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Melinda Waldrop //April 6, 2020//


Melinda Waldrop //April 6, 2020//

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Coping with COVID

SC Biz News is speaking with small businesses and community leaders about the impact of the new coronavirus on business and industry, and how this is changing how they operate.
Contact Melinda Waldrop,, with any questions or ideas.

In the 19 years he’s operated his custom printing and embroidery business, Rusty Koss has faced some challenges.

“9/11, the 2008 recession, the floods, the hurricanes — you name it, we’ve been through it,” said Koss, owner of Columbia-based Koss Creative. “We’ve just found ways to help and keep going.”

Koss speaks from that experience when he shares a message for fellow business owners during the COVID-19 crisis that has shuttered nonessential services and disrupted daily life.

“Now is not the time to give up,” Koss said. “Now is the time to really figure out what you’re doing and what you want to do. I think it’s helped focus us in on some things.”

One of Koss’ focuses has been the SC Strong T-shirts sold by business arm Palmetto Shirt Co. The shirts benefit the S.C. Nurses Foundation and mirror company efforts with similar fundraisers for the Red Cross after Sept. 11 and for Habitat for Humanity after Hurricane Florence.

“It’s something that’s kind of been in our DNA from the start,” Koss said. “Different businesses, different individuals, a lot of people have helped support that effort. It’s kept our presses running, kept people employed, and on top of that, we’ll probably be somewhere around $20,000 being able to donate to the S.C. Nurses Foundation and to some PPE equipment for the healthcare industry.”

The charitable effort provides both a therapeutic outlet for his company and benefits for the community, Koss said.

“I think people understand that every job we can drum up right now, that’s extra hours for our crew, and then hopefully they’re taking those dollars and going and spend it at a restaurant where they get takeout, or wherever they’re going,” he said. “They’re spending it locally with whoever’s open.”

Koss’ company sells apparel to retail brands throughout the South. Sales channels include online and mom-and-pop stores — some of which, such as pharmacies and hardware stores, are still open as essential businesses. But other retailers, such as largest client Dillard’s department store, are closed.

“Ninety percent of our business is brick-and-mortar retailers,” Koss said. “You can imagine, when this thing hit, all the retailers —  a lot of them had to close their doors. It’s been a big change for us.”

While focusing on online sales and sales to businesses still operating, Koss Creative is also keeping its clients informed about available resources such as Small Business Administration loans and the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program.

“We even put a resource page on our website,” Koss said. “The retailers, they’re our partners, and without them, our business is going to suffer. I felt like it was our responsibility to do our absolute best to let them know what’s available for them.

“Talking to our reps, there have been some really tough conversations they’ve had with retailers who are just having to shut their doors right now. They’re not sure if they’re even going to open back up. If we can help them to see hey, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, don’t give up, this is what you can do to keep things going and get you through this period, then I feel like it’s our responsibility to help them with that.”

As for the effect on his company, “the dollar figure is going to be anywhere from a million to a million-five, I think. That’s in top-line revenue,” Koss said. “I think our profitability, we will be able to manage our way through this and still break even. Our goal is just let’s weather this storm for the year, because even if they said tomorrow, ‘Hey, everybody can open back up,’ it’s still going to take time to get the economy going again. Our retailers will be sitting on inventory. They’ve got to move that. They might have inventory coming from China that was already delayed.

“It’s going to take a while for everything to get back and going. I’m figuring we’re looking at six months to a year before we can get back to normal levels.”

Koss, who has 27 employees, said he’s had to lay off a “handful” of workers. But he’s guiding them through filing for unemployment with the goal of rehiring them when he’s able.

“Like I told the crew, we’re signing them up for a layoff because it’s six weeks where they don’t have to go looking for a job,” Koss said. “I told them, ‘I don’t want you looking for a job. I want to be bringing you back within those six weeks.’ The goal is to keep everybody working as long as we can and then to bring them back as quickly as we can.”