CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Erica Hanks’ work days fly by, she says, because there is always so much to do. “It’s been really exciting to see how it’s just kind of exploded,” she says. Hanks made a career as a stylist to star athletes, but in the winter of 2020, she was ready for something different. When the pandemic put face-to-face fashion consults on hold, she knew it was time. Hanks says, “COVID completely cemented, ‘yes I’m doing exactly the right thing to pivot.’”
And pivot she did, launching an upscale online fashion boutique called Showroom that has taken off. Two years in, and revenue is up. Sales are up. And Hanks has grown from three employees to 11. Why? In part: “That’s the great part about being digital and online. We’re not reliant on a brick and mortar or storefront. We can absolutely do everything online,” she says.
Hanks is one of a record number of entrepreneurs who launched businesses during COVID. The North Carolina Department of the Secretary of State says between 2019 and 2020, new business creation filings were up 27 percent, at a record 127,000. This year, new business filings are forecast to shatter that record, and top 185,000.
“We are in a time where people are making big life changes, and big life choices,” says Charlotte Business Journal Managing Editor Erik Spanberg. He says overall, the state of small business in the Queen City right now isn’t amazing, but it’s not awful, either. “What we’re seeing in recent weeks and months is that it’s highly unlikely we are going to have the mass shutdown, or greatly reduced capacity in stores or wherever, so the economy is able to function a little bit better.”
Hanks is functioning at high speed, taking orders from clients all over the country and shipping from coast to coast every day. She is cautious of COVID curveballs, but also eyeing more growth. She says, “There’s always plans for extra hands.”
Hanks, who is Hispanic, also intentionally seeks out women designers and designers of color to carry on her site. That, experts say, is also part of what is helping businesses thrive right now. Consumers want to spend their dollars with companies that have a social conscience.