The spread of COVID-19 in March brought the nation’s economy to a screeching and unexpected halt, forcing many local stores and businesses to close for months and lose millions in profits.
But it hasn’t been all bad news for businesses.
The unprecedented circumstances created by the virus have led to a serious spike in profits at some stores and restaurants, and even led to record-setting sales at a few businesses.
Larry Barnhart, owner of Kokomo Cycling and Fitness, said with gyms and fitness centers closed due to the pandemic, people have shown up in droves at his store to buy a new bicycle to get some outdoor exercise.
He said the shop at 1500 E. Boulevard closed for two weeks when the virus first hit the state, and then reopened with reduced hours the first week of April. In just four weeks after reopening, he had sold more bikes than the previous four months combined.
“It was ridiculously intense for the first two weeks we opened back up,” Barnhart said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. When people found out we were open, we were selling more bikes in a day, in just four hours, than we normally sell in three days during normal hours.”
It was the same story at RD Filip Inc., which sells cleaning supplies, bulk paper products and safety gear, such as masks and gloves, from its corporate warehouse at 1236 N. Main St.
Owner Rick Filips said his company has been in business for 35 years, serving mostly north central Indiana. March was the best month of sales he’s ever had in that time.
He said businesses and residents flocked to the warehouse to stock up on masks, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and gloves.
The company also recently launched an e-commerce site, and since March, have received orders from as far away as Connecticut, California and Florida from businesses and people desperate to find personal protective gear and disinfectant wipes as the national supply evaporated.
“This has gone beyond what I ever thought would happen,” Filip said.
Sunspot Natural Market at 3717 S. Reed Road has also seen record-setting sales from customers looking for products to boost their immune systems over fears of COVID-19.
Owner Joan Johnson said she estimated sales have increased by up to 40% since March. Some of the most popular items have been elderberry and zinc, which are used to strengthen and protect the immune system. Johnson said they’ve also sold a lot of products used to reduce stress, such as CBD oil and adrenal-supporting supplements.
“People are exhausted right now, and they don’t know why,” she said. “I think it’s just all the worry in the world, all the uncertainty. … Herbs and natural foods really make a difference, and people are really responding to that. It’s something they can do themselves, when so much is out of our hands.”
The store has also seen a huge spike in sales of its all-natural baking items, such as yeast and flower, as more and more people cook at home rather than going out to eat, Johnson said.
Sales at Soupley’s Wine and Spirits saw a huge spike in March and early April, as customers stocked up on alcohol over worries the stores may be forced to close.
Co-owner Kyle Rayl said those sales abruptly dropped, though, when the state forced liquor stores to close their doors and only allow curbside pickup. He said since the stores have reopened, sales are starting to even out.
“It’s getting back to pretty much normal right now,” Rayl said. “Overall, I’d say we had a slight increase in sales since this all hit.”
But record sales have led to a catch-22 situation at some local businesses that may end up losing out in the long run.
Kokomo Cycling owner Barnhart said nationally, so many people have been buying bicycles that it’s dried up the supply chain. He said they normally carry around 150 bikes at the store. Now, they only have nine, and they don’t know when the next full shipment will come.
Barnhart said one of their suppliers emailed and said they have more than 200,000 bikes backordered.
“It caught everybody off guard,” he said. “Everything just vanished almost overnight. You just have to wait and see what shows up. There’s really no rhythm or reason to it.”
It’s the same for bike repair parts, too. Barnhart said the nation’s supply of bicycle seats has evaporated and he can’t find a supplier anywhere.
“It’s going to be interesting for the next month or so,” he said. “Things are going to get tight here soon.”
Now, Barnhart hopes the huge boost in sales last month will carry the shop through while they wait for a new shipment of products to sell. He’s also keeping his fingers crossed that the bicycle craze carries on further into the year, and sales will come back stronger than ever once more bikes arrive.
“I have no idea if this trend is going to stick or not, but this will definitely help,” he said. “If this kind of enthusiasm sticks, it will be great, but we’ll just have to wait and see.”
At RD Filips Inc., the record sales of disinfectants, masks and hand sanitizer has been offset by a huge drop in purchases on other products. Sales Director Amy Whitlock said with schools, government buildings and other stores closed, no one is buying paper towels, mops, brooms or toilet paper to restock their supply.
“One area has plummeted while another area has increased immensely,” she said. “It’s not like we’re cashing in. We’ve pretty much stayed even, but only because schools and churches and governments aren’t open. It’s evening itself out.”
Owner Filip said once those places do reopen, he anticipates paper sales will go back to normal, while purchases of disinfectant and hand sanitizer will stay high, leading to an overall boost in profits.
However, masks and gloves have become nearly impossible to find, as well as the dispensers, pumps and containers used for hand sanitizer and wipes. Filip said he doesn’t anticipate normal shipments of those products until the end of the year.
“Those things are hard to get right now,” he said. “They’re like gold.”
Rupert’s B&K Owner Allen Wilson said unlike most sit-in restaurants, his business has been booming due to warm spring weather and the fact the restaurant is a drive-in, which allows customers to social distance by staying in their cars.
But that’s led to problems. Wilson said with the slump in sales at most restaurants, food trucks are now only running once a week, which means his eatery sometimes runs out of food that he can’t restock for days.
Meat prices have also skyrocketed due to the beef shortage. Wilson said he buys over 600 pounds of meat a week. So far, he’s eaten the extra cost, but said he may have to raise menu prices if the cost stays high.
Wilson said it’s all led to a wonky start to the restaurant, which he purchased last year and opened for the spring season in March.
Now, he and other business owners are waiting for the day when things get back to normal, to even out the unpredictable jumps and slumps in sales caused by the virus that has led to an out-of-sync supply chain.
“We’re all just grabbing and holding on for the ride,” Wilson said. “That’s all you can do.”