PRINCETON, NJ November 3, 2020 – Since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, New Zealand Prime Minister (PM) Jacinda Ardern’s messages to national citizens have focused on remote communication, social distancing and flexible work scheduling. During the pandemic, small businesses in New Jersey are adopting Governor Phil Murphy’s guidelines and mirroring some of PM Ardern’s actions to reduce risk.
Coronavirus guidance has changed societal routines, from eating at favorite local restaurants to safe shopping procedures, presenting obstacles for business owners and customers alike. After months of grappling with COVID-19, New Jersey remains among states most affected by the pandemic. As of October 27, NJ.GOV reports over 230,000 total cases and over 14,000 deaths resulting from the virus, with recent spikes in select counties. Three of New Jersey’s small organizations are adjusting to coronavirus challenges.
An advocate for innovative businesses in central New Jersey, Einstein’s Alley is a private, non-profit regional economic development initiative fostering economic growth through services that help build an entrepreneurship ecosystem. Based in Princeton, Executive Director Katherine Kish, similar to the New Zealand PM, is optimistic about the capacity of small businesses to adapt to working remotely, convinced that previous skepticism about remote work has changed because it has been proven effective. “Are we losing productivity having people work remotely at least part of the time? How much time can we save by not having to commute or fly? Whole new patterns for selling are emerging not requiring traveling. Perhaps we will only expect employees to visit an office one day a week. Businesses are realizing how much work was redundant because of in-person communications.” Kish is concerned that “We are going to see more and more employees let go, some permanently.”
Kish believes that “Technology is an incredibly productive player in this time, and most businesses need to find creative ways to downsize efficiently and humanely.” Kish adds “Everyone knows how important it is to hold hands with people, to maintain contact, but what do we do with our office space? How much do we need to keep? Some businesses had maybe 20,000 feet, now they only need 2,000, one-tenth the space, yielding ‘stranded assets’”.
The employee and real estate concerns from Einstein’s Alley parallel the experiences of Bean & Bean, located in Fort Lee. A self-described “Mother-Daughter Coffee Team”, Bean & Bean is a multi-location cafe business serving hot coffee and specialty teas. “This has been a learning experience for the entire family,” remarks Jiyoon Han, coffee specialist and daughter of the company’s owners.
Han believes the greatest coronavirus challenge has been “adapting to the new normal”. Similar to New Zealand PM Ardern’s embrace of remote communication platforms, Bean & Bean has launched an online shop in response to limited in-person sales. “We needed to make a speedy pivot to internet sales,” says Han. The coffee company’s webpage now features freshly roasted coffee beans, cold brew bags and gift sets available for online purchase. The COVID-19 crisis revealed the business’s role as a community leader. To support frontline workers, Bean & Bean launched the “Send a Cup” initiative, a crowd-funded program that supplies quality coffee beverages to hospital staff caring for patients affected by the virus.
A third New Jersey small enterprise, Crothers Consulting, a Princeton public relations and strategic communication practice, has experienced similar growth challenges during the pandemic. Crothers Consulting President Maxwell C. Pollock, who previously led a tea-importing startup from $50,000 to $1.4mil dollars a year in sales as trader then director, outlines challenges experienced as an innovative agency.
An admirer of New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern’s successful social distancing “bubble” strategy, Pollock remarks, “In New Zealand, if you don’t wear a mask or social distance, other citizens may report you to authorities. In New Jersey, remote correspondence has changed the game. Businesses were already increasing online audience engagement, but now we’re in hyper-speed. So we’re laser-focused on repurposing digital analytics tools to help clients win.”
Founded in July 2020, the strategic communication agency offers services such as press release writing, branded narrative surveys, instant event polls and news syndication to increase client visibility and search engine optimization. Forecasting challenges on the virus horizon, Pollock says, “Companies will be forced to assess needs versus wants. What positions should be contracted instead of salaried? What business services should be promoted in an uncertain market? These tough questions are faced by businesses throughout New Jersey; modern technology solutions and strategic marketing are the way forward.”
Under PM Jacinda Ardern’s leadership, New Zealand organized one of the world’s most effective lockdowns. To date, the island nation of 5 million has experienced a record low death toll of 25. Ardern won mid-October’s reelection in a landslide.
Einstein’s Alley is a non-profit organization that encourages entrepreneurial growth and attracts innovative research-based companies in central New Jersey. Bean & Bean is a family-run cafe company that offers hot coffee and specialty teas. Crothers Consulting is a Princeton-based strategic marketing and communication solutions enterprise.