Frisco – and everywhere else in the world – is a very different place today than six months ago.
Restaurants and parking lots aren’t as full, there’s less traffic and more people are spending time at home. Family outings, celebrations and socializing has changed. In some cases, people are back at work in offices, while for others, working from home is the new normal.
Local businesses are as much the fabric of a city as people are the landscape surrounding it. As we’re slowly emerging from the global pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus, our community’s fabric is still intact and, in many cases, more vital than ever. As such, businesses in and around Frisco are doing all they can to meet challenges head-on. Although the lockdowns that began in March were sudden and far from business as usual, many local businesses and companies responded in ways that showed their commitment to customers and the community.
Since the pandemic began, more than 200 Frisco businesses were approved for small business grants, helping many businesses survive tumultuous economic times. President and CEO of the Frisco Chamber of Commerce, Tony Felker, says his team sprang into action quickly when the pandemic hit and focused on being a much-needed shoulder to lean on for its 1,300 members during the challenging times. “The main driving force for the entire team, in whatever task they were working on, was not to make assumptions about anyone’s business, to show empathy and compassion and ask what is needed.” Felker explains, “As we found (and continue to find) areas we can assist in, we determine how we can step in with assistance and/or be a connector between the business and an entity that is best suited to assist them.”
In an ever-evolving climate, many local businesses are adapting and thriving during this global pandemic. Some have changed their business model, while others created new innovative ways to adapt, from Lava Cantina’s fun food delivery van, the Boozemobile, which pulled the Dallas Cowboys’ official DJ, to Gearbox Software, launching a new game-based learning initiative, as well as many others who have stepped up and leaned in to an evolving business environment.
Delivering Food and Fun
During the early summer months and the quarantine’s most restrictive time, when all restaurants were closed, food trucks visiting neighborhoods were a bright spot during gloomy times, particularly when the food truck is called the Boozemobile. Lava Cantina quickly mobilized its operations and brought food and entertainment to Frisco when Frisco couldn’t visit them.
With music, food and drinks, fun follows the Boozemobile wherever it goes. There’s no missing it when it rolls down the street as you’ll likely hear it before you see it. Designed to entertain and deliver food and drinks, the Boozemobile has visited more than 60 local neighborhoods. A van with a trailer on the back, the Boozemobile’s resident entertainment is DJSC, the Dallas Cowboys’ official pre- and post-game DJ.
Ian Vaughn, owner and founder of Lava Cantina, says creativity and innovation has helped their business stay afloat. “We have experimented with everything possible to stay creative and cutting edge in our operations, from doing live streaming of almost all of our shows to having our Boozemobile service that delivers food, drinks and entertainment to your neighborhood. We’re offering socially distanced shows in our backyard with a drive-in in our parking lot and an app to order when visiting so you can be completely contact-free. We want our customers to order with ease at their leisure and encourage a safer, more engaging entertainment experience.”
Lava Cantina has been a favorite community destination for entertainment since it opened in 2016. “We are certainly running our business tremendously different today than we were this time last year,” says Vaughn. Completely re-opened, it is limiting events to 250 people instead of their standard capacity of 1,800. “While this makes the shows a bit more expensive, it does guarantee a table and a seat for all guests – so it’s a VIP experience no matter where you are!”
The Boozemobile’s DJSC says he enjoyed getting out and doing what he loves, along with making people smile. “It was awesome to see people run out of their homes and get a bit of normalcy again,” he says. “I’m thankful the Lava Cantina team thought outside the box, inviting me to be part of the Boozemobile on those hot summer days and giving back to the community,” says DJSC. “I still get people messaging me for us to come back, so I’d say our mission was definitely accomplished.”
Taking it Out
The emotional toll the pandemic has taken on people is significant. Social isolation, job uncertainties and concerns about the future are all too real for Frisco residents. Tammy Mahan, CEO of LifePath, says at the beginning of the pandemic, their counseling service saw an increase in people needing their services to cope with the fear and paranoia. “As the months have carried on with the fear of becoming ill, the isolation from social distancing, working from home and from many being laid off, we have definitely seen more with depression and anxiety,” she says. “One of our greatest concerns is that many are turning to alcohol and drugs. We have seen a significant increase in people calling our crisis hotline due to increased substance use and overdoses. We have approved an increasing number of individuals for detoxification treatment. We believe that the increase in anxiety and depression leads many to ‘cope’ at home by increasing their substance use.”
LifePath Systems provides mental health, substance use, intellectual and developmental disabilities services to individuals living in Collin County. Once the stay-at-home orders took effect, they moved their employees to a work-from-home model. They shifted a significant number of their counseling services to encrypted videoconference and telephone (telehealth). Mahan says they plan to continue telehealth as their preferred means of service delivery through at least October. “Our staff has been amazing!” says Mahan. “Everyone had to quickly learn how to use new technology, including new telehealth applications, cameras and microphones within one week back in March. While the ongoing stress of this pandemic has been difficult for all of us, our staff has successfully continued our mission of serving individuals and families in our community impacted by behavioral health and intellectual and developmental disabilities,” says Mahan.
Since March, LifePath has increased its outreach and advertising efforts to ensure people know their services and crisis hotline. Mahan says their services are based on a sliding scale that reduces all the way down to zero dollars depending on the person’s income level. “There is no reason for people to suffer alone,” states Mahan.
When Closings Won’t Wait
Randi Mills is a Senior Loan Officer with Verity Mortgage, LLC, a mortgage company in operation since 1956. As someone who originates residential mortgages for repeat clients, referrals and first-time homebuyers for the last 32 years, she understands the importance of exceptional customer experience. She also knows first-hand how the home closing experience has changed since COVID-19 began. Due to lockdowns and quarantine, the closing process looked very different for Mills and her clients for a while. “Normally, I attend my client’s closings, however, we were not allowed to attend some closings due to the pandemic,” she says. Thinking back to a time when in-person closings were standard, Mills says she felt the closing process became mundane and impersonal.
But Mills says she’s on a mission to turn that remote, impersonalized process of closing on a new home around. By calling clients and touching base rather than texting and emailing, she makes them feel like they are important and deserve to hear directly from her. “It has been difficult to stay on top of everything, but we, as a team, have been working together to make the process more personalized and fun!”
Keepin’ It Clean
Jason Young owns the local Frisco event venue, Verona Villa, and is president of Spray Experts, a sanitizing solutions company. Two different companies, one common goal: making events and memorable moments safe and enjoyable for all.
When the pandemic began and Mr. Young found himself and his staff canceling events, he quickly pivoted into a new business venture. Mr. Young, who moved to Frisco from Calabasas, CA, in 2004, says the pandemic has taught him to lean into who he is and his beliefs. “We had to postpone 60 events that were booked at the venue,” he says. “Verona Villa, although shut down for a few months, was still able to have some small weddings. Early on, we hung a banner on the building’s side that said, ‘Love Will Prevail.’ That inspired us to hold a social media contest where people could submit entries to win a free wedding. The contest was so popular we ended up giving away two free weddings for healthcare heroes,” says Mr. Young.
But for Mr. Young and his business partners, they needed to do more. In April, they started a new business called Spray Experts. This electrostatic cleaning service offers environmentally sustainable, long-lasting sanitizing solution products. “We quickly found out it was effective in killing the human COVID-19 virus,” says Mr. Young. “Having a product that was relevant in the pandemic and helping businesses re-open more safely was huge for us,” he says. “We’ve been spraying churches, offices, bank branches, homes and even sold hand sanitizer. We can spray anywhere. It’s great on hard services and it doesn’t contain bleach or alcohol and it offers 28 days of protection,” he says.
Mr. Young says he tapped into his personal network and people he had personal relationships with to rapidly grow the cleaning business. “We were new and we worked with people that already knew and trusted us. Between our venue and the spray business, I’ve been working seven 14-hour days for the past four months.” But he says the busy workload has been a blessing in many ways. “I’m grateful that we had things to keep going, mentally, because it’s been so hard for many people.”
Despite his strong faith and hard work ethic, Mr. Young, like so many business owners, has struggled along the way. He says a conversation with his mother in Chicago made him see things from a different perspective, and he’s been holding onto that ever since. “At one point, I was losing it a little bit emotionally,” he says. “She said to me, ‘Your faith is a big deal to you, right? Now is the time to lean into that and trust that. Be true to what you say you are and believe it.’ There was something about that got my attention. I repeat that to myself, when I feel overwhelmed. Family is so important to me and I know this is just a temporary setback. What I cling to is having my family’s trust in me and believing that love will prevail.”
Gearbox Software, located on Main Street above Nerdvana, has been developing award-winning games for more than 20 years. They’re best known for creating the games Borderlands and Brothers in Arms and a new game they’re developing, Godfall, for SONY PlayStation 5.
Their talented team of game developers have pivoted to online work collaboration for all aspects of their business. “Everything is happening online, from candidate interviews, training, onboarding, all-hands meetings, creative discussions, production reviews and press interviews. These would all historically be done in person, with online as a fallback solution,” says Vice President of Strategic Operations for Gearbox, Aaron Thibault.
In addition to developing games for pure fun, Gearbox is also doing their part to help students learn in an academic setting. This fall they are piloting their Creative Computing Curriculum in videogame design with Longview ISD. It will be fielded in two STEAM-focused middle schools and at Longview High School. The pilot includes Texas Southern University (TSU) and offering remote instruction to TSU and LISD together in a ‘lifelong learning’ model. The two organizations will be engaged in cohort-based mentoring, both with Gearbox team members as industry mentors and between the students for peer mentoring. Thibault says he hopes to bring this type of model to Frisco ISD as well. “I could imagine something like this happening with FISD and a local university in the future,” he says. “It’s important to all of us at Gearbox that all students be able to explore videogame career pathways. There are many students of Gearbox talent in FISD schools, so we feel a special connection and look forward to assisting FISD with career pathways in the game industry.”
Replacing Leaks with Love
As an essential business, Legacy Plumbing did not shut down during the pandemic. A family-owned business, Theron and Michelle Young, who live and work in Frisco, started their plumbing company in 2006. Specializing in residential and light commercial plumbing services, they specialize in slab leaks, water heaters and gas leaks. But once COVID-19 came to Frisco, they ended up providing a lot more than plumbing-related services.
Executive Vice President Michelle Young says the pandemic’s early days were a concerning time for the company. “Our call volume slowed down considerably, which is understandable,” she says, “but we have 35 employees and it’s important that we can support them and they can feed their families. Initially, we did some strategic shuffling to make sure everyone was working as much as possible. Luckily, it didn’t stay slow for long. After all, plumbing emergencies happen whether there’s a pandemic or not.”
Mrs. Young says her team rallied together and began calling customers who are members of their Gold Plan, a preferred customer service level. “We had our office call people to see if they needed anything, like toilet paper or other items. We had a few people ask us to bring them wine! One elderly customer asked if we could bring her two pounds of ground turkey and two bottles of water – one for herself and one for her cat. I called my husband and asked him to go to the store. He did and dropped it off on her front porch and then called her to tell her it was there. She was so grateful and thanked us and even tried to pay us, which we wouldn’t accept.”
Meanwhile, the team was also focused on protecting customers and employees during service calls. Legacy Plumbing immediately implemented a no-contact service call. This included minimizing the number of people that needed to be inside a home, wearing masks and no handshaking or touching. “No handshakes were hard for us because we are so used to offering a handshake. We place a high priority on building relationships with our customers. We’re a very relationship-driven company,” she says.
To date, business is nearly back to normal for the company. Yet, Ms. Young says it brought the Legacy Plumbing team together and working stronger than ever. “The pandemic showed us how important it is for our team to focus on what we can fix and not dwell on what we can’t.”