I firmly maintain that some of the best business ideas and certainly many of the best gadgets, inventions, phone apps, computer programs and baked goods are created by people working full time in another job. Resilient second-income entrepreneurs rise to the occasion when the economy is particularly slow or challenging. This was certainly the case in 2021 during the second full year of COVID-19.
In the 2021 calendar year, the West Virginia Office of the Secretary of State registered more new businesses than in each of the previous nine calendar years. A review of the WVSOS Business & Licensing Division shows that many of these new businesses were sole proprietors, independent practitioners, or small businesses with fewer than five employees. I would argue that the increase came from second income entrepreneurs who found themselves more often at home, laid off or temporarily furloughed from their full-time jobs. Consultants, tutors, landscapers, handyman services, artists, authors, contractors, personal care providers, barbers, beauticians, day care centers, agricultural and craft producers and homemade and handmade baked goods have all become bigger parts of West Virginia’s pandemic economy.
This increase in the number of new start-ups has had a number of positive benefits. The second income became a backup plan to replace income lost on bonuses or commissions normally earned from working 9 to 5. This forced some people out of their comfort zone into entrepreneurship out of necessity. .
During the pandemic, the federal government stepped in to help businesses with revenue losses through the Small Business Administration.
Employers have adapted. Worried employees.
Out of necessity, the second income entrepreneur seized the opportunity. I want to focus on a small business owner to demonstrate how being prepared for adversity created expanded business opportunity.
Jeffrey Chalfant is a small business owner in Shinnston, West Virginia. He is a 2018 graduate of Bridgeport High School. Jeffrey really enjoyed business classes in high school. He also appreciated that vocational education prepared those who did not want to go to college to go to work after graduating from high school.
His parents were entrepreneurs. His father was a respected local entrepreneur. Family-owned storage units. So it was only natural that Jeffrey would consider owning his own business one day. So he started looking for opportunities while he was still a senior in high school.
He found one.
With the help of his parents, Jeffrey purchased the Vincent Lumber Co. in Shinnston, a small six-employee store located downtown. Jeffrey graduated in May 2018 and became the new owner of Vincent Lumber in August.
The property he purchased included an old building that was once a Dairy Queen. The building was located along a popular railway project developed by the city. Jeffrey said after driving near the building for over a year, he decided to do something about it. Together with his mother, Jeffrey remodeled the building and opened an “East of Chicago Pizza” franchise in early 2020. It became hugely popular, and then the pandemic hit.
Like all of its competitors, big and small, the lumber and hardware business has taken a hit. But the pizza business was booming.
Take-out orders increased significantly in 2020. Jeffrey had to hire more employees. Delivery drivers were a bonus.
The pizza-to-go business was so good in 2020 and 2021 that Jeffrey decided to open a second location — this time near Bridgeport, W.Va. The lumber business also remains open.
The pandemic has challenged all business owners. Many have failed. Many have closed. But when you are given lemons, you should try to make lemonade. If you’re in the pizza-to-go business, you’re opening another location.
Jeffrey told me that he wished he had learned more about entrepreneurship while in high school. While he credits his business classes with helping him better understand economics, he thinks more students would benefit from an education in entrepreneurship. Other than the advice of his parents, an uncle, and a trusted friend, Jeffrey had no time to access state or federal programs or business coaching.
Jeffrey Chalfant, now 22, has weathered the pandemic. Today, with three successful businesses and over 50 full-time and part-time employees, he is looking for additional opportunities.
Mike Queen is a side-earning entrepreneur who currently serves as Deputy Chief of Staff and Director of Communications in the Office of the Secretary of State of WV.