Navigating operations, employee issues, retention, and customer service during a time of receding business revenue.
Vincent Aguirre: Hello everyone, my name is Vince Aguirre. I'm the President of Distinct and one of the hosts of the Small Business Squad podcast. Unfortunately, Ken is not with us today. He says his internet's not working. I'm wondering if you paid the bill. I don't know. We'll have to update you in the future of what happened there. But I'm sure he'll be in the chat. Today, we have a good friend of ours Susan Lorimer, who is the CEO of Fun at Big Bounce Funhouse Rentals. And we're going to be talking with her about the Responsibility Of A Business Owner During Uncertain Times. You know, it's been uncertain times for a while now, and some people still feel as we look towards the future, what does the future look like? It feels uncertain to a lot of people. So our hope is to talk with Susan about some of her experiences, help all of you listening, learn from the things that she's learned. And honestly, just have a good conversation with Susan, who I always enjoy talking to. So I'm going to bring Susan on for a minute. let her introduce herself. And now jump in with some of our questions that we have. Hey, Susan!
Susan Lorimer: Hi Vince, good to see you!
Vince: Good to see you. Always is a good time. Susan, I'd love for you to tell everyone your background and kind of who you are what you've done. You know, we want to keep this about 30 minutes, so maybe skip some of the parts. But, just talk about your experiences and how what led you here to this call today.
Susan: I'll go through the cliff notes. How's that? So, I am Susan Lorimer, my husband and I Andy, I have Big Bounce Funhouse Rentals. We're located in Greencastle, Indiana but you know, we travel all over. And you'll start to see this maybe during the conversation. But the biggest question that I get is how did we come about? And how did we start? The short answer of everything was it was a birthday party that we were doing ourselves. So I'd had a little bit experience with inflatables, in management company, and my husband was get ready to have a birthday party. And I said, You know what, let's run a bounce house. At that time, we were homeschooling our children, and we were running our tree service full time. And when we went to go try to rent a bounce house, it was just hard to find one. And I told him, you know, hey, I have a little bit of experience, why don't we see about buying one bounce house? And he says why don't we see about buying two bounce houses. So that's where we started, hence the name, Big Bounce Funhouse Rentals. While if I had the vision to go back and see, then what we know now. It's just so much more than bounce houses. And you'll see as we go through the conversation, and, Vince, you've been there a lot with me too building, and with a company. So we'll chat about that later. But that's how we came to be and we just grew and grew and learn more and do more. And here we are today with kind of that C word COVID. In the middle that we're going to be talking about today as well.
Vince: Absolutely. It's such a dirty word now, right?
Susan: Right? Yeah.
Vince: Well, I wouldn't be doing my job as a supporter of your business. If I didn't mention that, like you said, it's so much more than bounce houses, including Mobile Axe Throwing Rentals and Ice Skating Rinks that don't need ice. So opportunity later to plug those some more. But if anyone's watching this, like, I don't need a big bounce, you know, pick a bounce house rental? Well, you might need a mobile axe trailer or an ice skating rink without ice. So let's jump in. Let's ask some of these questions about your experience and uncertainty times. And specifically, do you remember where you were what you're doing, when you heard that the shutdown was coming from COVID?
Susan: For sure. So everyone remembers those monumental moments right where they were part of history. And for us, we don't take a whole lot of vacations when we travel. It is usually work-related. But yeah, we were on spring break. And we were off a little island and overseas and I heard that everything was shutting down. So we were on a cruise to answer your question and it was ritzy. How are we going to get back? Are we going to be stuck here on this boat going to happen? And our office gals at the time they had tried to keep quiet because they don't want to run our time while we were away from the office. But of course being who I am, I got some WiFi and I texted how is everything and they couldn't hold back because our phones were blowing up people were canceling left and write everything that we had on the books and on the schedules just cancel, cancel, cancel, cancel, so they did break the news to me and I was still a little bit uncertain. And we had like three days left till our cruise was over. And yes, the announcement started coming on the boat and what was going on back here. And what was happening and it was just all so uncertain was the word, for sure. Are we going to get off the boat? What's it gonna look like when we get back home and get to business? And we'll talk a little bit later what that looked like, but it was okay, game on, we need to figure out how we're going to go forward in what we do. Because right, we are gatherings of people. So that was a very difficult decision to go forward. And what do we do?
Vince: Absolutely. I actually, I think you were one of my last meetings before the shutdown. I remember, you were getting ready for the cruise. And we kind of talked about, like, who knows what this thing is going to do? You know, like, what how big of a deal is going to be and we just kind of talk through all that. And a couple days later, it's like, oh, shoot, okay. Yeah. This is a big deal. I remember that vividly. Okay, so as you were navigating this right, you're on the cruise, you hear about the shutdown, you're kind of stuck there. And then you get back what leadership traits kind of supported you what skills supporting you during that time, your experiences.
Susan: So, the biggest thing on my mind when this happened was Easter was coming up. Easter for us is a huge time, right? It's a holiday and people get together and you have the Easter Bunny out there. So it was definitely what are we going to do? We had many jobs lined up where our Easter Bunny Fritz is his name. He was going to be visiting children and pictures. So the first thing that we did was leadership wise is we had to have creativity and be flexible. And we figured out that it's probably within a week to go and do virtual online visits with the Easter Bunny transformed into Easter Bunny Studios. I called it EB studios that we just.. how can we do this? How can we still get the kids to visit with the Easter Bunny. And through technology, we were able to bring the kids in visit with the Easter Bunny, and still get a picture with the Easter Bunny. And that was the the best. We were able to Photoshop and bring the kids in with the Easter Bunny. We had so many people reach out and thank us and actually tell us that that was the best experience. They didn't have to wait in the lines. Had the kids all over from in their pajamas to their Easter best. And people just really invited us and Fritz into their home. Yeah, was it was a huge time for us. I know Vince, you were monumental and that to helping us get the word out. And we sold our tickets online. And you know, you and I have been friends for a while. And I think that you've always heard me say "Go go go! Let's do this. Let's do that!" I think that's probably the first time you ever heard me pick up the phone and say I can't do it anymore. We were working around the clock. Pretty much. We were starting Easter calls with a bunny around 8am. We were finishing our last calls between 9 and 930. All over, all over the world we were calling and at 930 Then it was my time to schedule the other calls, send out the emails, let them get with film, Fritz was going to be calling and talking to them. It was it was little sleep, trainwreck. But we pulled together and we we did it.
Vince: Yeah, no, you did. And I have to say, we were I don't know how many clients we're working with them. But now we work with about 90 clients in a given month. And you were the first of our clients to implement some kind of change, right? Like everyone adapted their business. We work with Myers Market and they started doing meat pickup, we work with all kinds of businesses, there's all the different things but you were just the quickest to get to it. And it was really cool to see that pivot in a time where I'm sure you were completely freaking out. You know, everyone else had some line of business still but you were just like, events are canceled. And you just got to it and that was awesome to see.
Susan: For sure. We even from the Easter Bunny. Of course, we went on to Santa that way again for that year, but post problems we're coming up too right. So your March, April area, a lot of the post prompts cancelled. But for those that could reach out to we still, we still were able to do a few. And the way that we did that, again with technology, we did virtual character drawings. Trivia, we did bingo. We gave out prizes for bingo. And they drove their cars and would drive up and we would handle their bag and their prize that they want online. Yeah. Through a drive thru kind of per se. So yeah, it was a whole lot of adaptability and creativity. How are we going to do this, you know, like, most businesses had some sort of way of of adapting, right, the hours the time drive throughs was not the case for us. So we had to reach out to these people and say, Hey, we're, we're working on it. What do you think of this idea? So, 100%, we probably crept along at 10%. To get some, but we definitely lost the employees. And we can talk about that later of building back where we are today. And how to do that. But yeah, it was a shock. It was devastating is the word.
Vince: Absolutely. I'm going to take a quick pause before we go on to the next question. And just kind of promote this podcast, anyone watching. This podcast is a part of the Small Business Squad and the Small Business Squad is many things. But one of the things it is most impactful is a Facebook group. So we have a Facebook group member, Justin Campbell, who's tuning in, he says, Hey all, we want to say hi, back to Justin, if you are watching this and your small business owner, small business supporter, you can join the Facebook group by searching for Small Business Squad on Facebook. Or you can go to MeetTheSquad.com to find different ways to engage. And if you're watching this from the Facebook group, unfortunately, we do not see your comments. So find our stream on another platform to leave any comments. All right, I'm gonna put the chat overlay. No, I'm not. I don't like that. Let's go ahead on to the next question, then Susan. Where are we? So, you've been through this now, three years ago, this all happened doesn't? It's crazy to think about that. What insights do you have today that you didn't have before COVID?
Susan: Yeah, that's a great question. So it didn't make me reevaluate our business for sure. We have grown so much from the backyard events, which I mean, we still do a ton of, but we were mostly corporate. That means churches and towns and festivals. So when COVID hit with all of that being shut down, it was more converting back to, "Okay. Now, we are only focusing on these, what we call backyard events." So single family events. And, you know, our marketing has always been corporate corporate, now are pulling back and saying our marketing is different. We need to change directions on what we're going to do. And we most certainly certainly did. By that, what I mean is, we used to do a few tents, tables, chairs, that's what people wanted. When their business or you know, their parties in their own yard. So we had to take our business and where a lot of companies like ours were selling out or not able to withstand the overhead. We just really rolled the dice and double down on what, who we were getting calls for and that was purchasing at that time, some tents that we had always thought about doing led movie screens, and have thought about that for a while. But when COVID hit and businesses were starting to call and say, Hey, we can't have company parties, or we need to cancel the company party that we had to pitch you know, hey, why don't we do a drive in and although we've been doing that inflatable movie screens for a while that led led us into something totally different, where we could do it during the daytime as well. And unfortunately, with COVID came many deaths. And people were not able to go to the funeral homes and meet and mourn during that time. So we came up with a way to show the funeral in on these LED screens in a parking lot and and people were able to stay in their car and mourn a loved one or see the celebration of life. So it was reaching out to, funeral homes, reaching out to schools to do graduations like that. So to get back to your question that the insight I never saw as focusing so much on that, or going forward in to getting those items. Or, like I said earlier, rolling the dice to is going to work or not, we were just trying to stay afloat and stay with what the demands and what people needed. So now today, it's kind of led us into a different stream and path. We're doing what we've always done. But we're getting more and more calls, even still today for these LED screens and different things people kind of adapted to talk was on and a lot of them haven't changed. They're still wanting to do some of these events. It's a different way of doing events.
Vince: Absolutely. Yeah. And I bet if I would have told you in 2019, that you'll be doing LED funerals next year, you would have thought I was crazy.
Susan: For sure. Yeah, where are you talking about? How would that even work? But yeah, well, it's a sink or swim. You're gonna try to swim and figure out figure it all out. And that's definitely what my husband and I did sit down. Okay, where, where are we going? And what are we going to do?
Vince: And I think again, it just another way. You, yes, you were trying to survive, but you also are meeting the need, right? Like, people couldn't meet with the Easter Bunny you solve that. People couldn't mourn together, you solve that. And I think, those things come out of trying times where you find solutions to problems that yeah, sometimes aren't even problems ahead of that, right?
Susan: Absolutely. We actually did. One graduation stands out in my mind, where we had seven different inflatable movie screens all blown up at the same time, that for a graduation ceremony, so they brought in the cars. And it's actually the venue was at Conner Prairie. So you know, nice, big open area. And we showed a graduation at the same time on all of the screens, and the kids, you know, set their name and got their diploma. But, yeah, would anyone ever thought that for the graduation?
Vince: No, for sure. Wow. So when it comes to the customer, or the consumer? Have you seen a change in the way that your customers or even people who don't become customers, but inquire the way they're engaging with you?
Susan: You know, we have, and I would say that people are more understanding, a little bit more laid back. And just the overall understanding is a good word, with us, and I kind of talked about this earlier, we lost so many employees, even some family members that were employees, you needed to go do something else, totally understand. And I had already said, Not all companies survive this, they either retired early sold out, we saw so many companies pop up, because you know, other companies were personnel, and these new people are saying, hey, you know, I can go and do this. But that's a whole other topic, they're not sure what whatever, what I'm saying is, it just all fell back to our clients, trying to get a hold of us and go on to do jobs. So with that being said, the whole understanding part, we are doing as much as we were pre-COVID, but with a lot of new staff. And a lot of the old staff did come back too, we may need to deliver early we need to may need to pick up late. And those customers are more understanding, my party's from 11 to 2 and they're saying, we're coming out the night before, are you gonna pick it up late at night? Because that's when you have the staff, that's when you have the vehicles. And whereas prior if we were needed to do that, we might have got a few grouchy those of you guys doing that. Pretty much everyone now is, we gotcha, yep. No problem. You know that the thing that's happening This isn't a surprise to anyone and everyone that regardless of what business you're in, you're fill in this crunch. But insurance going up fuel going up, labor or going up its just hit, hit, hit. And fortunately, you have to pass that on, or we wouldn't stay in business. And that's something that we've been able to pride ourselves that we've tried to keep our costs low, low, low. Where we still make a profit, and we can still do what we need to do. But now it's like, okay, there, there is an increase. We have to pass that on. So we stay in business, and we're still able to bring the fun to parties and get the party started, right? For the most part, people are very understanding of that, too. Locally, here in Greencastle, we used to have free delivery. Now, there's a very minimal charge, but there has to be a charge, for fuel. It's totally different now.
Vince: It's just, all those additional stressors, right after we were out of the woods, and then all these new things are coming on and just having to continue to adapt. I will say, I am happy to hear that for the most part, your customers are more understanding and in treating you well. I know so many industries, where it's kind of not the case right now, food service seems to be, all the everyone's complaining about food, even though they know how much of a hard time that restaurants are going through. So I'm glad you're not seeing that on your end.
Susan: Usually, for the most part, we get a lot of smiles and people are excited to see right. Bring the party. So, they're ready for us for sure.
Vince: Yeah, that's awesome. So throughout all these changes, what roles did technology play in? All of your adaptations?
Susan: So I think we kind of touched on it earlier, it was definitely, you know, the zoom. That was huge for us. Like I said, we even did live virtual caricature drawings. People would sit down, we would put our our cameras and be able to look at them, draw it out, let them see as we're drawing, and then email the pictures. So, that just having that technology, and to be able to do that is absolutely amazing. Who would have thought you'd do a DJ dance party? Personally, it's one person in a room and you see all these these students? And but yeah, we actually did some problems like that, where the kids dressed up, and maybe one or two couples went over to each other's houses, and we had all these houses. And yeah, they were dancing in their living room. So without technology, and the platforms, you wouldn't been able to do that. Kahoot was another big one for us, that allowed us to do, the bingo and the other platforms that we were able to offer during that time. So, and everyone knows, just zoom meetings to be able to meet with your associates and your vendors. And these times and, give advice, what are you doing those roundtables were very good. I did a way to connect with your peers that's going through the same thing. As, maybe they have different ideas that you didn't think of, and vice versa, they were happy to hear oh, yes, we we could do that too. That happen pretty much so.
Vince: You mentioned connecting with vendors and whatnot. That was a big change I saw and what I do is before COVID, it was always assumed if we had a meeting scheduled, it was in person, I feel like now it's always assume that it's not in person, which is just such a bizarre change from before and after. I did have it up on the screen earlier, but I'll show it again. Ken is watching and he says great information, Susan. He thanks you.
Susan: Yeah, sorry, you couldn't be with us.
Vince: We'll have to do it again sometime soon. So, you've mentioned this in a lot of these questions, but I want to give an opportunity to talk more in depth if you'd like about changes to your cost structure and what you've had to do to adapt your cost structure, both for, inflation, all these extra costs, but really, in just reevaluating your cost if anything's kind of risen to the top and forced you to change the way you do things.
Susan: Right and thank you for that. Yes, whatever someone calls us up and asks us to do a job, we have our base prices, right? That we know of what our cost is for doing that job. And I try to take every job and do that analysis, especially when it's big jobs and traveling. One of the hardest things is, as a business owner, is all the requests that we get right, especially in our line of business. Everyone has, a nonprofit, you know, they're supporting Susie or Johnny and oh, gosh, you have heartstrings, and it tugs you when you want to do everything. But it's really made us pare down more of okay, this is our focus, and we want to be able to help everyone and here you go, we can do this for your silent auction or not, but it's really hard to answer all those calls in or we wouldn't be in business. So, yeah, unfortunately, it's made us look harder as to what we can do and what we can't. If I can plug second Saturdays is a great, great way, you know, along with Presbyterian Church, we are we are out there, that's a total free event. We love to give back to the community, and thanks for the support. But yeah, unfortunately, with the prices going up and the insurance going up, that was the biggest thing and not to be down on insurance companies. I understand. They were, especially in our industry, those insurance companies, they were picking up the phones and people were canceling their policies altogether. So, we didn't feel that we could do that by any means. Because right, we're hopeful that we're good out there. This was gonna pass soon. So those insurance premiums didn't go down. Any we still just as much on there. So that was hard to part of keeping the doors open and the business to be there. So yeah, just overall, the cost of your business and staying afloat.
Vince: I couldn't even.. insurance companies must have been in an interesting position and everyone making those decisions, right?
Susan: That's right. Yeah, it would be a very good one to talk to, what happened with insurance and, and people during that time.
Vince: That's, that's a great point. If anyone watching is in insurance for business, or know someone put them in touch, I'm sure they have their own story. Yeah, that'd be really fun to explore,
Susan: You know, during all this time with COVID. I would talk to people or I would do live podcast of, where we are, and what's going on with Facebook Live. I had so many people that would come up to me and say, we didn't even think about that with you. It's like, no, yeah, yeah. As Sure. You know, they had their own problems too. Everyone was just trying to survive. With a shutdown. And how do you do that?
Vince: Yeah, I'd say, kind of, to that point of like, everyone's problems. I think, being a digital service company, we had it better than most people. But our selling point is our unlimited website support. So all of our clients at the exact same time all need to adapt their website, it was wild for us, because we don't charge anything extra for that. We're just part of our service. You know, I think it strengthened our ties with a lot of our clients. So in the long run, it worked out well, but tell you what, quarantine is just me sitting in front of a computer just typing all day, just trying to adapt. But yeah, I mean everyone had something, right.
Susan: It was crazy. We did some of those outdoor movies. And when I would go and talk to those vendors, they would come out and some of them are saying, for instance, we did a job where the company made plastics and styrofoam, right, a lot of to go food. And they were working around the clock and just saying they couldn’t keep up with it. Like, there's some companies that it went, they couldn't keep up and other companies that just stopped down and reinvent the wheel.
Vince: So, how are you leading your business different today in today's environment?
Susan: That's a great question. I would say mostly, we're going towards these LED screens. Which we didn't think that we would be the ice skating rink is coming right up again for, it is anytime ice skating, but most people want it during the winter. We are still installing a rink today, I will say that it's September.. So that is nice. But yeah, I think that it's leading us to a different vision. Not that we're stopping doing anything that we've always done before, I'm not not saying that we're not going anywhere. But it's definitely opened up our eyes to where do we need to go. We are getting we are getting calls to travel all over. I know, not too long ago, we did an event with an LED screen that we had Willie Nelson and Miranda Lambert, Tim McGraw on our screens up there by the stage. And that's really cool. That's really cool. We did another event for the Olympics, the flying disc Olympics, as just, I didn't see us going there, right? Bounce houses. But so many different things and traveling the escape room that we have, colleges are loving it, people going elsewhere to throw axes or to do a mobile escape room and give us call, we'll bring your group in here and you have a private party. So it's just getting the word out for those things. And, it's more of the bigger attractions, that I think that I see the future leading for us.
Vince: We're growing our team at Distinct and I think the escape room might be a good team building exercise. So let's talk about that offline. And think about that until right now. But we have a global presence now. All right, we'll demo it. I'll record the whole thing. And we'll make a little promo video too.
Vince: So the last formal question I have, and then I want to give you an opportunity, just to pitch anything you'd like. But I really want you to, take a breath, look straight in the camera and give some advice to other business owners with a particular focus on maybe people who are, in your shoes where you were 10 years ago, right? Maybe not as experienced in kind of learning the ropes.
Susan: Slow and steady, slow and steady. Completely jump in. It's a race, right? The other thing, my husband and I talk about this all the time, you want to do what you love with who you love, and you do it well, and you do it with integrity, and you're fair, you're honest. And you're friends with your clients, they feel like they can call you up, whether they want to throw a party or tell you about their day. And that happens, that happens. And that's really, really cool. Those relationships that you build along the way. So take time, learn the people, the business is just a business. And it's part, but take time to do the work that you enjoy what you enjoy, and get to learn about the people that you're working with.
Vince: I love that. So I'm gonna prompt the audience. This is now's the last chance to ask a question. And while you are typing your questions, Susan, I'm gonna let you know, make your pitch your elevator pitch of who you are, what you do, why people should work with you, and whatever your heart desires.
Susan: Well, thank you. I would just say, give us a call. So many times, people, I didn't know that you did that. Or oh, we're wanting such and such item. You probably don't have that. You'd be surprised. You know, when our kids were in public school and they would come home, off the bus. There were many times that there would be animals in our house, Santa would be here. Clowns would be here stilt walkers. I mean, you just never really knew what they're gonna come home to. So give us a call. Give us a call. You don't see it on the website doesn't mean that we don't have it or can't get it. Right now the big thing, all the kids are just going back to school. All these committees are forming together now trying to fundraise for post proms at the end of the year. By working with us now we can help you fundraise. We can secure your date. Just give us call 1866 JUMP TOO. J-U-M-P T-O-O.
Vince: There it is. Well, Susan, I appreciate your time. Well to do this again with Ken, I'm sure there's some questions I missed that he would have liked me to ask. But I really appreciate you being here and hope to see you engaging in the Small Business Squad Facebook Group.
Susan: Absolutely. Thank you so much. Great talking to you.
Vince: Yeah, absolutely. Well, thank you all for joining. In two weeks on August 31st. We're going to be having another podcast. The topic will be Self Management, Mental Health and Leading From The Top. Anyone who's involved with the Small Business Squad Facebook group will recognize CJ is going to be our guest. If you don't know CJ yet you have to tune in because she has an incredible talent and just a joy to be with. I was with her a couple days ago getting coffee and just it's gonna be a fantastic experience. So once again, my name is Vince Aguirre. I am the President of Distinct. Distinct build affordable and high-quality websites with unlimited support for busy leaders, and you can learn more about us at BecomeDistinct.com. To learn more about the Small Business Squad you can go to MeetTheSquad.com.