Local businesses, entrepreneurs eye post-COVID-19 economy with lessons learned in pandemic

BOSTON — Boost Skin Care Clinic is undergoing a boom, thanks in no small part to Zoom.

“I mean, everyone’s kind of coming in here now and saying to me, ‘Oh my God! I never knew I had a loose neck,’” said owner Dayle Solomont, a registered nurse. “It’s a whole new world.”

A whole new world in which Boost clients, looking at themselves on frequent video conferencing calls, are coming to the conclusion they are suffering a malady unknown before the pandemic -- something Solomont calls ‘Zoom Chin.’

“Maybe their neck is getting a little bit sagging, their jawline is not quite as tight as they want it to be -- that kind of thing,” Solomont said.

What can be done about ‘Zoom Chin?’

Solomont’s arsenal includes an array of FDA-approved products and devices which relax muscles, plump hollows and stimulate collagen growth. Before-and--after pictures show tense, strained ‘Zoom Chin’ necks transformed into placid epidermal plains.

“We know that life is constantly changing and we’re making efforts to treat these things, because our clients are telling us about these things,” Solomont said.

Boost Skin Care isn’t doing anything new. It’s reacting, in a business-sense, to the new reality brought about by Covid-19. And it’s working.

“Certainly at Boost, we’re not looking to have a 50-year-old look like they’re 20,” Solomont said. “We’re just trying to help them look as fresh and as alert and awake as they want to.”

By remarketing existing services, Boost is doing the one thing all businesses need to do to thrive during and after the pandemic, said Peter Cohan, author and teacher of entrepreneurship at Babson College in Wellesley: addressing customer pain.

And Cohan maintains that the pandemic has caused so much pain, that business opportunities abound -- if you go about things the right way.

“What I think is super important is that a lot of startups get started by entrepreneurs who think they have a great idea but it’s not really solving any customer pain,” Cohan said. “Maybe it’s solving something that the entrepreneur thinks is great.”

Cohan said he likes to think of new business ideas as the distinction between a vitamin and a drug.

“What you want to be doing is selling a drug,” he said. “A vitamin is something you’ll tell somebody about, and they’ll say, well it’s nice to have. But I’m not really eager to buy it right now. Whereas a drug is something if you said I have this product or service available, the customer would say, how soon can I get it in my hand?”

“If you’re not selling something that has that kind of response from a customer, then you’re putting yourself at risk.” Cohan said.

Cohan anticipates many will try starting businesses as a direct result of job losses during the pandemic -- and he expects a large portion of those businesses will fail.

“I certainly think that one of the biggest reasons that start-ups fail is they’re working on the wrong problem,” Cohan said.

One way to figure out if you’re working on the right problem is to conduct simple, inexpensive market research.

“The idea is you have to get close interaction with potential customers of an inexpensive version of your idea that conveys the idea and allows you to get feedback,” Cohan said.

Since September, Babson student Bert Cumming has tested several prototypes of his pandemic business idea: the Miji Mask.

“Kids like to design things themselves,” Cumming said. “They like to play with something. They always like to customize their own products.”

So, Cumming thought, why not masks? The final version of the Miji Mask allows users to attach plastic pieces to a strip of velcro.

“From first grade to fourth grade is such a huge, important age for these kids,” Cumming said. “They learn who they are, they learn their interests, they learn how to show themselves.”

The ‘pain’ Cumming is addressing: the fact the kids can’t show themselves if half their faces are covered in masks all day.

“So Miji Mask solves that problem, as it allows you to put anything you’re interested in on your own face mask,” Cumming said.

The mask is now ready for market. But it was a product concept that seemed easier than it turned out to be -- with Cumming working through a variety of attachment options -- including snaps and magnets -- before settling on Velcro.

Cumming realizes his business idea may only have a limited shelf-life, if a vaccine proves effective against Covid-19. He says he’ll ride it out as long as possible and then, the self-admitted ‘serial entrepreneur’ will find another idea.

Back at Boost Skin Care, pivoting back to normal times won’t be so difficult. Though the pandemic may go away, concerns about aging and wrinkles likely won’t.

And Solomont knows her business is of a fortunate type in a sea of others who she is sad to see are floundering.

“It’s a terrible time right now for a lot of businesses,” she said. “And it’s not like some of these restaurant and smaller business owners just pick up, rewrite their resumes and go get another job, right? These are people’s savings and heart and soul.”

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