Photo courtesy of The Wine Bin.

In our strange COVID-19 world, some businesses have been able to move forward, maybe not with the same profit margins but nonetheless with creativity and resilience. They’re changing their products, listening to their customers, and refusing to give up.

What’s their secret?

The Wine Bin: “What weird things can we do?”

A mimosa bar, a mystery cocktail kit for two, a mixed case of craft beer. Dave Carney, owner of the Wine Bin in Ellicott City, is selling them all, and he’ll even drop them in your trunk so you can safely make your transaction, then go home and have some fun in a time when fun is, well, worth a lot.

When COVID-19 brought us all to a standstill, Carney stood still only long enough to look at the already-existing e-commerce section of the Wine Bin’s website, through which he sold gift certificates. Then he asked himself the question: “What weird things can we do?”

It took him 20 minutes to convert the site to be a virtual shopping center for pickup and, more recently, delivery of “weird things,” which in this case means things people will buy.

On Easter Sunday alone, the Wine Bin sold 55 mimosa bars for $44.95 each.

What’s Carney’s secret?

Part of it is that he isn’t afraid to sell “fun” during a pandemic. (He’s using a photo of himself sitting in an antique kiddie car from 1967 to promote the mystery cocktail kit.)

But he is also seriously, intently, and consistently listening to his customers. “When people call me to ask if we have something, I will try to start making that. My online store is a reflection of what people were asking for–growlers, six bottles of wine, on up to the more elaborate kits.”

When people started asking about delivery, the Wine Bin started offering it three days a week, and now has completed more than 600 deliveries, 100 of them last Saturday alone.

Carney simply won’t sit still. “You can’t, not in this economy. You have to engage your customers. Daily,” he said.

Image360: Easing the worry a little at a time

On the floor at the grocery store, there’s a blue circle with white shoe prints. “STAND HERE,” it reads. “SOCIAL DISTANCING.” Signs like these – and they’re everywhere you go – are helping to keep us safe. But who’s making the signs?

Bill Jones and his company Image360. He’s also offering signs that say, “Open for business,” and signs that show customers how to safety approach a doorway. He’s making protective safety screens and face shields, too.

He’s keeping the lights on in his own business in the process.

“Normally, 95 percent of what we do is custom work,” Jones said. “In this case we created some new designs that we thought many of our customers would need, and we added them to the website to try and make people’s lives a little easier.”

For Image360, sales are down compared to last year at this time, “but so far it has been enough to keep the doors open and the lights on,” said Jones.

It took him about a week to set up the COVID response section of his website, and now he continually updates it to respond to the changing needs of his customers.

What keeps him going? “Besides needing to eat?” asked Jones. “I know it sounds a little cliché, but I love being able to help my customers solve at least some of their problems. It’s such a difficult time for all of us, with so many things to worry about. It’s nice to know we can help at least ease some little bit of that worry for local business owners.”

Terrapin Adventures: building relationships … one Zoom call at a time

One of the first things Matt Baker did when he was forced to close Terrapin Adventures due to COVID-19 was think about the kids – and parents – stuck at home.

Would it be possible to do at home some of the activities Terrapin Adventures offers during its popular summer camps? Enter the new series “Activities at Home,” offered for free via the Terrapin Adventures website. Wanna tie dye a shirt? Make s’mores? Or ice cream–in a bag?

Baker describes the creative series as “our attempt to stay top-of-mind and provide valuable content to parents while reminding them that these types of activities are what we do at our summer camp.”

He’s also bringing in some cash by revamping his popular team-building programs into a virtual environment. Having offered more than 3,000 team building program for groups over the past 11 years, Baker was able to modify the exercises and games for a virtual world.

“There are still games where people get to know each other via problem solving and collaboration,” he said. “We will then talk with the group, and ask how it went: what was challenging? How many people feel like they were left out?”

A set of thoughtful questions will help the group understand how to clearly communicate, or take turns more often, or learn how to sometimes be a leader and sometimes a support person.

Since the programs will be shorter than the ones Terrapin Adventures offers outdoors, people can buy virtual team-building programs as a series or a subscription. “It’s still a work in progress in some ways,” Baker said – but he’s already seeing a demand. “It’s about building relationships one Zoom call at a time.”

Artists’ Gallery: Stay home and enjoy the beauty of art

The Artists’ Gallery in Ellicott City has made its first foray into the virtual scene. When member artist Leah Lewman-Laird was scheduled to have a featured show in April, but the gallery was forced to close on March 16 due to COVID-19, she began exploring options for a virtual exhibition.

Now the gallery will continue to explore the value of virtual enjoyment of the arts. Terry Pellmar, president of the Artists’ Gallery, said that virtual shows seem to draw people who have previously been too busy to attend shows at the gallery.

“While it’s certainly not the same as being in a physical gallery space and seeing the work up close and in-person, it is certainly a close second under current circumstances,” said Pellmar.

Meanwhile, members of the gallery are staying home and continuing to create new work, added Pellmar.

“Having experienced two floods in Ellicott City, we are resilient, and we eagerly look forward to re-opening our gallery when it is again safe to do so,” said Pellmar. “We are still making, showing, and selling art. Despite being confined to their homes, people can still enjoy the beauty of art.”

By Susan Kim | Staff Writer | The Business Monthly