased need for home office supplies as many working from home now realize, it’s not as comfortable as you might think. “A lot of people working from home are realizing the couch is not an office chair. It might be comfortable for maybe 20 minutes, but not for 8 hours.”
Now that they’re back open the concern is, how does a specialty shop thrive in this market?
“We’ve had a lot of sleepless nights thinking about how we’re going to survive. Being open gives us the chance to survive,” Graham said.
They’re keeping things even cleaner than before. They’re wearing masks, wiping down pens, sanitizing the point of sale after each purchase. They’re checking with the CDC and health departments for best practices guidelines and going a step further for their customer base which tends to skew a big older.
“We’ve been doing one-on-one appointments with people. They appreciate that they can be the only person in the store,” Graham added.
They’re also offering curbside pickup. The Grahams know they aren’t alone in this. They say they’ll continue treading water as long as they need to to get through this.
We thank the Grahams for letting us in their doors to see what they're going through.
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