The COVID-19 pandemic represents a historic challenge to small businesses like ours. Here’s how we’re responding with the help of Facebook Business. #wsjcustom
Not so long ago, Apotheosis Comics & Lounge in St. Louis, Missouri, was an epicenter of community activity. In one part of the shop, a group of veteran role-players was kicking off their weekly gaming session, while kids upstairs enjoyed the same card games their parents once played. In another corner, regulars gathered to compare notes on the week’s new releases.
The place looks different now. Reeling from an 80% revenue drop during the first month of COVID-19 shutdowns, Apotheosis was forced to transform to include an online delivery business—a pivot that meant converting parts of the shop from a warm, community-oriented space into something more like a warehouse. Tables and chairs were moved to the second floor to make room for a delivery staging area. Retail displays were taken down as inventory was alphabetized and owner Martin Casas, with the technical skills of store manager Ivan Wine, built and launched a revamped website. One early conundrum: how to deliver beer and comics in the same bag without condensation ruining the paper.
“We had to change basically every single facet of the business in order to survive, and we had to do it as quickly as possible,” Casas says. “It was ugly at the beginning, but now that we’re six months in, I think we’ve got it figured out a little bit better.” Social media has been particularly crucial to the store’s survival. Tools like Facebook Live provide an outlet for Apotheosis to connect with the community during quarantines and provide updates about the business. The platform’s audience selection tools allow Casas to reach new customers—for example, by informing parents about the shop’s educational resources—while removing the friction between someone discovering the business and making a purchase. His 10-year-old daughter even joined the effort, creating social videos promoting the shop.
Casas is one of many small business owners who have relied on social media to help weather the impact of COVID-19. He and others are finding that platforms like Facebook and Instagram can play powerful roles when it comes to staying plugged in with customers, reaching new audiences, and even delivering on radical, all-or-nothing pivots. “The tools that Facebook has made available to us are invaluable to our survival. They are what has kept us alive,” Casas says. “We’re just going to keep doing the things that we know work well, and hopefully we can make it to the finish line.”