- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 14, 2021

Some businesses — from bike shops to furniture stores to fitness companies — have gotten an unexpected boost amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has shuttered or slowed many enterprises across the country.

Wolf Herrera-Davila, a mechanic at Germantown Cycles Bicycle Shop in Maryland, described the past year as “absolutely crazy,” with bikes being sold out and the shop seeing a major boom in demand for repair services. At one point the shop had to stop taking service orders because the staff couldn’t handle the volume of requests, he said.

Amid lockdown restrictions, biking became a popular, socially distanced activity, Mr. Herrera-Davila said.

Bike shop owner Rich Heffner said the store sold out in May or June and didn’t have any bikes to sell until November due to manufacturing. Still, the shop saw an increase in revenue because of high demand for bike repairs.

Meanwhile, furniture maker Ethan Allen this week reported a record high order backlog with nearly 45% growth in retail orders over the last year, according to preliminary financial results for its second quarter, which ended Dec. 31. The company said it also had net sales of $178.8 million and $80 million cash on hand with no debt as of last month.

“We are very pleased that, despite many challenges due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we had a strong performance,” said Ethan Allen CEO Farooq Kathwari. “The increased consumer focus on the home has continued a strong demand for our product offerings and design services.”

Similarly, Johnson Health Tech, which makes and sells exercise equipment, has seen a large uptick in retail and wholesale business, with some months achieving sales that were eight to 10 times higher, said senior sales director Jeff Moser.

While retail sales have been up, commercial business with primary vendors such as Planet Fitness and the YMCA has been down, Mr. Moser said, adding that he expects the company will see a billion dollar increase in revenue this year globally.

“We did not have to furlough employees or cut staff because our overall company remained healthy,” he said. “Many of our commercial competitors had major layoffs.”

Not so with exercise equipment maker Nautilus, which said it made $155.4 million in third-quarter net sales, up almost 152% compared to the $61.7 million for the same period last year. The company said it saw a strong consumer interest in its cardio and strength training products, particularly its IC bikes, SelectTech weights and Home Gyms.

Meanwhile, the teleconferencing platform Zoom posted major increa ses in revenue. For its third quarter, the company earned $777.2 million in revenue, up 367% year-over-year, and now has approximately 433,700 customers, up 485%, according to a company spokesperson.

“No-one could have ever expected the growth we have seen. The pandemic accelerated Zoom’s shift from an enterprise tool, to a central part of daily life with people worldwide transitioning to work from home, distance learning and remote gatherings,” the spokesperson said. “We are deeply saddened by the economic losses so many businesses worldwide have experienced as a result of the pandemic, but have been humbled to play a role in helping to keep some of those businesses afloat…This year alone, hundreds of thousands of small business owners — yoga and piano instructors, therapists, accountants, and others — maintained and even grew businesses using video to connect with customers.”

Another area of unexpected pandemic growth: wine clubs. Jed Gray, general manager of Greenhill Winery and Vineyards in Middleburg, Virginia, said its club membership rose by 8% in 2020. 

The winery has more than 2,000 club members, who can enjoy its expansive lawns and various seating options to maintain social distance, he said.

The winery should at least break even, which Mr. Gray called a “tremendous win,” adding that a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan helped carry the business through.

“It’s not lost on any of us as to how fortunate we are to be in a business that has the ability to survive this pandemic to date, if you will, and in some moments in time, thrive,” Mr. Gray said. “Humans do have an affinity for wine and other alcoholic experiences. We’ve been fortunate in comparison to, say, restaurants and gyms. I wouldn’t want to trade places at all.”

The pandemic also has reportedly led to a surge in pet adoptions and a higher demand for pet supplies as people hunker down at home. Julie Paez, co-owner of The Big Bad Woof, a pet store in the District of Columbia, said business has remained steady and that she thinks there has been an uptick in pet adoptions.

Ms. Paez said she expects the company actually experienced a slight drop in revenue since the store had restricted hours and limited operations for three months last year. But fortunately, the company had been building up its delivery and online services for years before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, making it easier for the pet store to quickly pivot to delivery sales. The small business has also been able to get its staffing back up to pre-pandemic levels.

“We weathered the storm. I consider us to be very fortunate,” said Ms. Paez. “We’re just really grateful for the community support that helped us maintain our business.”

• Shen Wu Tan can be reached at stan@washingtontimes.com.

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