Janice and Bobby Jucker thought they had seen – and weathered – every imaginable challenge in running their business.
Four floods, one fire and a hurricane. And they somehow came back each time.
But even the “queen and king of disasters,” as they’re affectionately known, recognize that COVID-19 is an entirely new phenomenon in terms of its economic impact and recovery.
“The difference with this is we don’t know when the end will be,” said Janice, President & Co-Owner of Three Brothers Bakery in Houston.
Janice was one of five small-business owners who recently shared insights of operating their companies in these unusual times during a webinar hosted by the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City. More than 700 entrepreneurs participated in the “Innovating Through Crisis: Strategies for Small Businesses to Survive and Thrive” online session.
Regions Bank is a longtime community partner of ICIC. Since 2014, the bank has provided financial backing for high-impact, tuition-free business training events organized by ICIC for entrepreneurs in several cities. Top educators lead powerful sessions, and at the Regions-sponsored events, bank personnel provide coaching and insights to help small businesses develop strategies for growth.
The recent webinar was open to graduates nationwide and remains available to anyone online.
For Steve Grossman, CEO of ICIC, the webinar’s audience size was a clear indication of the unprecedented need small-business owners have for resources, advice and support.
“Janice and her colleagues, who own and operate some of the fastest-growing small businesses in America’s cities, were able to effectively share how their innovative approaches are helping them pivot effectively during the crisis,” said Grossman. “Resilience and recovery strategies developed by these creative business owners made the webinar particularly valuable to many of the more than 700 entrepreneurs from throughout the country who registered to participate.”
During the webinar, each presenter discussed the health of their business at the end of 2019, once the pandemic began, and almost two months after stay-at-home orders were issued.
“We were rocking and rolling back in December,” said Jucker, describing the non-stop pace at their three bake shops. “We went from being really busy to really struggling when the outbreak began. Now, we’re getting back to a better place.”
Jucker credits being in that better place to several factors. Key among them?
Communication. With their team members, their customers and their legislators.
“Together, they are our most important assets,” said Jucker. “Communication, marketing and public relations is what I do…all day, every day. I’ve been continually communicating with these important groups throughout the crisis.”
ICIC has also been in regular communication with its graduates, launching its Small Business Resource Center website immediately after the outbreak. The site, which provides national, state and even some local resources to help entrepreneurs navigate the new business normal, is updated regularly and available to all small-business owners.
With Grossman and team currently unable to conduct their Inner City Capital Connections workshops in person due to social distancing guidelines, they quickly adapted to offer virtual workshops.
Houston is the next city where Regions and ICIC plan to offer an in-person training event, scheduled for early 2021.
“We learned so much from our ICCC experience,” said Jucker, a graduate who’s attended the workshop in several cities.
Adaptability is one of those lessons. It’s coming in handy these days.
Three Brothers Bakery has transitioned its business model, enlisting creative ways to keep the cash register ringing and its 57 team members employed.
“Because we are a retail bakery, we were able to stay open like a grocery,” said Jucker.
But with daily walk-in traffic significantly down, Three Brothers Bakery knew it couldn’t maintain its business with just this local storefront approach.
With the support of Jucker’s son and daughter-in-law, Three Brothers Bakery began taking orders and delivering to two new neighborhoods. And they are exploring the idea of expanding into additional neighborhoods.
“This is a model that we could continue in the future,” said Janice.
Beyond those neighborhoods, the Juckers turned their baking attention toward reaching an even larger audience with their nationally acclaimed pecan pie that can be shipped anywhere.
“If everyone bought a pecan pie, it not only supports us, but it also helps keep our vendors employed, too,” said Jucker. “The nut grower, the tin maker, the box maker. It’s bigger than just us.”
And speaking of things bigger than them, the Juckers have established a Mitzvah or Good Deed Fund which is helping them feed others right now. Through a wholesale fund, people can donate to Three Brothers Bakery to purchase baked goods for people in need. Groups served include the nonprofit Emergency Aid Coalition and the Jewish Family Service, as well as Feed the Front Line HTX, which provides meals to health care workers.
“We’ve been through so many disasters,” reflected Jucker. “I think our business will withstand the pandemic.”
Words of experience from someone whose business has weathered more than she ever expected – and emerged stronger and wiser from it.