The year started out looking pretty promising to Loic Le Garrec, owner of Boston’s Petit Robert Bistro. Mild winter weather in Boston had led to stronger-than-average performances in January and February, and Le Garrec told Karen Webster in a digital discussion that as March approached, he had every reason for optimism.
“I was expecting a huge spring season,” Le Garrec said. “It's always a big time for us.”
And then COVID-19 happened, and Le Garrec, like thousands of Main Street entrepreneurs nationwide, found his good year flipped into a not-so-good year as he was forced to close his doors, and start power-pivoting to keep his business alive and funds flowing into his coffers.
“It’s a different business that we had to adapt to, and we have had to push every day and find ways to do new things to ‘seduce’ people,” Le Garrec said. “Every week we have a special menu that we deliver on the weekend, and that’s when we work the most. We have three, four cars and we deliver. I actually drove around town myself delivering food and it’s not so fun ... but we get to see our customers and they’re helping us out a lot.”
And while not every Main Street entrepreneur PYMNTS spoke to actually started doing deliveries, nearly all of the dozens PYMNTS has interviewed in the last half-year had a similar story to tell. They started 2020 with high hopes and big plans, found themselves brought up short by the near-total economic shutdown of mid-March and were forced to pivot post-haste to stay in the game at all.
They went online or beefed up their digital offerings, they moved to offering curbside delivery for goods ordered digitally, their delivery services exploded, parking lots were turned into dining rooms and service providers like hairdressers started making house calls. Doing it differently, doing it digitally and doing it better became recurring themes for the small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and entrepreneurs PYMNTS interviewed this spring as they pushed through the acute pandemic period toward a much-anticipated eventual recovery.
“We know we do have to change our thinking about the long term. How are we going to change as things go along? We don’t know what the next step is in some cases. So we [are] just doing the best we can,” Bob Wong, third-generation owner of the iconic Kowloon Restaurant in the greater Boston area, told PYMNTS in a recent conversation.
And that new best does appear to be making a difference for SMBs. The PYMNTS Main Street’s Six-Month Checkpoint survey of Main Street merchants indicates that attitudes about their futures have improved since PYMNTS first started surveying Main Street SMBs in mid-March. Fifty-four percent of all SMBs now say they feel confident that they will be able to stay open through the end of the pandemic, up from 42 percent who said the same in the earliest days of the pandemic, according to the latest data. But digging down into that data a bit takes some of the shine off of the improved outlook.
Improved financial stability was the major booster for merchant confidence, according to the study. PYMNTS data found 24 percent of SMBs report their financial situation has improved since two weeks into the pandemic, 65 percent of SMBs say their finances have gone largely unchanged and 12 percent say their financial situations have deteriorated since then. And many of those firms that reported feeling financial stability now, the data showed, were also feeling pretty darn stable at the outset of the pandemic. PYMNTS’ survey shows that 69 percent of the SMBs saying they are not at risk of closing now were already sure they would be able to stay open when the pandemic began.
For those who started out the pandemic deeply worried about their future, the situation, unfortunately, does not seem to have turned around. The survey found 58 percent of Main Street SMBs that were sure they would not survive the pandemic in March currently report their finances have not improved and their businesses are still at risk of closing. Another 12 percent say their financial situation has improved, but not enough to remove the risk of closure.
Taken together, the data is pretty clear — the outlook of many Main Street SMBs appears to be improving, but the bad news is the cash crunch remains a lingering headwind forestalling the segment’s progress on the road to recovery. As data indicates, faster payments technology has the potential to alleviate that headwind in part, if not in total, for SMBs if (and only if) the merchants of Main Street really understand the options out there for them.
Read more in PYMNTS' Alleviating the Main Street Cash Crunch.