Conversations and social media advocacy pivot quickly, acknowledged Isaac Collins, but “shop local” should be more than just the flavor of the week as COVID-19 serves a full menu of challenges for small business owners.
“The Amazons, the Walmarts, the Targets of the world, they are going to be OK,” said Collins, a serial entrepreneur and owner of three Yogurtini franchises across Kansas City. “But small businesses are the backbone of what builds our community and our local economy. I have friends who own movie theaters and coffee shops. Yet, I still see people post pictures of Starbucks. People need to support local and realize that there are faces behind those businesses; it is our livelihoods.”
The once-vocal, widespread support for local businesses that defined the early months of the pandemic has now dwindled dramatically in favor of other causes, concerns and COVID-era adjustments, Collins lamented Tuesday from behind the counter of his soon-to-open Yogurtini soft-serve frozen yogurt store in Overland Park.
Entrepreneurs often sink all their resources into small businesses — a move that requires a co-investment from consumers to succeed, he said.
“I’ve seen people — who supported me in the beginning — going to Dairy Queen, Baskin-Robbins and all these other chain places,” Collins said. “I’m thinking, ‘Why don’t you just keep shopping local?’ I don’t understand that.”
Click here to read about Made in KC’s effort to find the true value of shopping local.
Expanded threats, opportunities
When Coronavirus outbreak fears and safety restrictions hit in March, Collins initially went into panic mode, he said. But rather than being debilitated by worry, he sought out opportunity from the situation.
“I went to work. I reached out to all my frozen yogurt competitors, asking them if they wanted to sell,” Collins said. “It was a way to combat the pandemic and hopefully bring in some more revenues from certain areas. … Ultimately, Overland Park was a perfect fit.”
Although Collins’ third Yogurtini shop — his first in Johnson County — is set to open as early as later this week, the entrepreneur is still working through obstacles left by COVID-19, he said.
“My other two stores aren’t exactly in a good scenario, but we’ve been able to bounce back,” Collins said of his locations at the Country Club Plaza and Shoal Creek. “In the beginning, we closed for 10 days to devise a plan for moving forward. We have had to go against our ‘self-serve’ model to make sure everyone’s safe, but the customers have really appreciated it.”
The Overland Park store, a former Orange Leaf locations, is expected to offer 24 flavors with dairy-free, non-fat, low-fat, sugar-free and gluten-free options, as well as 60-plus toppings behind the bar.
Click here to learn more about the new Yogurtini location.
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🔶Before🔶 & 🔷After🔷 We are exactly two weeks in and the remodel is completed. This was such a fun transformation that makes us even more excited to open after seeing the finished product. What’s left are the exterior signs to go up hopefully next week and training of employees. Speaking of employees, thanks for applying and sending your friends and family our way. We have successfully hired 13 team members from our very own Overland Park community. Hooray for creating jobs and local small businesses! Thanks for the continued support #TeamTini! Stay tuned for our Grand Opening date!🍦❤️
As a Black entrepreneur, Collins recognized a surge in support for Black-owned businesses in the month following the May 25 murder of George Floyd and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, he said. But more recently, it’s business as usual for many consumers.
“That was a little disheartening; people came out to support for a while, but it wasn’t lasting,” Collins said. “I know what us Black businesses owners want is to be able to earn the respect and attention of people and keep it — not have it just because there is a temporary initiative.
“Hopefully, it opened people’s minds to how Black businesses do business — in a very high quality way, in a very reputable way,” he continued. “I think that initial support was great as it was a way to break down barriers.”
Click here to read the story of why Collins joined Kansas City’s protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
Deeper level local
Speaking up is a critical piece of community engagement, said Collins, noting his support for equality and justice — whether on behalf of Black people, women or the LGTBQ+ community.
“I love oneness,” he said. “Whatever group gets marginalized or oppressed, I will fight for [them] to feel like they belong. Because I know being a Black man for 31 years now, I have felt the heaviness of being Black in America. So I love to fight for the underdog.”
And as a franchise owner, Collins’ advocacy — among other involvement — has helped to localize his business when many potential customers could just see a familiar brand and assume no Kansas city connection, he said.
Of course, there’s no substitute for being knowledgeable about one’s craft, Collins said, noting a philosophy of serving people in a personalized manner.
“People want to buy from people,” Collins said. “It’s important for businesses to talk about the owner, the backgrounds and the personalities within the business. People need to know that you care and that your business stands for something — that it would put its neck on the line to support the community.”
Click here to read more about Collins’ entrepreneurial journey with Yogurinti.
“I want to be a resource for people, along with having a community built around the fact that everyone belongs,” he said. “It’s important to make sure the environment is fun and welcoming so that people can interact with one another on a deeper level.”