Spring typically is a busy time for Jeremy Lohman.
Proms and graduations, not to mention funerals, are a substantial part of Scott’s House of Flowers’ business in the spring, but that didn’t happen this year because of steps taken by local and state governmental entities to control the spread of COVID-19. Non-essential businesses were directed to close their doors in March, with many not reopening until May or June.
Acknowledging the effect that had on business and the state economy, Oklahoma leaders allocated funding to the Oklahoma Department of Commerce for the Oklahoma Business Relief Program (OBRP). The business grants were part of the $1.26 billion awarded to Oklahoma under the CARES Act, set into place by federal leaders to help balance the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Scott’s House of Flowers was among 2,400 small businesses across Oklahoma that applied for and received grants in the first OBRP round. As conceived, businesses make applications through local financial institutions for grants totaling up to $25,000, or a total equal to up to two months of average total payroll.
Lohman, who said he wouldn’t have known about the grant program if the local Arvest Bank hadn’t told him, said it helped a difficult situation.
Lohman said because Oklahoma isn’t a wedding destination, many florists in the state are “everyday” florists. For him, funerals are a big part of business and because of limitations on outdoor gatherings, many funerals didn’t take place or were delayed. Then, there are the other major life events marked with flowers.
“Proms are our major revenue source in April,” he said. “Graduations didn’t happen; that was a big impact.”
Scott’s, like other businesses deemed non-essential, closed its doors. While curbside and delivery service was permitted, customers could not come into the business.
“It was pretty devastating,” Lohman said, adding that while he still had options, many people want to come in and “touch and feel” before making a purchase.
Lohman said his employees were ready to come back when he was able to reopen to the public, and both his Lawton and Elgin shops are open for customers. But, July traditionally is the slowest month of the year for sales in a business that doesn’t have a “single essential item.” Lohman explained that while he and his staff know their merchandise is important, it is not considered essential.
Reopening his doors April 28 allowed Lohman and his staff to capture Mother’s Day and Memorial Day sales. And, because his business takes care of gravesites in local cemeteries (placing flowers), Scott’s had a number of standing orders. But, everything has an expense and that’s why the small business grant was important, he said.
Brent Kisling, executive director of commerce at the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, said that’s why Oklahoma’s leaders created a program that — unlike other states — recognizes the importance of businesses that experienced severe revenue drops when activities slowed or stopped. Oklahoma made the decision from the start that economic aid for businesses would be one of the three major categories that would receive CARES Act funding.
The department allocated $50 million for Phase 1, which closed for applications June 29, and 2,400 people applied for grants in the first 26 hours. In Phase 2, it took only an hour for 2,500 applications to be filed for the second $50 million allocation, Kisling said, during a tour Tuesday of Scott’s House of Flowers.
Kisling said the average business applicant suffered a revenue loss of 62 percent, which is among the reasons he believes the grant program is important. He said he also is proud of how Oklahoma crafted the program so that it designates funding to businesses that need it as quickly as possible.
“It did work seamlessly,” he said.