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  • Writer's pictureBy Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Is it crazy to open a business amid the Covid crisis? They don’t think so

More businesses opened than closed on Guam in 2020

Customers wearing face masks walked in and out of a parking garage-turned-garden-shop in Dededo one Sunday afternoon. No one left empty-handed. Gardening accessories flew off the makeshift shelves. The shop owner, Jennifer Garcia, has hired assistants to help tend to the steady stream of crowd.

“I was inspired by rare plants. Plants make people happy,” said Garcia, who opened her home-based shop on Dec. 17 after getting her retail business license. She sells house plants, wicker plant stands, accessories and potteries she has personally designed.

Garcia is among the many risk-takers who have ventured into new businesses amid the uncertain times, capitalizing on pent-up demand and seizing opportunities unexpectedly created by the public health crisis.

The Department of Revenue and Taxation issued 1,459 new business licenses from April thru September 2020, according to DRT Director Dafne Mansapit-Shimizu.

While anecdotal evidence indicates mass bankruptcies, Mansapit-Shimizu said the current record at DRT is not sufficient to make a categorical conclusion. “It is difficult to tell how many businesses have shut down because not all businesses cancel their business licenses when they close,” she said. “However, total business license cancellations for FY2020 April thru September was 451.”

Some analysts say the pandemic has created a climate for businesses to flourish if they can distinguish themselves.

The lockdown, for example, has stirred people’s interest in gardening, thus the increased demand for related products in which Garcia found her niche. In early December, she received the shipment of 3,000 made-to-order potteries from an off-island manufacturer. She quickly sold 250 pieces during the shop opening.

Garcia works as an associate store manager at a brand-name clothing outlet in the Guam Premier Outlet. She started the process of opening her own business when the clothing store temporarily closed following the government’s directive that restricted business operations. She received unemployment benefits for four weeks. “I start up my business on our personal savings,” she said.

The cost of starting a small enterprise on Guam will now be less prohibitive for those with limited seed capital under a new law that reduces the business filing fee by 75 percent. Last month, senators voted 13-1 to override the governor’s veto of Sen. James Moylan’s Bill 133-35, which reduces the filing fees for the Articles of Incorporation of a Limited Liability Company from $1,000 to $250.

The new law is designed to encourage the opening of more small businesses that will eventually become the backbone of Guam’s economy.

My philosophy is that if you have the right product or service, then it's certainly a good time to start a small business,” Moylan said. “However, with this question and under these circumstances, I believe this is a great time for potential entrepreneurs to spend the time finishing their business plans and reviewing possible programs which may help them regarding starting a new business. While there are many uncertainties entering 2021, there is an equal amount of optimism that the situation should get better. Thus, I recommend being prepared.”

Moylan noted that certain types of businesses have thrived under the current circumstances. “But once again, to take any leap, one needs to assure that they have a firm business and finance plan in place,” he said.

The present economic climate, Moylan said, makes it vital for the government to promote policies that would help enhance small business opportunities, create new jobs, add to GovGuam’s tax base and spur local economy.

The odds of success with a new venture can be precarious. Few expect to turn a profit in the first year or two. Despite that, many have taken the plunge, seeking ways to make it work amid uncertainty. There is also an appeal to being the exciting new thing in the neighborhood during a dull period when people are stuck at home.

Customers looking for Philippine products are drawn to Ate Sue’s store, which opened in Dededo on Nov. 15.

“The inception of opening a Filipino store started last year but I was a little bit hesitant because I had a very good job,” said Susan Fryer, who eventually quit her job as shopping mall manager at Tumon Sands Plaza to pursue her plan. “When the pandemic came, everything changed throughout the island. Tourism disappeared, businesses closed, employees lost their jobs and business in Tumon and in other vital areas on the island were a standstill.”

The circumstances prompted her to revisit her plan to open a store, assess the finances needed. When she found a location, Fryer moved forward.

“Everything just fell into place and I took the plunge. After many weeks of hard work getting the space ready and laid out as best I could to start realizing my vision I opened in the latter part of November,” she said. “It was kind of a difficult decision but I took the chance and opportunity of utilizing my knowledge and experience in various retail businesses for the last 40 years of my life.”

While many questioned her decision to open a business amid Covid, Fryer said, “I felt that it was my calling and the right decision. Like all small business owners, I am looking for 2021 to be a better year all around.”

With federal stimulus funds sitting in their bank accounts, Guam shoppers are anxious to get out of their homes during the last holiday season. But jostling through the crowd is not everyone’s favorite romp. Here, Cara Jenae Chamberlain found a gap to fill. She launched the "personal shopper" business with her husband JeCarlo Palomo.

The couple shopped for an unexpected number of clients when they launched the service on Instagram and Facebook on Nov. 7. “On our first day, we expected one or two customers because we were new in business, but we ended up helping 10 people when we did a soft start shopping trip at Ross and assisted our first set of customers,” Chamberlain said.

The demand for such a service has since blown up beyond the couple's expectations.

“Customers who have registered have already made contact with Whatsapp which is where we send the link and accept their requests. They typically forward the photo and circle the items they want,” Chamberlain said.

Chamberlain said she and her husband decided to hire personal shoppers to meet the customers’ demand, which she said is growing faster than expected.

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