Advice to help small businesses make ends meet

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – John Rivers is the owner of four Central Florida restaurants including 4 Rivers Smokehouse, which has become a well-known success.

Just like most businesses, Rivers said the coronavirus had a huge impact on his bottom line.

“We had our strongest sales to start off the year, and overnight, we were down to 40%,” Rivers said.

He said he quickly changed his business model and cut back, to be able to rehire some of his employees while helping the community. He shared four pieces of advice for small business owners who are trying to make ends meet.

1. Create a new business model

“You have to pivot quickly and reduce your burn-rate, lowering your expenses on a day-to-day basis. That’s going to mean some tough decisions. Survivability of the brand, it’s not about profit right now,” Rivers said.

He said it’s about bringing in enough profit to keep the lights on and to keep as many people employed as possible.

Rivers changed his business model to include a grocery market, virtual pop-up drive-thru and partnered with local school districts and hospitals to create and distribute emergency meal kits.

“We pulled back enough of the previous revenue to be able to rehire over 200 of our staff members and give them jobs again,” Rivers said.

With the dining rooms of his restaurants closed, Rivers said they had more toilet paper than they needed, so they started selling it along with other grocery items in a grocery market set up outside the restaurants. He said toilet paper is his number one seller right now.

2. Be flexible

“What you can’t do is sit back and wait for business to get back to normal because it’s going to be months,” Rivers said.

Rivers said he used his experience in business development to cater to the needs of the community while making a profit. 4 Rivers started a family meal delivery program. They cook and deliver family-style meals even thinking outside of the box, offering lasagna and chicken Parmesan. If you’re wondering, 4 Rivers doesn’t usually have those items on their menu.

3. Live your mission

Rivers says he is using his business as a platform to help others. 4 Rivers is working with local school districts to create meals for students to take home so they don’t go hungry. The company is also working with nursing homes to deliver meals for seniors who are one of the most vulnerable groups during this pandemic.

“I’m having more fun and I’m more energized than I have been in years. It’s one thing living your mission day-to-day because it’s embedded in the business. But it’s another thing when it’s called on because it’s necessary.”

Rivers says finding new ways to give back is giving him a new sense of motivation and energy even during this tough time.

4. Emergency loans are “temporary lifesavers”

Rivers also wants to remind small business owners to have a plan for paying back those landlords and utility companies that may have pushed back payments. Many state and federal agencies are offering emergency loan programs that will eventually need to be paid back.

“There’s a false expectation that one day one of opening back up, the business will be at 100%. If you’re still operating at 60%, you can’t also take on the deferred expenses,” said Rivers.

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