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Covid-hit business owners scan changed horizon for next venture

by The Associated Press | February 23, 2021 at 1:53 a.m.
Alex Willen brings out treats for his dogs at his home, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021, in San Diego. Willen was preparing to open a dog boarding business when the pandemic hit. Willen sensed the virus outbreak wouldn't end quickly, which meant dog owners wouldn't be traveling and many would keep working at home, eliminating the need for his services. He decided to restart a business he'd shelved in favor of boarding, dog treats. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

NEW YORK -- As airlines slashed flights and furloughs appeared inevitable in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Mike Catania sensed there would be little need for a service that helped airline crews find short-term housing.

So, Catania and his fellow owners shut down Padloop in early March, even though the nearly year-old company had just broken even.

Catania started looking at how life was changing amid the pandemic and came up with the idea for his next business: Locaris, a website to help apartment renters connect with prospective neighbors to get the scoop on buildings and landlords. Because the pandemic limited people's ability to meet in person, Locaris enabled renters to get the lowdown on a building safely.

"I tried to focus on, what is covid a catalyst for? What trends is it bringing to market a couple of years ahead of schedule?" says Catania, who lives in Henderson, Nev. Locaris launched in June and quickly found success.

Some owners have started businesses similar to those they lost, or companies that fill a different role in the same industry.

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It's not known how many small businesses have failed in the pandemic, but different estimates all show devastation. Based on a projection last spring by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the number is likely well into the hundreds of thousands.

Alex Willen of San Diego was preparing to open a dog boarding business when the pandemic hit. Willen decided to give up rather than open the business and not have revenue for months, maybe longer.

Willen soon decided to restart a business he'd shelved in favor of boarding: dog treats. Willen didn't have to start at square one because he had already done some preliminary marketing and package design for the business.

Willen bakes for his two dogs, Cooper and Maple -- which gave him the idea for Cooper's Treats. He sells the treats on his website and Amazon.

"It's looking like a real business," he says.

Kathryn Valentine closed her consulting business last summer because she had lost her child-care options. With a baby and a toddler, the Atlanta-based mother couldn't work the 9-to-5 schedule followed by the apparel companies that were her clients.

She already was an expert in training women in negotiating, a skill necessary for career success. Valentine had researched the subject in business school, so she founded Worthmore Negotiations and began lining up corporate clients.

"About once a week I'll have a commitment during the day, but otherwise all my work gets done after 7 p.m.," she says. But Valentine hopes to revive her consulting business once the pandemic is over and she has child-care again. Her hope is to keep both businesses.

Alex Willen brings out treats for his dogs at his home, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021, in San Diego. Willen was preparing to open a dog boarding business when the pandemic hit. Willen sensed the virus outbreak wouldn't end quickly, which meant dog owners wouldn't be traveling and many would keep working at home, eliminating the need for his services. He decided to restart a business he'd shelved in favor of boarding, dog treats. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Alex Willen brings out treats for his dogs at his home, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021, in San Diego. Willen was preparing to open a dog boarding business when the pandemic hit. Willen sensed the virus outbreak wouldn't end quickly, which meant dog owners wouldn't be traveling and many would keep working at home, eliminating the need for his services. He decided to restart a business he'd shelved in favor of boarding, dog treats. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Alex Willen sits with his dog at his home, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021, in San Diego. Willen was preparing to open a dog boarding business when the pandemic hit. Willen sensed the virus outbreak wouldn't end quickly, which meant dog owners wouldn't be traveling and many would keep working at home, eliminating the need for his services. He decided to restart a business he'd shelved in favor of boarding, dog treats. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Alex Willen sits with his dog at his home, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021, in San Diego. Willen was preparing to open a dog boarding business when the pandemic hit. Willen sensed the virus outbreak wouldn't end quickly, which meant dog owners wouldn't be traveling and many would keep working at home, eliminating the need for his services. He decided to restart a business he'd shelved in favor of boarding, dog treats. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
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