Community Impact Conversations: Central Texas business owners discuss navigating pandemic

Entrepreneurs Amy Simmons, Bobby Jenkins, JT McCormick, Scott Click and Conni Reed joined Community Impact Newspaper founder John Garrett to discuss ongoing struggles, changes and lessons from the pandemic.
Entrepreneurs Amy Simmons, Bobby Jenkins, JT McCormick, Scott Click and Conni Reed joined Community Impact Newspaper founder John Garrett to discuss ongoing struggles, changes and lessons from the pandemic.

Entrepreneurs Amy Simmons, Bobby Jenkins, JT McCormick, Scott Click and Conni Reed joined Community Impact Newspaper founder John Garrett to discuss ongoing struggles, changes and lessons from the pandemic.

Throughout the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, business owners and employers across Central Texas have continued to adjust practices to safely offer services while keeping employees healthy and limiting the economic impacts.

Amy Simmons, the founder of Amy’s Ice Creams—which operates 15 retail ice cream parlors in Austin, Houston and San Antonio—said revenue for the business has been down 70% as her stores closed their dine-in options due to safety restrictions and focused on takeout and delivery. However, with some of those restrictions set to lift May 1, Simmons said the company would allow its stores again to open to customers following mandatory 25% capacity restrictions.

"I'm in [the business] because [it's] all about the relationships with the employees and the customers, so how do we do that now and balance safety and all the economic needs?" she said. "I realized that, no, you can't make it on [25% capacity] but it's a really wonderful way to practice a safer parameters to how we can get open and still keep people safe."

Simmons spoke during an online roundtable discussion with five other Central Texas entrepreneurs about how to navigate the pandemic as a business owner and community members. The discussion was part of the Community Impact Conversations series, which was hosted by Community Impact Newspaper on April 28.

Retail shops, such as Amy’s Ice Creams and Tomlinson’s Feed, have had to learn to adapt during the pandemic to reach customers and keep employees safe.

Tomlinson’s owner Scott Click said during the discussion that through the pandemic, the business’s online sales have increased from about 6% of sales to over 40%. To accommodate the different needs for customers and employees during the pandemic, many of his staff have transitioned from in-store work to delivery and have been filling orders for same-day delivery locally.

Keeping connected with a community of customers and product producers and retailers has also been important, according to Conni Reed, the founder and CEO of Texas fashion and lifestyle brand Consuela. Consuela is available in 600 retailers, most of which have not been allowed to operate during the pandemic.

She said after seeing in-store sales go from 40% of profits to 0% in March, online retail has helped support the business in April. The response has shown that the connections she makes with customers and stores have held strong during the pandemic.

With business set to reopen May 1, she said she is excited about offering the products again in stores. Additionally, Consuela will be offering its products on sale to retailers to help businesses that carry the products generate revenue again.

Businesses outside of the retail world have also had to adjust, whether providing in-person services to customers or switching office operations to working at home.

Bobby Jenkins, the president and owner of ABC Home and Commercial Services—which has offices in cities including Austin, San Antonio and College Station—said that as an essential business under coronavirus restrictions, the company has continued to provide services to customers, including yard work, plumbing, and heating and air conditioning repairs.

However, ABC employees have had to take additional precautions when entering a customer’s home for repairs or other work, he said. Those include frequent wellness checks with staff to make sure they are healthy, sourcing for medical masks and gloves to use at all times, and making sure customers are comfortable. Office employees in the company have also shifted to working from home.

“My business has been affected a great deal,” Jenkins said. “We have been pretty blessed, though, that early on our services were deemed essential services, but we have been operating completely differently.”

JT McCormick, the president and CEO of book publishing company Scribe Media, said revenue at the company were down in March as the pandemic reached Central Texas. However, he said as people adjusted to stay-in-place orders, revenue began to normalize, and April looks to be less than 2% down compared to normal.

McCormick also said his staff are eager to get back to the office once safety concerns improve regarding the pandemic.

The biggest piece of feedback we've been getting with everyone working remote, everyone misses being in the office,” he said. “For our culture and our company, we can't beat."

For Jenkins, he said the pandemic has taught him that much of his staff at ABC can successfully work from home or remotely. He said his staff is discussing possibilities to allow, or even encourage, employees to work out of the office some days, and are gathering feedback about how the company can operate more remotely, not only in the coming months, but long term.

“My problem is I love seeing everyone. I love the team being together, the family feel, the camaraderie; all of that matters to me a great deal,” Jenkins said. “And yet, I also understand that if somebody lives an hour or 45 minutes from the office and they fight traffic to get here, that's not fun. So we are going to change our model. I don't know exactly what it's going to look like, but we'll come up with something that I really believe will ultimately make ABC a better company, make it a better place to work and that our people will enjoy the process even more than they have in the past."


Travis County has added 3,069 new confirmed cases over the past week from July 6-12. (Community Impact Staff)
Travis County adds 3,069 new coronavirus cases over past week

Travis County has added 3,069 new confirmed cases over the past week from July 6-12.

A sign directs voters inside Ridgetop Elementary School in North Central Austin. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
11.8% of voters in Travis County have voted early since June 29, exceeding 2018 primary numbers

More than 97,000 Travis County residents have voted in person or by mail. The turnout far surpassed the combined early and Election Day totals in the 2018 primary run-off election.

A photo of the potential Tesla property
Travis County updates Tesla incentive package, pushing for $1 billion-plus investment from the company

Poised for a possible July 13 vote, Travis County has released a refined incentives structure proposal with electric carmaker Tesla.

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced in a June 30 State Board of Education meeting that students will be taking the STAAR in the 2020-21 school year. (Courtesy Pixabay)
Education organizations call for STAAR requirements to be waived another year

Gov. Greg Abbott waived the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, testing requirements in March of earlier this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

With a clinical background in internal, pulmonary and critical care medicine, Corry has been with BCM for 20 years. He now focuses primarily on inflammatory lung diseases, such as asthma and smoking-related chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. (Graphic by Ronald Winters/Community Impact Newspaper)
Q&A: Baylor College of Medicine's Dr. David Corry discusses immunity, vaccine production amid COVID-19 pandemic

Rapid development and distribution of a vaccine worldwide and successful achievement of herd immunity will be key players in determining the lifespan of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Dr. David Corry, a professor of Medicine in the Immunology, Allergy and Rheumatology Section at Baylor College of Medicine.

The building would be used as a 15,000-square-foot real estate office near Stearns Lane. (Site plan courtesy Townbridge Homes)
New office building could be headed to W. Hwy. 290 in South Austin

The building would be used as a 15,000 square-foot real estate office near Stearns Lane.

Gourdough's filed for bankruptcy June 23. The South Lamar brick-and-mortar location and its food truck both remain open. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
South Lamar donut spot Gourdough's files for bankruptcy

Court documents show that the owners of Gourdough's poured $1.79 million into a San Antonio location that opened in 2019.

The new partnership will provide on-site, same-day testing and results for assisted-living facility staff and their residents. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
State announces partnership for increased COVID-19 testing for patients, staff at assisted-living facilities, nursing homes

These test sites will help the state work toward the goal of processing up to 100,000 tests in the first month.

The city of Austin has sent three samples of algae from Lady Bird Lake to The University of Texas to test them for toxins. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
University of Texas researchers will test Lady Bird Lake algae for harmful toxins

Last summer, five dogs died in Lady Bird Lake after coming into contact with the toxic blue-green algae.

Former Cedar Park Police Department Chief Sean Mannix is pictured in this 2015 file photo. (Community Impact Newspaper file photo)
Cedar Park police chief moves to Burnet, driver's license offices reopen: Most popular news this week from Central Texas

Read the most popular Central Texas news from the past week on Community Impact Newspaper's website.

A photo of Del Valle ISD's Cardinal stadium
Del Valle ISD approves Tesla incentives, paving way for possible Travis County agreement

The school district's July 9 vote could yield Tesla around $46.4 million in tax abatements if the company chooses Travis County as its next factory site.