How 'Bachelorette' star Peter Kraus and others kept businesses going during the pandemic

Peter Kraus at PK Fitness.
Photo by Dawson Brauls

The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the small business community in the U.S.: Fully 82% of small businesses say the crisis had either a "large" or a "moderate negative effect" on them, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Still, despite the challenges presented by the virus and the lockdowns, many businesses were able to figure out ways to pivot their activities — they figured out ways to survive and even grow and thrive.

Here are three entrepreneurs that found creative solutions for their revenue problems during the nationwide quarantine.

Peter Kraus Fitness gave daily virtual workouts 

"Bachelorette" finalist Peter Kraus had spent years saving up $200,000 to build his dream gym. Peter Kraus (PK) Fitness finally opened in April 2019 in Middleton, Wisconsin, and amassed 300 members; but it was forced to shutter in March 2020, when the governor of Wisconsin issued an order to close all nonessential businesses.

The closure lasted two months, during which time PK Fitness saw membership drop. "I did not expect to go from like a steady increase of hours with classes to literally nothing," says Kraus. 

So Kraus got creative.

Peter Kraus at Peter Kraus Fitness.
Photo by Dawson Brauls

He announced to his members that he'd offer 21 straight days of virtual workouts for $35, even as people social distanced at home. The series began on March 23, bringing in 200 participants. The second series saw 120 participants, and the third saw 60. The virtual offerings helped cover the $14,000-per-month costs of the gym, and helped PK Fitness stay afloat till it reopened on May 26.

After months of quarantine, said Kraus on his first day back, "seems like people are eager to get back to the gym!"

Happy Valley Meat began selling directly to customers

A wholesale distributor, Happy Valley Meat Company had long been selling meat from small Pennsylvania farms to restaurants throughout New York City. But when the coronavirus hit and restaurants were forced to close, "overnight, all of our cash flow just sort of froze," says company owner Dan Honig.

Dan Honig helps demonstrate how to break down a carcass.
Courtesy Dan Honig

The company had to act fast. Having long considered the possibility of selling directly to consumers, Happy Valley Meat built a virtual shop using Shopify and began selling cuts ranging from beef to bacon to be shipped to customers' homes.

Now, the company regularly sells out of its daily cuts. Happy Valley Meat opens its virtual store every morning at 9 a.m. EST, filling between 40 and 80 orders per day to be shipped from New York to California. Every member of the company's eight-person team has been able to stay on board, with at least one part-timer having to expand her hours to meet the shifting needs of the business.

"The pivot to direct-to-consumer has honestly saved us," says Honig. The company plans to continue its virtual shop activities even as New York reopens.

Puzzle Break took its activities online

Seattle-based escape room company Puzzle Break didn't fare well at the outset of the pandemic. The company's revenue was diminishing as customers nervous about the virus stopped coming to enjoy its escape rooms, and when the business was forced to close due to state orders, co-founder Nate Martin had to lay off most of its staff.

Martin quickly realized that some of their activities could actually be offered virtually using teleconferencing, and the team got to work transforming one of its classic escape rooms, The Grimm Escape, into a digital experience.

How escape room business avoided disaster during coronavirus pandemic

Video by Jason Armesto

Within 12 hours of offering the experience to customers for the first time, every single one of its time slots had sold out. And its popularity has only grown from there. Time slots for The Grimm Escape are regularly booked at least two weeks out, and Martin has been able to not only refill the original positions the company had but to create new positions.

"Our biggest problem now is keeping up with the demand," he says. 

Despite being thrilled for the success of the business, Martin realizes, in part, it's a result of these harried times. As escape rooms bring people together, The Grimm Escape has answered people's "real hunger for social connection" as they practice social distancing.

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