LAKEWOOD, Colo. — Despite convenience stores being deemed essential businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, some smaller and independent operators' businesses struggled to adapt.
One such retailer is HJB Convenience Corp., the Lakewood-based operator of Russell's Convenience and Russell's Xpress, which specializes in tenant c-stores in the central business district of Denver; Detroit; and Los Angeles and San Francisco.
According to Ray Huff, president of HJB, the company's downtown Denver c-stores saw a sales drop of 80 percent or more since March 2020. The retailer took advantage of the Payroll Protection Programs (PPP1 and PPP2) and Employee Retention Credit (ERC) funding to pay employees and keep 16 locations open.
"My message to all small operators like me is that it's not too late. You have to be aggressive reaching out to make sure your company gets the resources available," Huff said. "I reached out to my state congressmen, senators and my mayor. I reached out to my local bank. I worked with my accountant and reached out to my payroll company to make sure I got loan forgiveness."
The executive reached out to StrasGlobal — a contract operations provider that services retail locations for companies, which for various reasons, don't have the expertise, infrastructure or desire to operate them — to share his story of persistence and the course of action he took to stay in business.
"Ray contacted us because he wants to share his story of hope and action with fellow independent operators," said Jessica Williams, director of Resources for Retailers, StrasGlobal's content and services hub that offers solutions for the challenges that are common to single-store owners and small-chain operators. "Ray's approach can be a template for other retailers who can take similar action right away and potentially save their businesses."
Actionable highlights of the conversation Huff had with StrasGlobal include:
- Be curious. Speak to fellow business owners in the community to learn from one another and get results.
- Be proactive. Local bank relationships can work in small operators' favor for faster access to funding.
- Be aggressive. Ask what is needed to stay in business.
- Be persistent. Work with accountants and payroll companies to insure loan forgiveness.
- Stay open. With ERC funds, small retailers can put money back into their account that they’ve already paid to employees.
"We can learn a lot from Ray," said StrasGlobal President Eva Strasburger. "If you're an independent business owner and your sales have been affected by COVID-19, there's still money out there to keep your business open."