The Business Monthly connects with businesses to inquire how they are faring during the pandemic. April 2021 features members of the Central Maryland Chamber.
As employees of an information technology (IT) firm, the 10-person team at Ellicott City’s Epoch Inc. has always had the ability to telecommute.
They’re also “essential workers and have had to visit various clients’ offices during the past year,” said Chris Riismandel, owner.
Last year was busy.
“We did twice the work in 2020 as in 2019, but for similar revenue. This was because we helped many existing clients transition to home securely,” Riismandel said, adding, Epoch still “added a few clients.”
The overall results had a bright side.
“All of our clients are still in business, which is fantastic,” he said, “especially considering that after the real estate crash in 2008, many businesses did not survive. I think many people learned valuable lessons after that event and they applied those lessons to this current crisis.”
Those lessons extended to Epoch, too.
“We’ve learned that, when business gets turned upside-down, the value of IT is never more important. It’s been inspiring to see how our clients have adapted to the market,” said Riismandel, “and as COVID-19 winds down, I think businesses will be ready to pop.”
For a business that involves clients inhaling salty air, COVID-19 was a spicy challenge.
Karen Schembari and Lindsay Dively, partners at Salt on Main, off of Main Street in Laurel, had just opening in November 2019 after a year of promotion.
Said Schembari, “The good news is that we didn’t lose much income, simply because we hadn’t generated much business. We had three great initial months but now we’re starting at the bottom of the ocean again.”
The business’s signature service is dry salt therapy, during which pharmaceutical-grade salt is ground and distributed through a halogenerator.
“It’s hygroscopic, which is great for inflamed bronchial passages. It’s a dry version of what a Neti pot does.” said Schembari. “It’s also good for skin conditions.”
Salt on Main reopened last June as business began to trickle back in. “We wore masks, socially distanced and staggered appointments and group salt sessions consisted of four people. instead of eight,” she said.
So far Saturdays are busy and the partners are optimistic, and perhaps a bit grateful.
“If we’d been more established,” said Schembari, “the shutdown would have hurt us even more.”
During the pandemic, contact tracing was important and executives at Maryland Innovation Center (MIC) resident rfidCollect collaborated with Joget and Mokxa to create a safety monitoring system based on contact notifications.
NOTIFY, recently released, “records worker interactions and provides alerts to those who would have been exposed,” said Tim Buckley, rfidCollect vice president, noting a demo of the product was just unveiled at the MIC.
He’s said its drawing interest from state and local government, prisons, pharmaceutical companies and other concerns.
Buckley, who said the company took out a Small Business Administration (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), said the product works via employee name badges and standard Bluetooth space technology.
“We took the existing hardware we’d been using to support our core customers and combined it with software from Joget and Mokxa to make it easier for companies to resume working in their usual spaces.
NOTIFY can be installed in a day for as little as $1 per day, per worker.
Like many new products and services, it came to be due to necessity.
“The MIC asked us to pivot,” he said. “Since we couldn’t make personal protective equipment, we did what we could do. That was to offer an alert system that can be used at virtually any company where workers interact.”
A year ago, Alex Ray was moving right along with his business, offering online fitness and nutrition training out of his Annapolis home. Then COVID-19 hit and he had to shift – but in a way that’s resulted in a more fulfilling career and life, too.
Ray, a student at Anne Arundel Community College and Ratcliffe Scholar who is also gay, had already accentuated his business approach to also include life coaching because “there was always something in a clients’ personal life that held them back from their fitness routine.”
With that knowledge, he disbanded his staff of five, helped them to redirect their business efforts, branded his new business and started marketing the LGBTQIA+ community. So far, he’s gained more than a dozen clients.
It’s paying off, too. Ray, who took out a $16,000 SBA EIDL, projects his revenues will double this year to $120,000.
“For me, the lesson of the pandemic was learning to focus on the one thing I love the most. What I’d been doing wasn’t it,” Ray said. “I’ve always wanted to help others and this is how I can. Not only am I in 100 percent, I just booked my first two paid speaking engagements with the Anne Arundel County Public Library and I also have a podcast” that streams on all platforms.
When COVID-19 hit, the Providence Center, which supports citizens with intellectual and developmental disabilities, temporarily closed its five locations, including its base in Glen Burnie (2), Arnold (2) and Millersville, except to assist the people who were essential workers in grocery stores and hospitals.
Not surprisingly, revenues dropped “about 50 percent,” said Karen Adams-Gilchrist, president and CEO. “We’re still waiting for them to recover.”
When the nonprofit reopened in July 6, it was with 54 less staff. However, the head count is now back up to 87 “and is improving every day,” said Adams-Gilchrist.
“We had to search for personal protective equipment and conduct a great deal of safety training before integrating back into the community,” she said, part of which was “setting up virtual connections by our employees for the people we support.”
Another boost to its comeback was garnering Paycheck Protection Program funds, Adams-Gilchrist said.
“We’re hopeful that as people are vaccinated we can bring more employees back. Looking ahead, we’ve learned that having a blended service delivery model is key to keeping everyone connected with staff and friends during a crisis,” she said. “That’s here to stay. We’ve been around for 60 years and we’re optimistic about the next 60.”
Mark R. Smith | Senior Writer | The Business Monthly | April 2021 Issue