In this interview, Dr. Sara Paisner, MBA, President at Synoptic Products, reflects on the lessons learned during the Covid-19 pandemic and the impact of these lessons moving forward.
The global pandemic has brought a host of unique challenges and opportunities. What are your take-ways from this unusual time?
Always pay attention to the news- both international and domestic- we live in a global economy so what happens in other countries can affect us in the US.
Synoptic Products survived the pandemic due to a combination of preparation, careful cash flow management, and dedicated employees. In early 2020, while acting as an operations consultant for Ballet Technologies, a Synoptic Products supplier, and as the pandemic started to shut down sections of the US, I realized that our small office needed to prepare in case the pandemic reached us. I initiated conversations with my team about how we would manage if NC was shut down. I was also concerned about my supply chain as Ballet needles are manufactured in France, from raw materials sourced globally. Additionally, as a distribution business, we needed to plan for having at least one person in our office during business hours so we could ship needles to customers as needed.
To manage these issues, I found laptops for my employees, and set them up with remote access to our desktops so we could continue to serve customers while staying socially distanced and safe. We also immediately instituted cleaning procedures to protect ourselves and our customers. We were already using zoom for video conferencing with global teams and were comfortable with many cloud storage systems such as Dropbox for file sharing and storage. Capitalizing on these preparations was part of the planning that allowed Synoptic Products and Ballet Technologies to continue delivering products to clients throughout the pandemic. We had good systems in place before the pandemic hit which meant we were not scrambling to adopt remote systems while also dealing with the stress of the global pandemic. This early preparation also meant that when the lockdown order came on March 15 for my state of North Carolina, my team was ready.
Like many during the lockdown, my employees and I were not only working, but managing children at home in addition and the stress and uncertainty caused by the pandemic itself. Thanks to our planning, we were able to reduce our stress in at least one area of our lives. And, when the PPP funding was offered, I immediately applied. I felt a strong responsibility to my employees and wanted to keep them employed. I was fortunate to receive the economic stimulus payments that allowed me to keep my office open and my employees paid despite record low sales during the spring and summer of 2020. Keeping great employees gave me the flexibility to manage the changing needs at home as well - namely, three kids (10, 11 and 13) who were suddenly doing school work at home! Like many, my husband and I became teachers in addition to doing our own full time jobs.
How have you seen the pandemic affect your business and industry?
The global and then national shut downs that began in March of 2020, shut down the aesthetics industry. Synoptic Products had almost zero sales in April and May of 2020, and the end users of our products- electrologists who provide services at salons, spas, or in their own offices- were hit hard. For many small companies, cash flow is what made the difference between survival and going under. For Synoptic Products, conservative spending since purchasing the business has meant that my company had the cash to keep paying bills even with limited sales. Overall, our 2020 sales took a huge hit, but due to early planning and careful cash flow management, we made it through. And now, in 2021, our business is rebounding. In fact, the industry’s current rebound is proof positive of the resilience of electrologists and the electrolysis market.
A silver lining that our industry found during the pandemic was the adoption of virtual participation in continuing education credits (CEUs). Previous to the pandemic, no association was doing virtual seminars. This limited the attendance and required speakers to be on site for their presentations. With a virtual seminar, an expert could give their seminar from anywhere in the country. Seminars that normally hosted 20-30 attendees when in person, now had 65 participants. I was eager to participate in this innovation and have developed two presentations, presenting them to state Electrology Associations from all over the country.
Where do you look for support when you need it?
As a woman in business, I have found that it is crucial for me to have the support of other professional women. This became even more important in 2017 when I purchased Synoptic Products. I had joined Ellevate, a women's professional organization in 2016, and while I had participated in a few events, the experience of engaging with other professional women during the lockdown was incredibly powerful and empowering. These were women who really understood the issues I was facing as a business owner, a leader, a parent, and a woman. Having the support of other women with whom I could speak truly freely about the issues I was facing was incredibly powerful. We all faced tough challenges during the pandemic, and some days, my Ellevate meetings were the highlight. During some conversations I gave advice; other days I was the one being mentored. I will be forever grateful for this powerful, defining experience, and I encourage others to seek out professional organizations that can offer you the support you need.
With the US now getting back to work, what lessons will you apply to this new business cycle?
- Be knowledgeable about your entire supply chain so that you can anticipate or alleviate changes and delays before they occur.
- Hire competent, trustworthy employees and make sure that they are well compensated for their time so that you have time to do the planning and strategic work that will help the business grow.
- No one else is going to take care of your business but you.
Any final words of wisdom?
There’s no substitute for building a strong foundation for your business: great employees, careful financial management, reliable electronic resources, flexible but sound practices, and good relationships with your vendors and customers. After that, you need to make sure that you keep your eyes open and are always willing to learn and ask for help if necessary.
You can’t focus only on your business as we are all connected in this global economy.