At One South Bay Small Business, COVID-19 Was the Impetus for Change

For small business owners, adapting to changes in business as usual became a weekly, and at times a daily, challenge in a year of pandemic restrictions.

One Bay Area small business owner was among those who were able to turn a negative into a positive and save her business in the process.

The San Jose storefront for Ibiss is closed. But the business is thriving because the owner did something she’d been putting off for years: Moving her operations online.

Ibi Oluwole has been in business for almost 14 years, most of them in the Willow Glen location, face to face with her customers.

“Everyone says e-commerce, e-commerce, everyone’s shopping online, but I just didn’t see the value in it,” Oluwole said.

That is until the coronavirus pandemic forced her to shut her doors last year. Oluwole fast-tracked her website, retrained her employees and started reaching customers online.

The pandemic has taken a big toll on small businesses like Oluwole’s. One in six small businesses closed, and 40% reported lower revenue. About 56% of small businesses say they won’t expect to be back at pre-pandemic levels for at least six months.

But, through her website and a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan, Oluwole kept all four of her employees and will soon ship almost double the sales she was making in person. For that reason, she decided to close the physical boutique doors for good, saying that the pivots forced by the pandemic will ultimately save her company.

“Even though we’re closing the brick and mortar, everyone who wants to stay is staying,” she said. “We just have to learn new things; I have to learn new things, they have to learn new things.”

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