Researchers have been speaking to numerous businesses in the state, including several in Harper Woods, such as Rex’s Deli, pictured, to gather information.

Researchers have been speaking to numerous businesses in the state, including several in Harper Woods, such as Rex’s Deli, pictured, to gather information.

Photo by Brendan Losinski


U of M study gathers input from businesses coping with COVID-19

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published February 19, 2021

 Beverly Bright, the owner of Bright Creations in Harper Woods, was among the business owners who contributed to the +Impact Studio program at the University of Michigan.

Beverly Bright, the owner of Bright Creations in Harper Woods, was among the business owners who contributed to the +Impact Studio program at the University of Michigan.

Photo provided by Beverly Bright

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HARPER WOODS — A University of Michigan program is looking at methods for aiding local businesses during the difficulties of COVID-19 and are talking with several Harper Woods-area businesses to gather data.

Known as the +Impact Studio, the program is examining what challenges are facing businesses at this moment in time and then looking for potential solutions.

“It’s a semester-long course,” said Dr. Jeffrey Sanchez-Burkes, faculty director of +Impact Studio. “Rather than pretend a solution can be found and concluded in one semester, we have fellows within the programs and take the findings and scale them to try and help other organizations. Then we have new students come in and give it all a fresh look.”

Sanchez-Burkes explained that the +Impact Studio members wanted to see why certain organizations and businesses are affected more adversely than others and what could be done to help those struggling.

“Starting in September, in the +Impact Studio course, we pivoted to how to help local institutions address contemporary problems,” he said. “We saw minority-owned, women-owned businesses and nonprofits getting disproportionately affected by recent issues like COVID-19. So we sampled those organizations, and others as well, gathered graduate students and staff here at the university and identified what these issues are and what we might be able to make a difference for.”

State Sen. Adam Hollier, a University of Michigan alumnus, was involved in the program and suggested speaking to several businesses in his district, including in Harper Woods. This included business owners such as Rex Zink, the owner of Rex’s Deli.

“We talked a lot about the pandemic and how it’s changed things,” said Zink. “I think the pandemic is making people wash their hands and realize there’s risks like cross contamination. It has increased delivery services like DoorDash and Grubhub. We’ve had to add expenses like buying Plexiglas between counters and tables so people can be socially distanced, and ordering ketchup packets instead of putting bottles on the table. A lot of restaurants aren’t taking these steps, but you have to to be safe.”

Among the other business owners who provided input to the program was Beverly Bright, of Bright Creations.

“It’s been good and it’s been bad. I’m a COVID survivor,” said Bright. “I opened up a gift shop in November in Eastland (Center), and I’m just trying to help stay afloat. It’s just me, so I’m only open three days a week because of my health, so I am eager for any solutions for businesses.”

Bright added that COVID is her biggest challenge, but it also was the impetus for starting her business.

“The future is looking better. I was really sick for a while, I was faced with death, and that encouraged me to start the business,” she said. “If I could face that, I could face anything.”

While the program is still in the data-gathering phase, Sanchez-Burke said they are getting interesting input from businesses.

“In the first few weeks, students engaged in field research to try and see what were the big problems, what appears to be a problem but may not be addressable, and see what we could make a difference about,” he explained. “We formed cohesive themes, and we found two major ones. The first we found was around resiliency, which said there are a lot of sole proprietors who are getting burned out. They need support and we are working to try and find solutions to alleviate this lack of wellness for small-business owners. The other major theme was a need to expand their business and create a more (differentiated) customer base. We are looking at what the areas of expertise these business owners have and how they can pivot and gain new real estate or form new connections using what they already have.”

He went on to say that they are finding that there are several unconventional solutions to help some businesses weather the difficult times of COVID-19.

“There’s a business in Ann Arbor called the Tea Haus. They make tea but were looking for new opportunities for their business. They repurposed their kitchen to make lunches for students. They used the real estate and resources they had to find new types of business,” said Sanchez-Burkes. “In Harper Woods, there is a business called Luv Dollz Natural, and they focus on organic skin care products such as cosmetics. The owner had to move her business more online. She had a very basic, rudimentary website but understood there is more needed, so +Impact Studio is talking with her to explore how she can better engage with customers.”

Zink said he hopes +Impact Studio is successful. He said his experience tells him that any successful business owner has to be open to new ideas and outside input.

“I’ve been doing this for 35 years. We’re asking employees to do things we’ve never had to do before, and that can be hard. We’re hoping there can be some solutions to make things easier for businesses like mine,” he said. “I’ll take any help I can get. Constructive criticism and advice is fine; it’s the person who thinks they know everything who will have trouble.”

Any businesses interested in contributing are invited to contact the program at impactstudio@umich.edu.

“We are trying to have an impact and make a positive difference out there and increase sustainable development goals,” said Sanchez-Burkes.

Sanchez-Burkes said they hope to have concrete findings in the coming months and to build upon what they keep learning.

“We’re hoping to launch a portfolio of things,” he said. “We’re already producing resource guides, and we want to produce as much good as possible.”

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