Pandemic delayed but didn't derail Cassandra Brunson's designs on success

Cassandra Brunson started Design+ by CassandraMichelle in 2014 as a home business.  

After experiencing some success, and “with much prayer and research,” she decided to transition to a brick-and-mortar site, and in February 2019, a lease was secured for a storefront in Winston-Salem.

Renovations were completed in March 2020 with a grand opening set for March 13 and an official launch slated for March 17.

Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit and the world began to close down, wiping out all of Brunson’s plans

She finally opened her doors in November 2020, appointment only and with strict Covid-19 guidelines. More than three years later, the business is healthy, with two full-time and two part-time employees.

“We have successfully launched a business during the pandemic, showcasing resiliency and the ability to adapt to adverse conditions,” Brunson said. “With this comes a higher level of confidence as it demonstrates the feasibility and viability of the business concept.”  

Here are here thoughts about opening during the pandemic.

What were the extra obstacles to starting a business during the pandemic, and what were your strategies to overcome them? Starting a business during the pandemic, especially one in the interior design and furniture industry, posed unique challenges. Here are some of the obstacles faced and our strategies:

  • Ineligible for federal funding: We didn’t qualify for federal funding as a startup; therefore we applied for and received numerous local grants and assistance.
  • Cancellation of service contracts: Losing clients who had contracted for services was devastating. To overcome this we looked for new client segments or markets. We also explored residential clients through virtual interior design services.
  • Networking: Face-to-face networking came to a streaking halt; therefore, we maintained those relationships through virtual platforms or social media.
  • Halting in-person services: To adapt, we transitioned to remote services by developing and marketing our e-design services, and focusing on virtual consultations and design plans. Once we resumed in-person services we implemented strict safety protocols.
  • Loss of employees: We were uncertain about the business’ future, and we were open and transparent with employees about the situation and our plans. We decided to keep one employee on board to work from home and furloughed the others.
  • Pivoting to e-design: Shifting to e-design seemed like a viable option, if challenging. We implemented a marketing strategy to rebrand and heavily market e-design services to attract new clients. We invested in digital tools for virtual consultations, mood board creation, and 3-D rendering software to enhance e-design offerings.
  • Supply chain issues: The furniture supply chain and fluctuating lumber prices were an absolute nightmare to navigate. Our most successful strategy was diversifying suppliers to mitigate the risk of disruptions. 

How would finish this sentence? If I had it do all over again, I would … not change a thing. 

How has the business changed in the aftermath of the pandemic? While it had its challenges, starting a business during the Covid-19 pandemic also presented several opportunities for growth. We discovered untapped creativity — the pandemic has forced us to think outside the box and find innovative solutions to new problems. The pandemic has normalized remote work and online business models, so we are equipped to operate remotely.  With the rise of remote work, we have the opportunity to access a broader pool of skilled talent from different geographic locations. This can be particularly beneficial for the technical side of our business.

What are the biggest challenges your business faces today? An unstable economy, the rise of interest rates and inflation.

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