The Cochrane House is an art-filled, 18th century mansion in Detroit’s historic Brush Park, located in the heart of Downtown Detroit.
This family owned bed and breakfast has been hit hard since the global outbreak of the Coronavirus. We caught up with the owners to find out how they are dealing with this new reality.
What were your initial thoughts when you learned about the outbreak?
We didn’t think the initial outbreak would be as serious as it turned out to be. When the State of Michigan initially announced the outbreak, there were only two cases of COVID-19. The next day, the State of Michigan had 12 cases. Later that week, the state had 53 cases.
We knew that these were only reported cases, and not an actual count of people who may have the virus. Once we saw the number of people with the virus rise, we took the outbreak seriously. The virus was, reportedly, rapidly spreading by people who travelled internationally and domestically.
This concerned us even more, because we are in the travel industry, and we host these international and domestic travelers. There were so many feelings and emotions: Should we close the Bed and Breakfast for our safety/health? How will we survive if the travel industry takes a hit? We were worried, anxious and pre-cautious. We still are.
How has it affected your business?
This pandemic has affected our business a great deal! In the area where we are located, the only major city in the United States with all major sport teams and theatre district in one area, there are over 265 event days a year. We get most of our customers from baseball games, hockey games, and concerts. So, when the governor put an executive order in place, cancelling all events in which more than 50 people will attend, that affects everyone in the area, including us.
Our business went from weekday/weekend bookings and small events to very low activity. We’ve experienced a lot of cancellations, a low volume of calls, and seen a side of our customers that we’ve never seen before. A lot of disgruntled customers are upset about our credit voucher policy, in lieu of a refund. This situation has taught us to stay steadfast in the implementation of the policies we created, in order to assure the business’s success.
It has been hard, because as small business owners, we are close to our customers and operate with more of a heart, instead of the shrewd business acumen seen in larger companies; but, we strive to meet our customers half way on these issues. As business owners, we are learning the importance of crafting specific policies for situations such as this one, putting them into effect in advance, so we will not risk the overall stability of the business. These policies may be the difference between your business thriving or your business sinking. As entrepreneurs, we are called to make those hard decisions when it counts.
How has it affected your lifestyle?
During this pandemic we have definitely learned to cut back on unnecessary expenses and budget the money that we do have. It also allows us time to organize. We are using the time to strategize on how to make the business better, once this pandemic is over.
Also, while the COVID-19 quarantine is a novel experience in itself; so far, it’s been filled with loud music, cooking and happy hour spring cleaning. Ultimately, knowing and understanding that faith outweighs fear; it helps to keep us grounded.
What new strategies have you implemented or do you plan to implement in your business?
We are focusing on Plan B at the moment. Everyone in small business should have a contingency plan, even before times of emergency. For example, what will you use in order to keep your business afloat during times of crisis? Will you be relying on your savings/rainy day account?
Do you have a savings/rainy day account? Are you looking to borrow from your investments, acquiring a loan or liquidate some of your assets? It’s unfortunate that we have to examine these options at this time, but it is something worth considering, even outside of a pandemic.
We have a small reserve, budgeted for emergencies, but we definitely did not project a pandemic when budgeting our cost. I can’t imagine many business owners that prepared for this. So, we are staying prayerful and mindful of this situation.
If you had one ask of your community right now, what would it be?
At the end of this pandemic, we are hopeful that people are intentional about patronizing small, independent black businesses. Be aware that business owners have lost traction during this pandemic, an immediate gain in consumers and support will be essential.
In our situation, there is no way to predict what the travel industry will look like at the end of this pandemic, and financial recovery may be slow due to existing fears and residual panic. We pray to regain the same supporters that we have cherished through these last two years of business, and hopefully gain new supporters.
During situations like these, it’s difficult for businesses to survive such a big hit. Once this is over we have to organize more than ever before.
-Tony O. Lawson