Entrepreneur Karen Gara beat COVID-19. Now she is hoping her four downtown Farmington and Farmington Hills businesses — Merle Norman Cosmetics, Rebecca’s Wigs, New Reflections Boutique at Beaumont Cancer Center and Merle Norman Day Spa — can beat it, too.
Gara believes the care package she received from Oakland County is just what the doctor ordered to assist in safely reopening to serve customers after three months of state-mandated closures because of the pandemic.
Oakland County prepared and distributed 10,000 ReOpen Kits in early June to small-business owners with 50 employees or fewer that operate in Main Street Oakland County communities and other businesses outside of downtown. Gara picked up kits for each of her businesses from the Farmington Civic Theater, one of 50 distribution spots countywide.
The plastic bins included difficult-to-acquire protective equipment including masks, gloves and an infrared touchless thermometer, along with sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, floor stickers for customer spacing, posters and information to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Each kit contained about $400 in supplies.
“It was just amazing,” Gara says. “Let me just tell you how much it meant to me to get a thermometer because I don’t have $80 right now after being closed for three months. You know, that was wonderful. The face masks in there — well, on Amazon — they are selling for $35 for a box of 50. The toolkit has been very, very helpful. There isn’t one item we won’t use.”
Not only do the kits help the businesses comply with COVID-19 restrictions, but they give customers confidence that their favorite businesses are safe to visit, says Oakland County Deputy Executive Sean Carlson.
“We want to make sure that we open this economy up the right way,” Carlson says.
Pure Barre West Bloomfield, a boutique fitness studio, was another grateful recipient.
“Getting this kit from the county is extremely helpful,” says studio co-owner Sheila Kerr. “These supplies are hard to find, and an added expense at a difficult time. Anything to make our clients feel more comfortable and safe coming back to our business is appreciated.”
Clawson’s Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Joan Horton ordered one for each of her 60 downtown storefronts. The thermometer was a game changer for many, she says.
“You have to have a corporate preparedness and action plan for COVID,” Horton says. “You need a contactless thermometer because you’ve got to be able to check your employees so you can keep everyone safe.”
The More the Merrier
The toolkits have been so popular that the county is packing an additional 5,000, pushing the total to 15,000 kits, Carlson says. Besides small businesses, faith-based organizations and nonprofit groups such as American Legion posts are interested in them.
Carlson added that the county is creating a website to let the kit holders restock the supplies. The county expects to provide a coupon for $400 in complimentary reorders.
“It is our intention to have Plexiglas and some of these other things on the website” like face shields, Carlson says. “Now if they want to order more than our set coupon, then that’s fine.”
The $5 million to fund the kits came from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Oakland County received $219 million to help with its response efforts.
While the contents of the kit are important to small businesses, so is the intention behind them, believes Janell Townsend, Ph.D., professor of marketing at Oakland University’s School of Business Administration.
“A toolkit like this is a means to mitigate some of the uncertainty in dealing with the reopening,” Townsend explains. “It allows them to be more successful as they reopen.”
There is a mental boost behind it, too.
“It seems like businesses do best in situations where you have strong public-private partnerships. It’s an ecosystem,” she says. “For the small-business owners, the toolkit is one less thing they have to worry about.”
That is what Dan Hunter was hoping for. The deputy director of Oakland County Economic Development and Community Affairs grew up in Pennsylvania, where his family owned a small manufacturing business with fewer than 10 employees.
“Having grown up in a small business, I understand the challenges they face,” Hunter says. “They have a lot going against them right now, so every little bit of assistance is appreciated.”
The Department of Economic Development and Community Affairs estimates there are about 3,300 small businesses in the 25 Main Street Oakland County communities, more than 1,800 in downtowns not in the Main Street program and about 4,300 small businesses in other locations not covered by Main Street or a downtown development authority.
One of those is Media Genesis, a marketing and web development firm in Troy.
“We didn’t know if we were going to be able to get one, so when I got the email to pick one up, we were thrilled,” says CEO Brad Frederick. “The process was so easy, and there is a lot of good information in there.”
Receiving the kit also reaffirmed his confidence in Oakland County, where he located his business in 2007.
“I’ve always felt that Oakland County supports businesses and promotes them, doing whatever they can to help them,” Frederick adds. “The toolkit is an extension of that.”