BUFFALO, N.Y. — The COVID pandemic brought unpredicted challenges for countless business owners across the country and right here in Western New York.
Among the hardest hit were women entrepreneurs.
For Jackie Lennert, customer service is a huge part of who she is. She told 2 On Your Side she started working in retail when she was 15.
"I just felt like there's got to be something more than a big box store, and there's something about going into a place and feeling welcome, and also feeling like the people who are in there, who are helping you, care," Lennert said.
That's what led her to start her own business, now known as Rove Boutique and Gifts in Williamsville.
However, in 2020, the completely unexpected happened: COVID-19.
"March 15 was our last day. We were closed until June 28. I certainly sat at a crossroads during that time," Lennert said. "Our family had suffered a COVID loss. I was sitting there with my business, and also sitting there experiencing COVID hitting our family directly, and I was like, 'What am I going to do?' "
She ended up restructuring her business as a whole, pivoting to get more products online while also juggling the brick and mortar.
"To run both is literally almost like running two entirely different businesses," Lennert said.
She explained that initially, her business didn't qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program. She learned through her work with the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) she wasn't alone.
"Hearing what was going on, I just kept getting this constant message that it just wasn't geared toward those very, very small businesses, and a lot of women and a lot of entrepreneurs are just themselves, or maybe one other person or two other people, and I thought, 'Oh my gosh. These people aren't going to get help. They're just going to disappear," Lennert said.
Dr. Susan McCartney, the director of the SUNY Buffalo State College's Small Business Development Center, told 2 On Your Side the pandemic has put many women entrepreneurs in an extremely difficult position.
"The situation exists that we will have lost a greater proportion of women-owned businesses. They will have gone out of business, so we will have lost some traction in terms of the advances we have seen in the last 10 years," Dr. McCartney said.
Dr. McCartney believes this is for several reasons.
"Women in general in the United States are undercapitalized when they've launched their business, which creates a ripple effect if you have a gigantic problem," Dr. McCartney said. "Within this country, very few female entrepreneurs utilize venture capital, a very, very small percentage.
"Secondly, when they do pursue financing through a more traditional financing situation such as through a bank, or a credit union, or other entity that supplies financing to entrepreneurs, they often secure less financing than their counterpart."
A lack of childcare also proved to be a major concern during the pandemic.
"You don't have that flexibility if you own your own business. Your customers don't have to wait. Your customers don't have to worry about your family situation. They can go to somebody else," Dr. McCartney said.
However, entrepreneurs here in Western New York are not alone. There are several resources and individuals to offer support and guidance.
"Believe it or not, 60 percent of Rove right now has product lines that are by women owners who are by themselves, or maybe one or two other people, and their products are in my store," Lennert said.
For those who might be having doubts about their future as a business owner, both Lennert and Dr. McCartney said they're here to help too.
Learn more about the SUNY Buffalo State Small Business Development Center, here.
Learn more about the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), here.
Learn more about Rove Boutique and Gifts, here.