Tumbleweed Founder Emeli Novelo

No one knows how many of the 24 million small businesses in the United States have closed, but the number, when tallied, is likely to surpass one million. Some tiny companies have turned a corner and head into 2021 shaken and changed, but alive. Times of E reached out to incubators across the United States, who connected us to entrepreneurs whose companies survived. Ten entrepreneurs shared their stories with us. You can find others in the series at Rest of the US. Thanks to gener8tor, Arlee Community Development Corp., E For All, and Arrowhead.

Like many retail shops last year, Deming, N.M.-based Tumbleweed adjusted to the pandemic by turning rapidly to online sales. The shop promotes female-owned businesses by selling their products in categories including clothing, jewelry, cards and pins.

Founder Emeli Novelo started the company in 2019, but 2020 was the first year of business for the brand. “We all know that the first five years of any business is extremely difficult,” Novelo said. “So throwing COVID-19 in your first year of business was very rough.”

Step one once the pandemic hit was to create a full website and online presence, which the brand hadn’t done yet, she said. “I really had to put my hustle hat on and learn how to do that on my own,” she said. 

All of her operations changed to online and occasional pop-up shops in Las Cruces, N.M. She did about $33,800 in sales last year. Now, she said, the shop is starting to see sales return to pre-pandemic levels. 

Novelo made it a point to try to create a similar friendly, personable experience for her customers online as she did in her Deming store. Go to her website, which she created using web platform Wix, and a message pops up personally greeting you. She said she was able to establish strong connections in their community by focusing on customer service and transparency.

“One of the biggest compliments we get is, ‘I feel like I know you,’ because they follow us on Instagram and we are so transparent that they feel like they know everything about us which is amazing to be able to convey that,” she said.

Now, she’s working on opening a second location in Las Cruces. She’s hoping the community of customers she established in 2020 continues to flourish in person once things go back to normal.

“I think 2020 caused people to really see small businesses and put a spotlight on small businesses,” she said. “That gave us an opportunity to really run with it because people were making an effort to shop smaller, and they were able to see what all these small businesses are about.”

This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect with www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.