'Papa John' Schnatter: 3 traits small businesses need to survive coronavirus crisis and thrive again

The time for small business owners to write the next chapter of their story is rapidly approaching

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Now that state economies are reopening throughout the country, it's time for small businesses and workers to get back on their feet again as swiftly and safely as possible.

Tragically, lives have been lost, some businesses have had to shutter permanently, and considering the unprecedented financial toll this crisis has taken on millions of small businesses, recovery is going to be no small task.

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I know what it's like to grow a small business – and navigate the seemingly endless struggles that can go along with it.  With hard work and good fortune, the business I founded, Papa John's Pizza, grew from one pizza shop in the broom closet of my dad's tavern to over 5,400 stores located in over 40 countries.

As states begin to lift their stay-at-home orders, the time for small business owners to write the next chapter of their story is rapidly approaching.

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As you begin to determine what that chapter might look like, there are three traits all small business owners must apply if your goal is not simply to survive – but to actually thrive – in the largely unpredictable times that lie ahead.

I call them my "Three E's of Success."

First, you need EFFORT -- and in this case, extraordinary effort.

No doubt the stress up to this point has already been exhausting, because on top of crippling financial duress, you also had to deal with a deeply personal fear around the health and safety of your families and employees.

"Papa John" Schnatter

Coming back from this crisis will take a monumental amount of physical and mental effort in the beginning just to lift yourself out of this ditch and establish a new, sustainable normal. Therefore, take the remaining days or weeks before restarting your business to focus on your health, faith, and family.

Get grounded so you can more effectively focus all your short-term efforts on surviving and thriving in the coming years. Extraordinary effort will be essential to overcoming the crisis.

Second, you need ENTHUSIASM.

At every step, you must be visibly enthusiastic about getting your business up and running again – you've got to really want this.

Start to envision exactly what every phase of the opening day of your relaunch looks like, and then share that vision in great detail with every member of your team so they can each carry their weight across the finish line.

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The path may be rough initially, but with a united, enthusiastic, coherent vision, revenues will start to flow again and the journey towards a great revival will have begun.

Through all the coming ups and downs, you will need to be exceptionally enthusiastic in your drive to relaunch your business.

Finally, be ENTREPRENEURIAL.

The simple truth is that you are running in completely uncharted waters. No one knows exactly what to expect, but one thing is for sure, you will have to create, innovate, and act swiftly – which is what entrepreneurship truly is all about – so you can position your business under these new circumstances.

What worked in February may no longer work in a post-COVID world.

Daily and weekly changes will have to be closely monitored and adjustments made quickly once we know more as economies reopen.

The entrepreneur's ability to adapt quickly to changing circumstances has always been a key driver of success. As a close friend of mine always says: "the only thing constant in business is change."

Some businesses have actually thrived in this crisis, but they face their own set of challenges. For example, business conditions in the pizza delivery industry over the last 60 days have never been better.

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An unprecedented at-home audience coupled with record-low product and delivery costs have all led to an incredible spike in sales for companies such as Papa John's, which I founded and operated for over 30 years as essentially a large network of small business owners.

However, once Americans go back to work and resume their daily lives, there is no way to predict what that business model for the pizza delivery companies and their franchisees will look like.

Earning – and most importantly, keeping – the trust of all the families who honored Papa John's with their business during this time of crisis is going to require an unshakable commitment to quality and putting the customer's best interests first in every decision made from here forward.

The company can continue to grow after the crisis, but only with an entrepreneurial mindset that requires a hunger to be the best.

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Of course, most businesses have not been fortunate enough to experience a surge in demand like the pizza industry has throughout this crisis.

That’s why I’m playing a very small part in supporting the survival of small businesses and workers with over $1 million in contributions from my personal foundation.

It's just one simple way for me to help small businesses and their employees get back on their feet as economies reopen around the country.

What business owners can do for themselves now is simply prepare for this next phase with effort, enthusiasm, and by being entrepreneurial to survive and thrive once again.

We are all in this together and now is the time to begin that journey towards an inevitable American comeback. Nothing can break the American can-do spirit.

John "Papa John" Schnatter is the founder and former Chairman and CEO of Papa John's Pizza International and a major shareholder in the company.

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