Small Business Stories with Gusto is an ongoing effort to collect stories from small businesses across the country during COVID-19. We hope these stories can be a resource for other business owners, providing inspiration, ideas, and insights as we navigate this new economic reality. If you’d like to be spotlighted, share your story here.
Sam Eitzen is the CEO and co-founder of The SnapBar, a Seattle-based photo booth company founded in 2012. A year ago, The SnapBar landed in the Inc. 500 list as one of the fastest growing companies in America. This year, they wondered if they’d make it to September.
The impact of COVID-19
Like many other event-focused businesses, The SnapBar was heavily affected by government mandates to cancel or postpone all mass gatherings. The company lost three months of revenue within a week, and sales for future events plummeted as stay-at-home orders began to impact customers.
“These past three weeks have been very intense,” Eitzen tells us. “I love my team and we have a really, really good culture. It feels like a family here. We’re very tight-knit, and we’ve grown even tighter during this time of uncertainty.”
It didn’t take long before Eitzen shifted gears to problem-solving how to keep the 18-person business going despite headwinds. One night, Eitzen stayed up to 2 a.m. writing 50 potential pivot ideas for the business. A week later, they’d changed their entire business model.
How The SnapBar pivoted
Eitzen narrowed down his list of pivot ideas and shared them with his team on Friday. By the weekend, they were putting the Keep Your City Smiling initiative into action.
“We knew there were so many other businesses hurting out there, so we wanted whatever we did to offer them something of value as well,” Eitzen says. “We also assessed what we were good at: We had a creative team, a developer, we’re good at logistics and shipping, and we had connections in the world of corporate. As a team, we decided that we would create gift boxes packed with local items crafted by small businesses in the Seattle area.”
The SnapBar team began sourcing products from local vendors, including artists, candle makers, coffee roasters, and more. Within the first two and a half weeks of Keep Your City Smiling, Snapbar purchased north of $10,000 in local goods and received almost 1,000 orders from individuals and companies.
The margins are enough to keep The SnapBar team working (which was the goal) as well as pay wholesale prices to other small businesses who desperately need the revenue. “The first company we contacted was thrilled,” Eitzen says. “Some vendors have almost been in tears receiving cash for products that weren’t otherwise moving.”
But to keep things afloat, the SnapBar team has also had to make other changes. The founders took a 50% pay cut, and some members of the leadership team volunteered to forgo large portions of their salaries. Some hourly workers asked to transition to salaried employees, so that they could work more hours without incurring overtime.
Though Keep Your City Smiling started in Seattle, the SnapBar team will expand it to Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Austin. “People want to partner with us right now,” Eitzen says.
The team also plans to keep these efforts going long after things return to normal. Even when events are allowed again, Eitzen anticipates it’ll be a while before they really come back, as people and business may not be spending on big events or festivals for some time.
The SnapBar has found a unique way to provide value in the meantime. “Small businesses and local vendors will always need a place to get more exposure and sell their product,” he explains, “and we’re hoping we can help with that long term.”
- Reassess what you’re good at. Look at your team and resources with fresh eyes. What transferable skills do your team members have? What connections can you leverage within your network? Can your business do something others can’t to help fulfill a community need?
- Find what keeps you sane! As a creative outlet, Eitzen started an Instagram account called “TP on the Run” about a roll of toilet paper that escaped the clutches of shoppers and is on the run for survival.
Share your story. How have you and your team coped with the economic impacts of COVID-19? Fill out this form to share your story with our community and support other business owners.