The Business Monthly connects with businesses to inquire how they are faring.

‘It’s been worth it’

 AppleCore’s Bake Shoppe, Columbia

AppleCore’s Bake Shoppe started with the spark of a corporate CPA. Then in late 2019 came her passion and a $30,000 investment ― followed by its online presence in September 2020 and recently a new brick-and-mortar location at the Columbia Lakefront.

Today, Co-owner Aisha Applewhite, despite operating from the pandemic environment, is happy with the progress she’s making with Co-owner (and husband) Kevin Applewhite at what’s evolved into a full-time occupation a little more than a year ago.

To get started, the Howard County residents partnered with some Prince George’s County restaurants and worked public events, within the public school system and via other organizations to offer its vegan, non-vegan and gluten-free products, which are baked in the kitchen at The Great Room at Savage Mill.

Aisha Applewhite noted that most of the couple’s investment to get the business up-and-running “was from bootstrapping, but we were able to get some small grants. It’s been worth it,” she said, “since we like to work in the community.” AppleCore is operating out of The 3rd, a nonprofit that elevates women entrepreneurs of color.

 ‘Our clients didn’t have that problem’

Cheaper Than A Geek, Crofton

After the pandemic hit, Cheaper Than A Geek Owner Chris Barber used to joke that Gov. Larry Hogan shut down office work “a little too quickly.” That’s a joke, of course, considering the shockwaves caused by COVID-19.

Seriously, said Barber, “Frankly he did the right thing, but my point is that since the pandemic basically snuck up on everyone, most of our clients panicked. They put teleworking plans in place really fast because they didn’t have time” to consult with their IT professionals. 

“Many mistakes were made. So what we ended up doing,” he said, “was fixing those plans that could have been better, just after the fact.”

That’s also because, Barber said, the pandemic “emboldened a ton of cybercriminals with a newfound opportunity attack residential networks and equipment. But our clients eventually had enterprise-grade security no matter where they were, so they were fine.”

That basic approach to information technology translated very well into the surge in teleworking. “More complex IT setups struggled to get it set up safely, securely and efficiently. Our clients didn’t have that problem,” he said. “I’d love to tell you I planned it that way, but it was really just a happy accident.” 


Fitness Together, Ellicott City                                      

Running a small business that required in-person interaction was one of the toughest aspects of addressing COVID-19, but many entrepreneurs who persevered, like Fitness Together, are enjoying the results of their work.

In the case of the Ellicott City franchise, the gym had 90 clients before the pandemic, said Owner Joan Schnorf. As often happened within the health and fitness industry, Schnorf went virtual from her 2,000-square-foot location at St. John’s Lane and Frederick Road — though with just 20 clients.

However, she also found opportunity, in this case “to revamp our systems, like our 90-minute Signature FIT (as in Focus Inspirited Transformation) Consultation,” Schnorf said. “We also increased our advertising.”

The franchise’s rebuild also resulted in a market shift. “Pre-COVID-19, most of our clientele was older than 50,” she said, “but many of our newer clients are around 40 years old, which is the average age within our corporate system.”

Today, those younger customers are why Fitness Together has rebounded to 90 clients, though there is another challenge to address: finding qualified personal trainers. “People now want a more personal focus,” said Schnorf, “without being in a big group.”

Surge in clients

Forrest Consulting, Annapolis

At the start of the pandemic, Lee Crumbaugh, owner of Forrest Consulting, took the walk along the high road: he assisted not only clients, but any other business person who wanted his help. That approach eventually paid off.

But at the outset, the key was to approach the pandemic as “a Black Swan event. We were going through the Kubler-Ross change (grief) curve, which includes addressing how our mental traps and biases inhibit us,” Crumbaugh said. “Changed strategies were needed. So I created a questionnaire and followed up with about 60 respondents during the next year.” 

The result? “Twenty-five of these individuals either were, or became, clients,” he said. “While I’ve done no formal assessment, I can see how they’ve navigated a very difficult time and changed strategies — most notably switching to virtual networking and 1-1 meetings, without reliance on in-person marketing and sales.”

The time saved by not having to drive to meetings also resulted in the development of new clients and revenue. The key point learned is assuming that business will continue as usual “is a poor way to plan. What we need to assume is that change will occur, sometimes dramatic change,” Crumbaugh said, “and take steps to increase resiliency and mitigate potential risk.”

 Strong revenue

Ultimate Flooring Design Center, Odenton

Like many construction companies that toil in the home improvement field, Ultimate Flooring Design Center was putting up big numbers, most markedly a sharp rise in revenues.

“So many people were stuck at home that they decided to contract for renovations and that often included flooring,” said Owner David Harris, “so in 2020 our revenues rose 20% from 2019 figures.”

Interestingly, the flooring business also fell into the critical category, “for whatever reason, which was surprising,” Harris said. The main issue Ultimate endured was dealing with workers occasionally being out with the virus or having to quarantine. But even speaking of labor, he was (and still is) among the handful of business owners with ample staff. “I think that’s because what we do is so skilled that we have to pay good money.”

While many businesses are still ramping back up in a tight labor market during a supply chain crisis, Ultimate’s annual revenues have leveled off to a still strong $3.5 million. But the boom time helped Harris finance the new 11,000-square-foot company headquarters, which is located along Route 175 near the Route 32 intersection.