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Lessons From the Lone Star Restart

4 min read

With Texas two weeks into a gradual reopening, and bars welcoming drinkers on May 22, the state's entrepreneurs got a head start over their peers in many other states, which are just starting to reopen. The Texas experience can help entrepreneurs everywhere know what to expect from the next phase of the Covid-19 crisis--a stage that brings both great relief and new worries. Here are some Lone Star stories. 

1. Consult the Competition.

To Jayson Rapaport, co-founder of Birds Barbershop, a chain of nine hair salons around Austin, one of the key parts of the process has been his efforts to consult with experts and other local business leaders, including competitors. After getting advice on new safety procedures from an infectious disease expert who happened to be a client, he reached out to his counterparts at several other salons, as well as store and restaurant owners. "Everyone is making decisions without knowing the outcome," he says. "So we can all work off each other." One insight from those conversations: Keep chit chat with customers to a minimum--which is out of the ordinary for a barber shop-- because even with masks, talking increases the chance that the virus will spread. 

2. Don't Rush It.

When Texas governor Greg Abbott announced on May 5 that hair salons would be able to open on May 8, Rapaport says, "we knew we wouldn't be ready. We felt the protection wouldn't be in place to be able to confidently greet even the most nervous customers, so we didn't open until 10 days later." Two months with no revenue had burned through the company's savings--"We were at risk of not making it," Rapaport says--but the founders knew that making a good first impression was more important than rushing to open. "Just because the government says you can open, don't do it until you are ready. Your PPE order gets canceled or delayed? Don't open. Don't cut any corners. Wait for the guidelines, and then try to surpass them."  

Embrace Change. "The magic word is pivot," says Ally Davidson, co-founder of the Austin-based fitness bootcamp company Camp Gladiator. "If your business hasn't changed or pivoted in some way in the past eight weeks, you are not keeping up with what's going on." For Camp Gladiator, the product offering--in-person group fitness classes--became impossible as soon as the coronavirus lockdown began in March. The company started offering virtual workout classes via Zoom and recruited 20,000 new members--while retaining 97 percent of its existing customers. Now that business is re-opening, the company has decided its new product is here to stay. Says Davidson: "The world has changed. You have to find a way to embrace that change and make yourself more accessible, more in tune with what customers need. You can't sit back on your heels and wait to go back to normal, because there might not be a back to normal." 

3. Embrace Change. 

Paul Allen, founder of Dallas-based accounting consultancy Embark, has always prided himself on creating a people-first corporate culture...

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