Sleepwalker Spirits & Ale has been in a constant state of change since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring.
First, the new brewery in Lansing’s REO Town changed the design of its kitchen and the front of the house to better accommodate takeout orders, which immediately went from about 5% of business to 100% during Michigan’s stay-home order. Then, a side door was converted into a pickup window for third-party delivery drivers on apps such as DoorDash. The local Michigan business also started offering contactless curbside pickup and added a patio for outdoor dining.
Now, Sleepwalker has launched its own beer delivery service. The brewery teamed with local artists to create special labels for 22-ounce bombers that you can have delivered right to your door.
“All you have to do is say ‘Hey, I want you to drop this off at my house’ and we will do that, and we’re not even charging for it right now,” said Jeremy Sprague, president, founder and head brewer. “We’re constantly on the move to find the next thing that makes our customer happy and is compliant (with pandemic health and safety rules).”
For restaurants and breweries that have been limited to takeout orders for several weeks both last spring and this winter, COVID-19 has been challenging. Ditto for many other local Michigan businesses that have had to adapt to new ways of serving customers during the pandemic.
With customers in many cases unable to visit shops and restaurants or uncomfortable doing so, businesses have come up with novel ways of connecting people with their products and services.
“The last nine months they have just had to constantly innovate,” said Laurie Lonsdorf, regional director of the Michigan Small Business Development Center in Lansing. “It’s been such a trying time for so many businesses. For those people that have a brick and mortar location, they are working so hard thinking creatively and trying to do everything they can to bring more sales in.
“A common theme is local Michigan businesses either trying to bring customers safely into the store or bring the store to the customers.”
Here are some more examples of local Michigan businesses taking inventive steps to survive and thrive during unusual times:
- Private shopping – While an increasing number of local Michigan businesses now offer online sales, many people still yearn to browse items in person. To do that safely, some stores are setting up private shopping appointments where you get the place to yourself for a period of time. For example, Lansing Art Gallery is offering items from its retail gallery for sale online, but customers also can schedule an appointment to get a personalized, curated hourlong shopping excursion. “It’s one way to ensure a safe shopping experience and that all the protocols are followed,” Lonsdorf said.
- Private dining – Sit-down dining inside Michigan bars and restaurants has been prohibited at times during the pandemic, prompting some creative workarounds. For example, while the Detroit Foundation Hotel’s on-site restaurant has been closed for dining, the hotel converted several suites into private dining rooms – replacing the beds with tables – so that visitors can enjoy the restaurant’s menu in a safer, private setting. Outdoor igloo dining is another trend picking up steam this winter.
- Local delivery – In addition to beer delivery from breweries such as Sleepwalker and Presidential Brewing Co. in Portage, many Michigan restaurants are offering delivery of full meals. You can find a statewide listing of restaurants offering takeout, curbside pickup and delivery at com. Retail stores, too, are increasingly offering home delivery services as online orders have surged during the pandemic, up from just 1% or 2% of sales to a quarter or a third in some cases.
- Facebook Live – Another way to bring a store to the customer is through Facebook Live events. At Bella Grande, a plus-size women’s consignment clothing store in Charlotte, owner Angel Fulkerson uses the platform to spotlight specific items. It lets her connect directly with customers, pandemic or not, and even sell items live. Viewers can comment “SOLD” in the chat along with the number of the item they’re buying, then come into the store to pick up their purchase or have it shipped or even delivered locally.
“People aren’t waking in the door and you’ve got to figure out a way to have those sales to keep your business running,” Fulkerson said. “Speaking in front of people gives me anxiety, but I know these ladies. They’re my shoppers! I can have a conversation with them in my store, so why can’t I talk to them via Facebook Live?”
Fulkerson was hesitant to give Facebook Live a try, then finally decided that it wasn’t a choice. It was something she just had to do. The sales alone have been worth the effort, along with positive feedback and the thrill of serving customers in a new way.
“It’s not that people don’t want to shop (during the pandemic),” Fulkerson said. “They still want to shop. We just have to figure out other ways for them to be able to do it.”