5 Lessons from Businesses That Boomed During the Pandemic

Some entrepreneurs saw a sales surge during the pandemic. Here's how they moved fast to keep up.
5 Lessons from Businesses That Boomed During the Pandemic
Image credit: Katsana Prathummat | Getty Images
6 min read

This story appears in the July 2020 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Miki Agrawal, founder and CCO: Tushy

1. Keep the conversation going.

There weren’t many good things about the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020, but to Miki Agrawal, there was one upside: Americans were embracing the bidet. Agrawal is the founder of Tushy, a bidet attachment company launched in 2014. Last year, the company did just under $10 million in sales…but this year, it’s on track to do five times that. “We sold out by the second weekend of March,” she says. “We had our first million-dollar day.”

But the spike in demand, coupled with production facilities in Asia, led to some lengthy delivery delays. “Our customers had to wait five weeks, and that sucked,” Agrawal says. Her strategy? “We were just extremely transparent.” Tushy explained and apologized for the delays, and also took the opportunity to share the benefits of bidets — and that toilet paper can cause hemorrhoids, UTIs, and anal fissures. That kept customers eager for their purchase to arrive. “We’ve been educating and educating, because it’s a real behavioral shift,” Agrawal says. “Finally, people took the leap.”

Related: Three Essential Pieces of Advice for Founders Hoping to Survive the Pandemic

Leslie Voorhees Means, cofounder and CEO, Anomalie

2. Build trust with big gestures.

Leslie Voorhees Means’ customers kept asking the same thing: Can you get me my dress on time? It was an understandable concern. Her company, Anomalie, enables brides to create custom wedding dresses online and have them shipped straight to their homes, and her already anxious base was starting to panic as COVID-19 put weddings on pause. She was also seeing increased demand: As brick-and-mortar bridal salons shuttered, incoming inquiries to Anomalie spiked to 1,500 a day, and sign-ups soared 25 percent. But the question lingered: Could she really deliver, fast?

Voorhees Means knew she could. She’d spent years building a vertically integrated supply chain and nurturing relationships with small factories around the world, which made her less vulnerable to disruption. But brides don’t care about supply chains. “We started offering refunds of 1.5 times the cost of the dress if we didn’t deliver on time,” she says. “We knew we could produce, and wanted to give our brides that confidence.” It did the trick: “March was our best sales month ever.” 

Dave Hunt, founder and CEO, Crossrope

3. Expand access, even if it hurts.

Crossrope was hoping for a big year. It’s a cross-training jump rope brand, and it had some big marketing promotions in store for 2020.  “So we ramped up production,” founder Dave Hunt says. “And that was really fortuitous.” After a respectable January and February, sales started spiking the week of March 9 — because as more Americans were trapped at home, they were looking for new ways to stay fit. Soon Crossrope was setting sales records daily: For nearly four weeks in April, every single day broke its 2019 Black Friday record. 

Related: Business Owners Can Survive the Pandemic by Using a Military Mass Casualty Strategy

This was exciting but also scary: Crossrope was on pace to run out of inventory. To cope with that, it started limiting the number of items each customer can order. “It’s not the ideal economic setup, but it’s keeping us stocked and helping us get products to people who really want them,” Hunt says. He figures it’s better to get his brand into the hands of more people, even if it slows down sales. “We’re grateful we can make it work.”

Andy Hunter, founder and CEO, Bookshop.org

4. Pick up the big competitors’ slack.

Andy Hunter wanted to help independent bookstores drive sales, and he did…modestly, at first. He launched Bookshop.org in January; it’s an online platform and affiliate network that helps fill the gap for indie stores that don’t have robust e-commerce offerings. After a few weeks, the platform sold about $5,000 worth of books a day. Not bad, he thought.

When COVID-19 hit, indie bookstores struggled to stay open — but then Amazon, their usual competitor, de-prioritized book shipments. Bookshop.org was suddenly perfectly positioned, and daily sales, driven by the small shops utilizing the platform, skyrocketed to $150,000. “We experienced two and a half years’ worth of growth in three weeks,” he says. He quickly staffed up, hiring newly laid-off booksellers. Now he’s exploring opportunities to keep the momentum going. To start, he’s fielding requests from European and Canadian shoppers and improving his infrastructure to handle higher demand. “We’re taking this opportunity to achieve a kind of stickiness and try to become essential,” says Hunter.

Related: Coronavirus Survival Guide for Startups

Brian smith, cofounder and COO, Winc

5. Become the center of a community.

What’s getting quarantined adults through this crisis? Booze. And the wine-delivery startup Winc knows that better than most. In 2019, it added an average of 200 new members a day — and now it’s averaging 2,000. In March and April, Winc brought on more than 96,000 new customers, achieving its highest revenue months to date. It was exciting…but also an organizational challenge. “Tripling or quadrupling output in a warehouse, while implementing additional safety protocol, was very challenging,” says Brian Smith, Winc’s cofounder and COO. 

To keep up with the demand, Winc’s in-house wine­making team moved quickly to blend and bottle the previous harvest. But when it became clear that Winc could serve a unique role for the small wine producers it works with around the globe, it launched new collaborations and placed larger orders to meet demand. “The dislocation of the restaurant industry is a blow to the wine business, not just culturally, but from a point of distribution,” Smith says. “Having the ability to sell at scale through our website has allowed us to be an even better partner to winemakers.”

Image Credit: Photos Courtesy of Tushy; Anomalie; Crossrope; Bookshop.org; Winc
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