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Life can change in an instant. The routine day-to-day tasks that we take for granted can stop, shift, or end abruptly. There are no guarantees. The COVID-19 pandemic that started in 2020, and will continue into 2021, has forced many Buffalo business owners to completely re-think, re-design, or re-imagine their businesses and strategies. These shifts, dramatic changes made to one’s business and livelihood, are called pivots.
A pivot can be the way in which a good or service is delivered. It may be a change of focus from retail to manufacturing. It may be simplifying or solidifying a business’s offerings to the core essentials. It might utilize digital platforms to replace face to face contact and instruction. New skills can be learned, and old ways of doing things may be left behind. There can also be an optimization in a pivot.
The Project Best Life team spoke with three local businesses about how they have had to change or evolve their business this year. Some of these changes were in motion well before the pandemic, and others were made necessary because of it. Regardless, these local organizations have forever evolved their business, creating new ways of operating, interacting, and providing goods and services to their customers, who in turn have also embraced these changes.
As a light appears at the end of the tunnel, with Erie County currently above a vaccination rate of 17%, there is hope that businesses can begin to find a “new normal” for their operations. Project Best Life recognizes the hardships brought about because of the pandemic, but we also celebrate these stories of perseverance, innovation, and courage.
Dr. Sarah Lowry, of Day Six Veterinary Service, has made many pivots in her life. She was a large animal veterinarian in WNY until 2018 when her family relocated to South America. She came back to Buffalo in 2019 and started Day Six Veterinary Services, a mobile veterinary clinic that brings animal care directly to her clients in their home.
Day Six Veterinary Services focus on animal welfare and comfort, and specialize in animal medicine for both small and large animals. Services include health checks, vaccinations, acupuncture, end of life care such as in home animal hospice, palliative care, and euthanasia services.
Due to the shutdown in March of 2020, pet owners were prevented from being in-person with their pets at Veterinary clinics. “All of the sudden, having one person come to their home in a mask became a very attractive option, and my phone started ringing off the hook.”
The reality of the pandemic means that more people are working from home, “busy people don’t look at their animals as much as people who are sitting home all day. People are catching illnesses in their pets so much sooner. When I stepped away from farming, I was worried I wouldn’t have close relationships… but I am finding I will have longer, more lasting relationships.”
Dr. Lowry’s successful practice did not come without challenges. “I knew a lot about medicine, but I knew nothing about being the boss.” However, the dramatic success of Day Six Veterinary Services shows that a pivot can inspire positive change, growth, and learning.
When asked to offer advice to those making a pivot, Dr. Lowry shared with us, “You have to look at your life and decide what makes you happy. It’s super scary… but you don’t not do it. Scary doesn’t mean stopping.”
Day Six Vet | DrSarah@daysixvet.com | 716-697-5950
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Founded in 1972, Theatre of Youth Company, Inc. (TOY) is a theater company that presents relevant, child-centered, and professionally-produced live theater and educational programming. Pre-pandemic, TOY produced 5-6 full productions per season along with complimentary educational programming; which meant they were producing up to 25 performances per week.
When the shutdown occurred, TOY had only performed one public performance of the theatricalized version of the S. E. Hinton novel, The Outsiders. Unable to gather audiences in their theater space, TOY had to immediately think of ways to pivot their programming and offerings. How could one pivot essentially a live art form, theatre, into a digital realm?
Tracy Snyder, Interim-Executive Director, told us happily that TOY made the pivot into a digital landscape with aplomb, “we are doing things we never thought we would be doing!” Snyder said enthusiastically, “TOY is teaching classes and presenting shows online…We are blessed with actors and teaching artists who are willing to be flexible. Parents [have been] excited to have their kid interact with other kids playfully. I have learned a lot from people in my field and am continuing to be open. We are having an interactive musical, and it really is a magical experience.”
Recently they collaborated with Second Generation Theatre Company to co-produce an interactive musical entitled, Once Upon a Time, which closed February 28. TOY has also re-mounted their production of The Outsiders, which has been professionally filmed and will be streamed on a digital platform.
“In the fall, we followed all re-opening procedures and filmed The Outsiders. The actors knocked it out of the park… And to give more people, the public, and schools more access to this piece is incredible. We can invite audiences to watch it in a new way, that is fresh and dynamic.”
Snyder is committed to the mission of TOY, “children need us, and we need them. We need to foster creativity, and mindfulness, and to help nurture children as they grow. The theater will find a way, we are magic makers. I don’t think digital is going anywhere, I think it is going to stay and be a factor in upcoming programming. I also know that you can never replace face-to-face experiences either. It is my goal to get to a place where we can have both experiences. We will rise above this and be better for it.”
The Outsiders tickets are available from March 5-19 and can be purchased at theatreofyouth.org.
Renew Bath and Body is an all-natural bath and body skin care and makeup shop located on Elmwood Ave near Delevan. Several years ago, Renew’s owner, Tom Akers, left the world of restaurant franchise to start Renew Bath & Body because of a life-long passion for organic skin care. The business, Akers said, “was a natural fit. And I named it ‘Renew’ because it was a renewal of my life, along with my business and professional life.”
After Akers successfully made the pivot into the skincare business, he decided to start to manufacture his own products.
“We launched our product line back in 2019, but we kind of did it in a small way. Everybody was talking about being plastic free and being sustainable and eco-friendly. Personal care is one of the worst offenders for plastic. I started investigating being eco-friendly, and sustainable packaging. And in January of 2020, we thought, “Wow 2020 is going to be a great year,’ let’s buy all this machinery and actually not only start manufacturing for us, but for other companies.”
But once the pandemic hit, Akers could no longer keep his storefront open as it always had been, “I was a little nervous about how long they were saying we were going to be closed, and then by June, I was like, not only how am I going to make it, but also, how are some of these other small businesses going to survive? The immediate change we made was to start to focus on online sales. Now, you can actually pick up anything that you want online, where before you couldn’t.”
Renew Bath and Body has successfully launched their online platform, as well as shifted the focus of his business. “I have a passion for clean products and sustainable packaging. While we are on lockdown, I was putting more energy into the manufacturing and in building relationships for the manufacturing end, so we became a preferred co-packer for the water soluble film, and now they are sending us leads, so we’re co-packing, co-branding, and manufacturing for other product lines, that we never would have been in touch with had it not been for the pandemic…. Because I would have been focused on the store… It heightened my focus.”
When asked about his business pivots, Akers said, “ It seems cliché but change is good, and sometimes you are forced with making a change that you aren’t comfortable with, but change is good. Trust your instincts.”
The Renew Bath and Body storefront is now open, and stocked with their own custom products with Akers and his team taking every precaution to sanitize in between each customer. Renew Bath and Body is still offering customer pickups, and will ship products via USPS.
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In tough times, our efforts to maintain fitness, healthy nutrition, and personal wellness can fall by the wayside as we direct all our energy into navigating our individual storm. Yet, in the face of what’s happening in the world around us, it is essential to make space for self-care and experiences that fortify our physical and mental wellbeing.
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Trying to manage a proper work-life balance, saving for your future while paying all your bills, all while keeping strong relationships with friends and family… We know that life can get pretty stressful, and it’s easy to forget what’s best for your health both physically and mentally. Project Best Life is here to help with our podcast: Happy and Healthy. We provide tips from experts and share stories that will inspire you to live your best life, whatever that means to you. Listen now on Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google