If COVID-19 has taught us anything as small business owners, it’s that it pays to be prepared. Whether it’s through financial reserves or emergency resources, having a safety net for your business allows you to be ready for whatever economic downturns may come your way. In this episode, Gene Marks and his special guest Mindy Yanish share several precautionary measures that helped sustain her business throughout this pandemic.
0:34—Today’s Topic: Which Precautionary Measures Will Best Serve My Small Business Right Now?
3:16—If you sense that your business is approaching a period of diminished sales from its brick-and-mortar storefront, it might be more cost-effective to temporarily close up shop in favor of an online platform.
4:16—Avoiding debt and building up strong cash reserves also provide your business with a financial buffer for when profit margins are low.
5:17 —Trust your instincts when they tell you to proceed with caution.
9:07—While it is easy to seclude yourself and your business under our current circumstances, continue to stay involved in community outreach programs. This will not only help forge genuine relationships with your existing clientele, but it will also allow you to broaden your customer base.
11:57—Take advantage of all the generous payment plans and lower rates that are being offered right now.
12:18—Even if you have reserves, don’t be afraid to seek out financial assistance. This will help shoulder some of your operating expenses and keep you from completely depleting your savings.
13:24—Because of a potential second wave of COVID-19 cases, we need to extend our efforts to protect our small businesses.
Gene: Hey everybody. Welcome back to the Small Biz Ahead podcast. This is Gene Marks. My friend, John Aidukonis is not here today, so I’m going to go solo. I’ve got a great session and a great segment planned with a great interview with Mindy Yanish, who is the owner of Offerings Gallery in Katonah, New York, which is Westchester County, Mindy, right, about an hour from New York City?
Mindy: That’s right.
Gene: Well, it’s great that you’re on here. First of all, let’s get some of the basic facts down. Offerings Gallery, it’s offeringsgallery.com. What does the store sell?
Mindy: Well, basically it is a community resource and that’s what it’s evolving more and more in, but the thing that I’ve always believed in is trying to support handmade American products. I have a beautiful curated selection of American handmade jewelry, and I know all the artists that I represent personally. So it’s really more like a big extended family, which is my favorite part. And then I also have handmade pottery, also all American made blown glass, fine art, and some very interesting, unusual smattering of antiques, as well as my own art.
Gene: This is just a retail shop on a main street, or do you sell-
Mindy: Yeah, it’s on the main street of Katonah .
Gene: Got it. I get this vision that Katonah is this beautiful little New York State town, with the main street and drug store and outdoor restaurants.
Mindy: It is. It’s a very precious gem of a town. It’s kind of rare in that it’s mostly local owned, small independent shops. One of the things that Katonah was famous for a number of years ago was in the New York Times saying that, “We fought Starbucks and don’t let chains in.” We’ll see what happens now, after this pandemic starts to calm down.
Gene: Yeah, let’s talk about that. First of all, when the pandemic started, particularly in New York State, Westchester County was considered to be the epicenter of it all. Were you part of that circle or did you manage to avoid that?
Mindy: Well, avoiding it? No, I don’t think anybody avoided it. I think that basically there were certainly hotspots in Westchester, but we were able to actually … I closed a little bit before it was mandatory, but the effects really aren’t any different for us than they are anywhere else. It wasn’t a widespread outbreak in the town of Bedford, which Katonah is a Hamlet of, but definitely we were just the same as everyone. Businesses are closing, and everyone’s just kind of slow to restart based on the legalities of the COVID reopening restrictions.
Gene: You said you closed a little bit before you were mandated to do that. First of all, why did you do that, and tell us what that was about?
Mindy: I think partly because I have doctors in my family and one of them is very close with the very top infectious disease specialist who put out the warning call before the state did and just said, “Get the heck out of there now. Don’t wait” so I heeded that advice and I did. It was probably about a week before it was mandated.
Gene: It’s a big decision to just close down your business. Do you have other sources of income besides this?
Mindy: Well, mild sources of income? Like I said, I do sell some of my own art and I also have a few other things, like I have a rental property in Vermont and I also do counseling because I’m also an interfaith minister, so I do that, but mostly that’s not for finance. That’s really more of my offering to the world. I’ve been letting people know who’ve been in real trouble emotionally that I’m just available at no cost.
Gene: How have you been paying your bills?
Mindy: We were lucky is that I’ve been very prudent about how I spent my money. I’ve always been one to not get into debt. I’m very lucky that … In actuality, as odd as it may sound, I was kind of prepared for something to come and I was sort of making preparations. I really can’t explain it beyond the fact that I have a highly developed intuition.
Gene: Intuition or not … I’ve been hearing this again and again. I interview business owners that are emerging. We all went through some pain, but it was those that had the same attitude as yours; they didn’t have debts, they built up cash, they had some reserves in place. Have you always been this way?
Mindy: Yes, absolutely. But it’s more so. It just gets easier the more I trust that. It’s like building a foundation of anything.
Gene: There are some people that you meet that run companies they’re more of a risk taker. Do you consider yourself to be a risk taker?
Mindy: I consider myself outside the box, that’s for sure. I’ve never understood that concept. So I think in some people’s minds, I do take risks. In my own mind, it’s like, not really. I think what other people might view as risk taking because I trust my intuition and operate more that way than most people I’ve ever known, that that looks like risky to other people. But the fact is, is that I’ve been my own boss for 35 years based on my intuitive gut.
Gene: The business that you’re running now, Offerings Gallery, has this been your main business over the past 35 years?
Mindy: 30 years, yes. It’s my second location. And yes, that’s been my second home, that’s for sure.
Gene: The intuition that you talk about though, sometimes I talk to people where it comes from mistakes that they’ve made, they learned the hard way. Is that the case with you?
Mindy: No, it comes from my successes, that I trust them.
Gene: You and I are of the same mindset. I don’t know if you feel the same way as me; I think you do. I like to make my money and put it in the bank and then stare at it. It gives me comfort. And then you meet people that are the opposite of us. They leverage themselves to the eyeballs and they buy and they expand. Those are the ones that become super rich or they make a lot of money if they make the right bets. I don’t think you and I are ever going to be super rich, but I’m not sure I have a problem with that. What are your thoughts on managing your money?
Mindy: I think that’s a really excellent point Gene. The root of that question for me is what do I view success and wealth to mean? I think in our culture, we have been conditioned to believe that success and wealth is money, is acquisition. I don’t see that at all. I don’t feel that at all. I feel like my success is because I’ve been able to do something that I love. I have a great connection to my community. I’ve done a lot of community projects, outreach events, and there’s just a beautiful feeling of wealth in that. And so I’m very grateful that I have not pursued, as my mother-in-law calls, the millions.
Gene: Yeah. It’s funny, my wife and I were talking about that recently, how to me wealth is being able to take my family out to dinner and just not having to think about it. That to me is wealth. I think that kind of attitude serves a business owner well when there’s an economic downturn. How has this downturn different from what happened in 2009, which I’m sure is very clear in your mind?
Mindy: Well, I think the difference is that this is a global crisis that we’re facing, and we’re also seeing the profound inequalities of our country and all the things that our economy is based on are very, very disparate. I’m actually sad as it is that what’s going on, it had to happen, because I think the light had to be shined on the profound inequality of our economy and of our country. So I’m very glad that that’s happened and that more people are stepping up to be involved and saying, “Let’s fix this. This is hundreds of years old.” And so I think there’s a wonderful opportunity for everybody to understand that there is no wealth if there is great disparity and poverty, that the people who are with the most, really don’t have a lot.
Gene: Yeah, yeah. There’s a lot of lessons learned from this experience, and I think that’s certainly an enormous one. This whole shutdown what were you doing with yourself?
Mindy: Working on community projects, community building, dealing with some of my town council people, trying to work as a board member on the Chamber of Commerce to bring more attention to the fact that part of my success, and I want to share that, is that it’s about the community. That the reason that I’ve been there for 38 years is because I’m respected as someone who really cares beyond my own bottom line, as a matter of fact, more so. And I think that’s something that people feel and respond to and want to support businesses that have a bigger vision that’s not just about themselves.
Gene: How about employees Mindy? Do you have employees in your stores, or is it just you?
Mindy: At the moment, I have two people who are helping develop the website as volunteer basis because they too see the community aspect and the community building part of it as very, very important to the reawakening, not reawakening exactly, but reopening. I kind of see this as a possible Renaissance for our town and hopefully for the country.
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Gene: Do you own your store or do you pay rent? And did you continue to pay, or did you ask for any deferment?
Mindy: Well, another thing that is amazing to me is that I actually went to a shorter term lease a few years back. I’d always had a longterm lease and my landlord has always been, I’m very happy to say, part of the reason that I’m there 30 years is because he’s got the longest term tenants of anyone in town, and I think that’s partly because he lives in town. He’s not a building that’s owned by a corporation, that has no face and no connection to the community. He’s been very fair and works with me as the need arises to negotiate things. I actually asked for shorter term lease. My lease actually expires at the end of this month, so I was very lucky.
Gene: Right. And I’m assuming you’re going to renew it. When you say shorter term is this month to month, or it just-
Mindy: It was year to year. A few years back I went to a year. We had negotiated that. I had options to go for three additional years, and that just what felt right to me at the time.
Gene: That’s good. But you continue to pay your rents. I mean, some business owners were unable to, or they kind of pushed that back. How about other expenses? Were there any other expenses that you had that you deferred; utilities or any type of purchases that you decided not to make?
Mindy: Well, I definitely took advantage of some of the things where people either lowered rates on certain things or allowed for deferrals. So yeah, I definitely took advantage of that, but I’m not going to owe anything to anyone.
Gene: Speaking of owing; any government relief? Did you take paycheck protection money or disaster loans, or any type of state or local aid?
Mindy: We got a small loan from the SBA that took care of some of the operating expenses for the last couple of months since closing in March.
Gene: Yeah. What made you do that if you had the reserves available? Oh, and by the way I ask this because I’m in the same boat as you. I also took a small loan. But I’m curious to know, what was your rationale for applying for it?
Mindy: Well, I guess I thought that having paid into the government for so many years I felt like … and because I’m not able to dictate where my tax money is spent, I definitely felt like, “Okay, well, why not? And let’s just get a little bit of that back of what I’ve paid in.”
Gene: Yeah. I get that. That’s one of many good reasons and one of my reasons as well. I have reserves, but I don’t know, I’ve learned that you can never have too much cash or availability of cash, particularly as we’re reopening now and looking forward to the future, there’s still a ton of uncertainty. Your intuition has served you well. What is your intuition telling you now?
Mindy: That we’re just beginning? The crisis is just really beginning. We have lots more things to kind of crumble around us. I really do feel that. I don’t mean to be a naysayer. I don’t feel that. I feel like this is just like the way the dark ages were hundreds and hundreds of years ago, they preceded the Renaissance. I see this as basically painful as it is, and I know people who have died from this pretty close hand. It’s a profoundly challenging time for so many people. But I definitely feel like beyond that, not discounting that, but beyond that is I think really profound opportunities that I don’t think our country has ever had before.
Gene: What are you doing professionally to prepare for that? If you believe that this crisis, and when you say crisis? I mean the pandemic, what are you doing to prepare your business for this?
Mindy: Well, I’m moving very quickly, as quickly as we can into again more community outreach. And having my connections to town government, to local government, to the art world, be something that really speaks of community building and optimism and something that says we can shine a light on this. Let’s not be afraid to look at the dark corners of why this … not just the COVID, but while these demonstrations have been happening every place. In my town, there were a couple of thousand people that came together. I was driving through Vermont and saw hundreds of people gathering in places that are typically all white areas with a lot of wealth. There was demonstrations there where I saw people coming out and talking about the ways we have to rebuild the country from a place of love and compassion for one another.
Gene: How about personally Mindy? I mean there’s a lot of people I speak to that are running small businesses have gone through a lot of stress over the past few months, and there are many that would not disagree with you, that the pandemic itself is just getting started or there could be a second wave and that stresses people out. I mean, these people have bills to pay, employees, their own personal lives, families to manage. What do you tell those people?
Mindy: Well, I think that the most important thing is to feel like you’re part of something, that it’s not just you. I think that’s why I feel so strongly about the community building aspect of my life and that component of my business and that I look to that. I encourage people to talk about what they’re going through, to share what their fears are and their stresses, partly because I’ll just use my mother as an example, who’s living in assisted living and they were shut down, not allowed to leave or anything, and I understood that the reason she was able to deal with it as a very social person that she is, is because she saw that she wasn’t the only one going through it.
Mindy: And I think the more people understand that everybody’s struggling, everybody has their own version of difficulty and some is profoundly tragic, there’s no doubt about that, but that everybody’s basically had the rug pulled from underneath them. As you used the word before, uncertainty, we are facing uncertainty in an unprecedented way. I think that if we all can understand the community aspect and the connection and the collective part, it will help lessen the emotional burden.
Gene: Mindy Yanish is the owner of Offerings Gallery. It’s in Katonah, New York. Their website, her website is offeringsgallery.com, O-F-F-E-R-I-N-G-S gallery.com. Mindy, great, insightful words and great advice. I appreciate you spending the time with us today.
Thanks everyone for joining us for another edition of the Small Biz Ahead podcast. For the latest on small business trends, please visit The Hartford Small Biz Ahead blog. We’ve got articles, how to’s, and videos to help you run your business more efficiently. Check us out at smallbizahead.com. Again Mindy, thank you so much and best of luck to you in your business.
Mindy: Thank you so much, Gene.
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