As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Bethany Hollars.
Bethany is the Content Director and a money saving expert for BrickSeek.com, a website that tracks clearance markdowns and finds deals online and at big box retailers across the nation. As a mom of four, Bethany is well-versed in stretching every dollar and has shared her savings tips and advice in digital and printed publications such as Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, MSN, Parents.com, and First for Women. She has travelled across the country for television interviews with both local and national outlets, including HLN and The List. She also runs her own small business, focused on retail arbitrage.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I worked in finance for years before leaving the workforce when my oldest daughter was born. After several years of surviving as a stay-at-home mom, I started my own business, focused on retail arbitrage and online sales. BrickSeek.com was one of the sourcing tools I utilized for my business, and I came to understand the product intimately through my own personal use. An opportunity arose to work for BrickSeek part-time, handling some Customer Support requests. That eventually led to me working for BrickSeek full-time, first as their Director of Customer Support and then eventually as their Content Director and Head of Public Relations. Now I’m a mom of four working full-time from home and traveling across the country doing what I love teaching others how to save money and work towards financial freedom.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
One time, I meant to leave an internal note on an email that had come through to our support inbox, but I accidentally sent the message to the customer instead. He had a great sense of humor and responded back jokingly, but I’ve never again made an edit or comment on a customer communication without triple-checking that I’m not accidentally emailing them instead!
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries greatly affected the way that I conduct business. The Lean Startup method encourages focusing only on what your target audience REALLY wants. It advocates rapid development cycles, as well as a willingness to quickly pivot away from floundering ideas. The goal is to constantly adapt your product to customer feedback, even if it means abandoning your original product and starting over in a completely different direction.
The Small Business Partnership Program that we recently launched as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example of pivoting quickly to address a shopping climate that is changing by the day. Knowing that a majority of our members use our site to track in-store clearance markdowns, we knew that their shopping habits would be affected by the nationwide shutdowns and stay-at-home orders. We stopped actively promoting our in-store deal content and redirected our focus to online shopping, as well as partnered with fellow online businesses to bring our users new deal content at new retailers.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I think that anything you pursue with a purposeful and committed vision is more likely to succeed due to the passion that is driving the design. I was always passionate about smart spending, finding the best deal, and stretching every dollar; in fact, I first stumbled across BrickSeek by searching for deals on baby furniture. Achieving financial freedom is so incredibly empowering, and I have a passion for passing along savings advice that helps others work towards their own financial independence. That passion has driven every business decision we’ve made and each new feature we’ve pursued developing; the end goal is always, always to help the customer save money.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
“If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time.”
- Steve Jobs
Running a business can have very high ups and very low downs. It’s so important to maintain perspective and remember that the road continues on, even when you can’t see its path beyond the horizon. There is always room to improve and grow, and there is a season for everything. Growing with and adapting to your audience is a continuous process, and I try to remember that each step towards that evolution helps me keep solid footing in between the ups and downs, keeping me on the path towards success.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of life for both myself and my family. As a mom of four who works remotely, I depended on my kids being in school during the week not just for their education, but so that I could perform my own job duties from the peace and quiet of my home office. When our state closed schools indefinitely, I suddenly found myself having to juggle my career, as well as home school my young kids. The only way to manage the increased workload is to start my day earlier and end it later. My deepest respect, gratitude, and sheer amazement for all of our teachers who corral these little psychos on a daily basis and have the secret to keeping them quiet long enough to teach them anything at all! You are heroes!
My mom is battling breast cancer and is currently undergoing chemo. The pandemic has absolutely affected every area of our family life when it comes to her and her care. The hospital’s new “no visitors” rule meant that I could no longer take my mom to her chemo appointments. We had to suspend all visits from the grand kids, since we know they can carry the virus silently. My dad moved into the basement of their home, blocking off the lower levels with plastic sheeting and sealing all the air vents to keep my mom completely isolated on the upper floors. They use separate entrances to come and go, and they eat together via Face Time. It’s been a heart-wrenching experience.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Our site has always been best known and loved for its ability to find clearance deals in physical brick-and-mortar stores. By far, the biggest challenge we’ve faced as a result of the pandemic is having to shift the focus of our content from in-store deals to online savings. While we’ve always offered avenues for saving online, shifting exclusively to this type of deal content has forced a mini-re branding, in the sense that we’ve had to reshape the way that our users think about using us.
To that end, our Small Business Partnership Program is an initiative that I introduced to help address several of these challenges. Small businesses have especially been affected by the pandemic, with many of them having to shutter their storefronts indefinitely. In an effort to support fellow small businesses, we reached out and began partnering with a variety of online merchants to bring some great new deal content to our users, while driving traffic and sales to those merchants. We are so proud to stand alongside and support our members and the online business community during these unprecedented times.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the corona virus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
The unknown is always somewhat scary. Having a set path to move forward and a plan for the future are things that we rely on for stability and a sense of security. For many people, none of that exists right now, and that lack of control can be terrifying; it definitely makes me feel anxious!
The best advice I can offer is to focus on the things that you CAN control right now. Even in lock-down, we can control what we do with our time, and we definitely have a lot of that at the moment. It takes about two months to create a new habit; invest in yourself by creating some good new ones! If you’re worried about your health, commit to going on a walk every day and making it part of your new routine. Consider creating a meal plan and food prepping cooking is a fun way to pass the time and a great skill to have too.
If you’re worried about your finances, take advantage of this extra time at home to create a budget for the rest of the year. Now is also a great time to start a side hustle. Find something that you’re passionate about, and then find a way to make money doing it. Love cars? Flip car parts on Facebook Marketplace. Super crafty? Open your own Etsy store — I promise that there are customers out there who want to buy what you’re creating! Even if you are usually pressed for time, commit to listing just one item a week for sale on eBay. You’ll get hooked on having that extra money flowing in each month.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
I think an important observation many companies should be making right now is the impact telecommuting has had on their workforce. Although it is not an ideal situation for some, telecommuting has a ton of upsides for most. Studies show that telecommuters are happier, less stressed, and more productive; and employers who offer telecommuting collectively save over $40 billion every year. I anticipate employers across the country to start offering the option of at least part-time telecommuting, now that some of that infrastructure is in place and employers and employees alike have experienced the benefits of working from home.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Social distancing is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. We can expect every aspect of our public social interactions to change — from eating out, to shopping, to getting a haircut. Wearing a mask will continue to be required in many states. Many businesses will enforce “maximum capacity” seating or servicing. I think the saddest change will be the undercurrent of unease that many will feel, even as restrictions are slowly lifted across the country. Much like the somber mood that blanketed the entire nation after 9/11, I think that people will be left feeling anxious and uncertain in the post-COVID world. Absent a proven cure or vaccine, I’m not sure much else besides time will heal those psychological wounds.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Online deals and savings will continue to remain a focus at BrickSeek. Even as the nation begins to reopen, many individuals will still want to avoid shopping in brick-and-mortar stores. We will continue to concentrate on discovering online deals and savings that can be had with the click of a mouse, instead of requiring a trip to the store. It is also my hope that our Small Business Partnership Program blossoms into continuing collaborations with fellow online businesses across the country, long after we’ve said goodbye to this horrible virus.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I’d encourage other business owners to look for ways that this pandemic and the resulting shutdown has forced you to be more efficient, both with time and money. Specifically looking to the benefits of telecommuting, I would hope that more companies consider offering the ability to work remotely, now that they’ve had a chance to evaluate its effect on productivity, as well as their bottom lines. A shift towards remote work not only makes sense financially for a company, but it also places them in a good position to be able to pivot quickly to “Plan B” if another national pandemic or other such disaster were to occur in the future.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Be somebody that makes everybody feel like a somebody.”
I try to repeat this mantra every day. Living in an “others first” mindset can be hard; it’s not always in our nature to put ourselves second, and it’s something you have to consciously work towards every day. That said, this quote has influenced me greatly not just in my personal life, but also in my career. It definitely helped mold the way I managed our Customer Support department, and it helps direct the type of content I pursue now as Content Director. I think our Small Business Partnership Program is a great example of trying to uplift and support others, even in the context of running a business.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Stop by BrickSeek.com to keep tabs on my latest media appearances, as well as my latest blog postings. And if you or someone you know would be interested in partnering up with our Small Business Partnership Program, definitely reach out to me!