SC Biz News is speaking with small businesses and community leaders about the impact of the new coronavirus on business and industry, and how this is changing how they operate.
Contact Andy Owens, [email protected], with any questions or ideas.
When the coronavirus outbreak reached South Carolina, a number of things became scarce from store shelves, including hand sanitizer. Families and individuals can wash their hands with soap, but some businesses are required by the state labor board to have hand sanitizer with them or they can’t be on job sites.
But when workers went to the typical retail locations to buy hand sanitizer, the shelves were suddenly bare.
Cynthia Feldman, who owns Sweetgrass Pharmacy and Compounding, realized what was happening and started making industrial-grade hand sanitizer at her business by the gallon to sell to contractors. This wasn’t cashing in on the outbreak, though; it was providing an avenue for other businesses to stay in business, she said.
“We want to be known as the place to come not just for advice, but the pharmacy that’s prepared to take care of patients,” Feldman said. “For those that aren’t in health care, some of those are going to be forced to close, and it’s scary to me to think it could be do or die for a business.”
Feldman said Sweetgrass is now focused on finding ingredients to make sure they can maintain their supply of hand sanitizer and on finding containers to put it in. Sweetgrass Pharmacy employees have been scouring retailers, looking for high-quality plastic containers to fill so they can get the product into customers’ hands.
Feldman said that she and her staff understood what could happen when the coronavirus begin to shift toward the United States and placed orders for medications that she expected would be in short supply. This has helped her company react to increasing demand from panicky customers who wanted to get refills. Still, some of the wholesale supplies for respiratory medications have been difficult to find, she said.
“There’s a sense of fear among a lot of our patients that the drug supply chain will dry up,” she said. “My staff here is phenomenal, and they have done an exceptional job planning for this.”
Sweetgrass Pharmacy has always offered at-home delivery, said Kathy Atkins, who is a registered nurse and community liaison for Sweetgrass, but the business has expanded that service to help patients who cannot leave their homes. The business has recently moved to offering curbside delivery of products, and it uses text messaging to help customers find out whether something is in stock or refill prescriptions.
Like other businesses, Sweetgrass has been getting questions about the safety of coming to their store and whether products and services are available.
“For us, this is health care,” Atkins said. “We’re taking care of other people. We’re really encouraging everyone to be extra cautious and to go by the rules right now. If this comes through (our business) we can’t help anybody else. That’s for any small business. You just really need to keep healthy.”
Some customers are asking about medications, and some are asking about hazmat suits — no, the staff will not be wearing hazmat suits if you come in, but they also will not shake your hand, and you’ll likely see them wipe down any place that you touch after you leave, out of an abundance of caution.
Feldman said one of the frequent questions she has been getting is about the availability of medications if the outbreak drags on.
“Quite frankly, we don’t know that answer,” Feldman said. “We’re trying to answer questions with precision and calmness. I don’t want to cause a panic where everyone feels like they have to get a year’s supply of medication.”
Feldman said that the business community will bounce back after this outbreak if they trust their customers. All they have to do is ask and rely on one another, including other businesses, she said.
“Really, Mount Pleasant and Charleston as a whole is really an amazing community,” Feldman said. “If they know that a business is struggling, pull on the heartstrings of your customers once you know a business is opened back up to help fix what this coronavirus has done.”