When the pandemic hit, these West Michigan companies pivoted to survive and thrive, while also helping their community.
It’s easy to say positive things about a community during the “good times,” when the economy is thriving, job opportunities are flourishing and people from all over are moving into the area to get a taste of all it has to offer.>
When hardships present themselves, this is not always the case, and some communities fall into a state of disarray.>
When talking about the Muskegon Lakeshore area during the COVID-19 outbreak, however, positivity remains a part of their story, as businesses and residents showed great resiliency during unprecedented challenges. Businesses across the region pivoted to adapt to the changing circumstances.
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Adapting in Muskegon, MI
Allen Serio, chief marketing officer for Wonderland Distilling Co. in Muskegon, MI, says the business was, in essence, baptized by fire. While it started its production in 2018, the company was forced into survival mode due to restrictions placed by the state government.
Serio says they spent most of 2018 and 2019 building their facilities, and when the pandemic hit, they already had the production space built out, but that was only part of their plans.
“In January 2020, we got our building permits for the cocktail bar, and we started building the space out,” he says. “We only had about 60 days of build-out time before the pandemic hit. And during that time, they considered construction nonessential.
“So, the retail aspect to the company had to halt because we couldn’t build out our cocktail bar. We had equipment ready to go, we had bottles and we had staff, but we couldn’t get it to the retailer.”
Shifting Gears to Help Community
Sometimes when life hands you lemons, you have to make proverbial lemonade. In this case, it was hand sanitizer.
Wonderland Distilling was tapped by two government agencies to shift production and make this high-demand product. They answered the call, investing in the various tools and vessels to make medical-grade hand sanitizer, but there was one issue: They didn’t have a distribution system in place. Still, they managed to come up with a solution.
“So, my wife and I would stand in our parking lot at the production facility on Friday mornings and distribute sanitizer to fire trucks and police officers and doctors and everybody else who needed it,” Serio says. “And that was literally the first product we sold as a company â€” in our parking lot during the pandemic in March. That’s how Wonderland got its start.”
Offering Family-style Meals
Also in the hospitality business, Los Amigos Mexican Bar & Grill on East Sherman Boulevard in Muskegon faced similar challenges related to COVID-19 restrictions. Owner Ana Olson says they changed up the menu a bit, offered more family-style meals and focused their efforts on customer retention.
She says they also went the extra mile with upping the ante on health and safety practices, especially as demand for catering orders returned.
“We went through a very extensive training program with our employees,” she says. “It was important to us that we communicate that to the customer.”
Speaking of customers, Olson says she’s grateful for the patrons who continue to support them. She looks forward to the day when they can operate as usual, but, in the meantime, her top priority is keeping people safe.
Finding Success Online
Ashley Cooper owns and operates Harris & Willow boutique, a retail shop in Muskegon that carries women’s apparel and accessories. Though only open three weeks prior to having to shut down, she says they’ve managed to weather the COVID-19 storm.
Cooper says having an e-commerce presence in place prior to the onset of the crisis worked in her favor. Customers were able to safely shop online, and she had revenue coming in when other brick-and-mortar-only stores did not.
“I had (that piece) in place maybe six months before the shutdown, which I feel very grateful for, she says. “I know a lot of people had to hustle and create an online store right when it happened. I can’t imagine throwing that into the mix, as well. That, along with my really gracious landlord, are the two things that carried me through the pandemic.”
Producing Safety Solutions
These two Michigan-based companies quickly pivoted to provide products to help keep people safe:
FÅmcore: To better protect students and teachers during the COVID-19 outbreak, FÅmcore, a Muskegon company that specializes in soft seating, developed a clear acrylic tabletop shield. The shield is free-standing, and its lightweight design makes it easily portable. Plus, the acrylic allows for unobstructed visibility, making it easy to interact with others face to face.
Rolar Products: CNC manufacturing company Rolar Products, based in Muskegon, serves both local and international customers, providing castings and other materials. When COVID-19 hit in 2020, Rolar shut down for only two days, as its team began producing parts for cleaning pumps that apply disinfectants to help kill the COVID-19 virus.
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