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'We support each other': Warner Robins' Ink Spot survives pandemic with loyal customers, staff

Most small business owners suffered during the pandemic, but now, some of them are survivors, including a female entrepreneur in Warner Robins.

WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — Most small businesses suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic, but now, some of them are survivors. We introduce you to the female entrepreneur behind a Warner Robins business that pushed through the pandemic.

The Ink Spot has been in business in Houston County for nearly 30 years, but the past three years have been the most challenging. Tina Beckman opened the Ink Spot in 1994.

"I wanted to branch out on my own and do my own thing; and it was interesting to me," said Beckman.

She started her business before computers were routine. All artwork had to be drawn by hand, but now, her team of 8-10 people design, create, and sell hoodies, hats, and T-shirts in every color you can think of.

"We gave it a shot, and now, more than 30 years later, we are still going," said Beckman.

Loyal customers like Crystal Youngblood and David Erpelding kept her business running.

"She is one of those people who makes sure you get everything taken care of and to your liking, so why wouldn't you come back?" said Youngblood.

"They always went the extra mile to make sure we had the products we needed, every time," said Erpelding.

However, in 2020, Beckman had to temporarily shut down because of the pandemic.

"They lost so much -- I mean, 5Ks and family reunions -- everything got shut down. Everything got cancelled for her," said Youngblood.

Erpelding is a coach in Warner Robins. "The schools were shut down for about a year. We weren't able to do some of the things we normally do for the kids, T-shirts-wise and stuff, during the spring, especially, so we had to come up with some creative ideas to help them with T-shirts," he said.

"We kind of laid low for a couple of weeks to try and figure out what to do," said Beckman.

The pandemic caused many small businesses across the country to close up shop, at least temporarily, and unfortunately, many of those closings were permanent.

"When we realized we couldn't stay closed, we had to do something," Beckman said, "So we came back in. It was pretty scary to find that happy balance of keeping my employees and keeping my customers safe."

After a couple of weeks, they reopened part-time. 

"With supply and demand, it's been a struggle. It is calling, trying to complete one job, and keeping all the brands and colors the same. It didn't always happen that way. We would call our customers. They were very understanding, because most of our customers have small businesses of their own and everyone was having the same supply and demand issues that we were having, so everybody was very understanding, but it was really hard. Ballcaps -- everybody wanted ballcaps and we couldn't find them. We kept everybody posted on what we could get. We would make a list and keep up with what we couldn't get," Beckman said.

They went from having 12 jobs a day to two to three.

From Oct. 2020 to Oct. 2021, one in five U.S. businesses shut down, and between 2020 and 2021, the Small Business Administration approved over $73 billion in loans. Beckman received a $150,000 federal loan that she will pay back over the next 30 years.

"If we wouldn't have had that, we would've had to close our business," Beckman said. "It was basically the helping hand that we needed at the time."

After submitting several open records requests, it's not clear how many Houston County businesses did not renew their licenses. The City of Perry said three businesses did not renew in 2020. The City of Warner Robins did not provide data for business license applications in 2020. The City of Centerville provided data, but it is unclear which businesses did not renew between 2019, 2020, and 2021. Houston County's unincorporated areas (outside of Warner Robins, Centerville, Perry) said 108 businesses did not renew their licenses in 2020.

"I am just so grateful she made it through it, because, I mean, we get so much from her. She always adjusted to make sure she was the best price; and sometimes, it did take a little longer to get some things because of supply and demand, but she was always up-to-date with everyone. She stayed in contact and let everybody know what was going on so you weren't just hanging on a thread at weeks at a time. She kept you up-to-date," said Youngblood.

"I just really appreciate our customers, they just keep coming back, so we support each other," said Beckman.

According to business.org, small business license applications have increased by more than 24% since the pandemic, meaning COVID isn't slowing down passionate entrepreneurs or stopping local businesses like The Ink Spot.

Robins Regional Chamber President and CEO April Bragg says throughout the pandemic, they held webinars to help business owners learn how to qualify for small business loans, access their funds, and "get them into their bank account quickly." 

"We've seen a lot of challenges over the past two years, directly- or indirectly-related the pandemic, including staffing issues, supply and demand disruptions, and really adapting to the change in consumer habitat -- for so many, not getting out became the norm -- and so seeing businesses respond by offering services online; adding delivery or curbside pickup options, creating mobile apps, and other ways for people to engage that weren't their primary delivery model, and that's been just a tremendous thing watch evolve as our community identifies the best way to stay connect to their customers, ways to adapt, changing products and services and making that accessible for all," said Bragg.

"I really like everybody that works here. We have a good crew. We work well together. We strive to keep our customers happy, so it's been a good ride," said Beckman.

Women now make up to 20.4% of small business owners.

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