OSU professor: Businesses need to be agile, flexible during coronavirus pandemic

With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting everything from major league sporting events to dining inside restaurants, it has been felt by businesses across the globe. 

It has especially affected entrepreneurs and small business owners, as the uncertainty of the pandemic has thrust businesses into situations in which there is not a contingency plan in place if businesses were forced to close their doors for more than the for future. 

Per Bylund, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Oklahoma State University, said one of the major impacts of the global coronavirus situation is the supply chain being affected. Because many things are shipped from overseas, especially on cargo ships, it could realistically be months before it is known how much it has been impacted.

Bylund said because people are buying out stores of certain items, it has become more of a burden on small businesses to resupply their shelves. 

“I think many of the small businesses, what they need to do, is pick up the phone and call their suppliers and try to figure it out," Bylund said. "We don’t know what’s going to happen, and it’s a big problem because it is a political problem.

"If politicians decide anything, it’s basically black or white, yes or no, and it’s really hard to have a contingency plan put in place to deal with those things. There are rapid changes in the market, too, but they’re usually more incremental and you can see, sort of, which direction you are heading before everything hits the fan, so to speak.”

Bylund said businesses need to assess what they are doing and have a contingency plan in place so they can maintain some sort of cash flow and to make sure they don’t run out of cash. He said even a business with profitable margins can go out of business if it runs out of money. 

“They should reassess not necessarily what they’re doing but how they’re doing it," Bylund said. "If you’re a restaurant, you can’t just suddenly start producing tires. But maybe reassessing how they’re producing food, when they’re open, who they deliver to, and all those things.

"Maybe they can have simpler items on the menu, maybe they can focus on things that are in abundant supply rather than what they actually have on the menu now. Just changing or tweaking their business to serve whatever consumers they are and try to produce as much value possible with what they have and what they do.”

For entrepreneurs, having to adjust to things such as event cancellations, limited ways for restaurants to provide food to customers and operating under an uncertain supply chain are things that are new for people who are accustomed to being able to do things their own way.

"It’s a problem with a political decision where they really had no exceptions. It’s not your judgment call as an entrepreneur, which is not how it usually is," Bylund said. "If it’s a market problem, if it’s an economic problem, then as an entrepreneur, you can say, ‘No, I don’t think this is going to turn out the same way as everyone else thinks, so I’m going to put everything on the line and just try something different.’

"Well, with a political decision, you can’t do that, you have to follow the rules. That’s a problem, because that actually changes what is offered to consumers, too. So an entrepreneur, you’re basically in the business of serving consumers. You’re providing people what they want and what they really value highly, and that has changed the past few weeks dramatically.”

With the coronavirus situation being one that can change any given day, Bylund said it will be important for businesses to find ways to think outside the box.

“What they should do is look over their margins and cash flow and be as agile and as flexible as they can," Bylund said. "That’s they only thing they can do now, basically."

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