How the Largest Standup Paddle Board Shop in L.A. Adapted When the Pandemic Temporarily Shut It Down

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December 8, 2020 | Jim Magats, SVP Omni Payments

Small businesses are the foundation of our economy and the backbone of our communities. They are job creators, community builders, enablers of opportunity and drivers of innovation, competition and diversity. Small businesses are also resilient, adaptable and know how to pivot quickly, which is critical during these unprecedented times.

The global pandemic and economic recession have impacted small businesses at a disproportionate rate. Global stay at home orders and non-essential physical business closures, combined with the decrease in the budgets and spending power of many consumers, have had a real impact on small businesses. But small businesses are adapting. We’ve seen small businesses do everything from enabling digital solutions so customers can safely pay contact-free in store to enabling flexible buy now, pay later installment options to help consumers extend their budgets.

Pro SUP Shop Jennifer Kirkley-Vaughan
Pro SUP Shop Owner Jennifer Kirkley-Vaughan

At PayPal, we’re fortunate to work with 28 million global businesses, the majority of which are small businesses. We’ve been speaking with some of our small business customers to hear directly from them about how the pandemic has impacted their business, what new technologies and tools they are leveraging to adapt and grow, and what advice they have for other entrepreneurs.

In the first interview of our series, we spoke with Jennifer Kirkley-Vaughan, co-owner of Pro SUP Shop, a Los Angeles-based business specializing in standup paddleboard and kayak rentals. Jennifer helped grow her business into the largest standup paddle board shop in the LA area, even as the pandemic forced her business to temporarily shut down.

Jim Magats: Can you share a bit about Pro SUP Shop?
Jennifer Kirkley-Vaughan: Pro SUP Shop is a family run business based in Marina Del Rey. About six years ago, I met my now late husband, who had founded the business with his father 11 years ago. The sport of standup paddle boarding, which originated in Hawaii, was starting to gain a little traction in Southern California. We both loved the sport and saw an opportunity to bring it to the Los Angeles area. Now, in partnership with my stepson, we’ve grown Pro SUP Shop into the largest standup paddle boarding shop in the greater Los Angeles area.

JM: The global pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on small businesses, and especially brick and mortar businesses. Have you had to pivot or changed anything about your business since the pandemic hit?
JKV: When California went into the state-mandated lockdown during the pandemic, our physical store was closed for two months. We knew we needed to make some changes to be able to continue running our business. So, we shifted into 100% board sales, versus rentals, and that kept the revenue coming. In addition, we started a gift card program to help us maintain a steady revenue stream for when our business was closed as well as during our off season. Finally, we are looking to launch some virtual events, including healthy living workshops, to help us during our slow season.
JM: What is one lesson you’ve learned during this pandemic about operating a small business?
JKV: One thing we learned is the importance of proactively communicating changes to your business processes with customers. We have always been a very customer service-oriented business, focused on ensuring great experiences for our customers. But when the pandemic hit and we were required to put into place new processes to ensure the safety of our employees and customers, it changed some of the things our customers were previously used to. For example, the wait times were sometimes a bit longer because we needed to properly clean and sanitize equipment, but many of our customers didn’t know about the new post-Covid process and we initially received negative Yelp and Google reviews as a result. But we listened to our customers and made it a teaching moment, gathering the team together to discuss how we could better communicate and serve our customers, and ultimately becoming a stronger team as a result.

JM: What has helped you continue to operate and grow during the pandemic? 
JKV: When we were getting ready to reopen, we wanted to put into place a touch free payment solution so that employees and customers could safely transact. With our equipment, paddle boards and kayaks, we already had a lot of things customers had to touch. So, we implemented PayPal QR Codes and created stickers that said “SCAN, PAY, PADDLE” to help drive awareness around our touch free payment solution. Most of our clients are in their 20s, 30s and 40s, and they know what to do with QR Codes and digital payments. It was a seamless process for us and our customers. It was nice that PayPal was a step ahead and prepared with new solutions for when we reopened. When the lockdown was removed, we had a week to prepare. We had to sanitize, hire new staff, get them all trained and also implement the touch-free payments piece. It was great to be able to rely on PayPal for the payments piece.

JM: Do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs or people looking to start their own business?  
JKV: My advice for other entrepreneurs looking to start their own business is to do something that you care about and have passion for. Work in general takes so much time. I eat, breathe and dream about Pro SUP shop because it does take up so much of my time. During our summer months, I'm working 80+ hours a week, but I love it. I have such passion for it but also for our customers who get to experience something they love. In addition, it’s important to have a vision. Our vision is sharing our passion for the ocean with the world – pre-pandemic, our customers came from all over the world. Having a vision or mission statement and making it clear is important to a small business.

We’ll be publishing another interview with an inspiring PayPal small business owner next month, so be sure to check back in.

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