While no one would have chosen a pandemic as a business booster, the fact remains that some businesses have experienced a surge in sales during the past two-and-a-half months. Shops that sell and repair bicycles, yard sign companies and virtual learning platforms are all working to keep up with the demand for their services and products.
Ella Lee Forest resident Mark Griffith learned how busy bike shops are when his son’s bike had a mishap with a bent derailleur that left it unusable.
“Getting a bike fixed during the pandemic proved to be pretty challenging,” he said.
Griffith began by placing a call to iCycle, at T.C. Jester Boulevard and Ella Boulevard, and learned it would be a two-week wait. Then he drove to West End Bicycles where the bike was purchased. That store was happy to sell him parts but also was backlogged about two weeks for repair service.
Next was Planetary Cycles, which gave Griffith a three-week wait time. That shop suggested one of its competitors, Cyclone Cycles, where the owner and sole employee offered Griffith some good advice on how to do some self-repair.
“Frustrated, I bought the parts, watched many YouTube videos, and fixed it myself,” Griffith said. “It took several hours on a job that would have taken a pro just one, but now my son has a repaired bicycle, and I have a new, very useful skill in my belt.”
Daniel Sanchez, a manager at iCycle, said it is now at about a one-month wait for repair jobs that normally would take two or three days.
He said sales are way up, too. Normally, the business does about $10,000 a week in sales, but now it is selling about triple that – each day. That is despite reduced hours and limiting in-store customers.
“All the gyms and everything (were closed),” Sanchez said. “The only thing you could do is go jogging and if you didn’t want to do that, you went riding.”
Shepherd Park resident and Yard Party Signs owner Jenny Pisio has been putting up celebratory yard letter signs all over Houston since starting the business last July.
Pisio said her normal volume is two to three signs each night, but now she is doing as many as 10 signs in one night – marking birthdays, anniversaries and graduations.
Sign Gypsies Northwest Houston, another company that serves the area, is owned by Alesha and Jason Virgadamo. They’ve been in business for three years and in the last few months have seen a 500 percent increase in sales.
“Our normal volume is easily handled by two people, but due to the pandemic we have hired a number of helpers,” Alesha Virgadamo said. “We are one of the few ways that people can celebrate. Drive-by parties and parades have become very popular.”
Pisio said she had to work to ramp up, too.
“The community has been so great that we were able to purchase new inventory to meet everyone’s needs,” she said. “I’m excited to create special memories during these difficult times.”
As an offshoot of online learning, online lessons – just for fun – are something that parents are looking at this summer.
Outschool began offering classes in 2015 and is based in San Francisco. To date there are more than 1,200 independent teachers offering more than 15,000 live, online classes for kids ages 3-18.
According to spokesperson Kristen Marion, Outschool is offering $50 in free classes for families affected by the pandemic, which are available at Outschool.org. Typical classes average $10 per class hour. Class rates are set by the independent teacher and begin at $5 per class. Each class price is listed at www.outschool.com.
“Outschool has seen an 11 (times) increase in enrollments since March,” Marion said. “Outschool’s team and community of teachers have more expertise in this type of learning than any other U.S.-based organization, having had 80,000 students attend more than 300,000 class hours.”
Because many camps can’t operate in person, Outschool is offering a full range of online summer camps for kids.
“Outschool is committed to offering kids the nurturing experience of summer camps from home,” Marion said. “And small businesses with experience serving kids during the summer are using Outschool as a solution to keep camps running in a new way.”