The Pandemic Pivot: Fresh Ideas, New Creativity, Bright Energy
No one expected it. For many of us, the pandemic that changed the world and everyday life will always have a different beginning, a different date upon which the magnitude of change and challenge would really sink in. Now, over a year later, we’re reflecting on the journey that’s seen Glass Academy adjust, grow, and pivot in totally unexpected ways.
For Michelle, the growing tide of worry and certainty last February was eerily familiar. The wave of shutdowns and restrictions, and the ever-rising graph of cases, offered up flashbacks to the challenges of the 2008 recession. Small businesses grappled with a purely economic collapse then; in 2020, the very painful element of health and loss made every move more important and more consequential.
As Michigan shut down in March of 2020, we looked inward; it might have been tempting to reach outside and grasp at ideas and trends followed by others in the industry, but the most important change to be made was right here in the studio.
And the studio was quiet. “We furloughed our employees and then as a family spent our days in the studio. Our bookkeeper stayed on and would come to the office to work so we did an overhaul of the office and paperwork. Jacob was home for his birthday and at the time and Lucy lived with us so we ate our dinners in the studio and did some blowing, cleaning, and planning while we waited to see what happened,” Michelle remembered. “Even Po, the family dog, came along for the day.”
For Jacob, the pandemic was taking a step back in time. We all were! It was so cool. In one sense it was like my sister and I jumped back 15 years to our childhoods - living at home with nowhere to go - finding ways to entertain ourselves & each other. It felt like being a little kid again.” Even so, both Jacob and Lucy had matured a fair bit over the past decade, and that meant they were able to add a lot to the important, serious, and ultimately decisive discussions that laid out the future of Glass Academy.
In a lot of ways, it was a process that allowed for space. Every plan or dream or unfinished project moved along created a little more elbow room for something new. Michelle wanted to get down to the priorities: “Basically, we overhauled the studio and dreamed about the things that brought us joy to build on.”
From there, creativity took over. That renewed focus on real priorities started with a gift card promotion that brought in some much-needed revenue and allowed for more ideas to germinate. Imagine it; a 14,000-foot studio with just a few family members and close friends stuffing envelopes and offering up “what ifs” and “how abouts” into the rafters and the heavens.
Even then, we were able to help some of our struggling neighbors. Our next project focused on a coronavirus glass sculpture, giving the pandemic a tangible presence that let us at least try to make something beautiful out of the moment. For each item sold, we donated $25 to a local non-profit or small business, an endeavor that rallied not only our local community but the wider community to the cause.
Still, two fresh ideas didn’t exactly make up for the many events that COVID-19 canceled. We were ready to push ‘Send’ on our press releases for our annual Eggstravaganza, but of course, there was no way to have it in-person at the studio. We switched gears; we upped our online sales game and learned how to run effectively eCommerce business on the fly. Michelle quickly learned how to invoice through PayPal, set up new capabilities for digital sales with Shopify, and found an entertaining, accessible way to bring the studio to people stuck at home around the world.
Facebook Live was, in many ways, the perfect technological answer to many problems. With classes and events paused, we focused all of our energy on bringing our best to two shows per week. It’s proven a winning recipe; two hours of live, fun, casual, and even a little educational programming that’s as accessible as it is entertaining! Now, with the ability to tune in via Youtube, we can reach tens of thousands of customers and enthusiasts from around the globe through both live shows and replays. Like our online sales, these Live events are going to be a part of the Glass Academy identity for good.
When people talk about getting back to normal, we see it differently. As Michelle is quick to point out, none of us are the same as we were in February of 2020, and in a lot of ways, there’s just no going back: “Artists are always up for change. What we were pre-Covid is not what we are now and we’re always evolving so we really don’t want the business to be the same. We are looking into adding a beverage counter to the gallery area so customers can relax with a beverage and watch the glassblowing when we return to ‘normal’. In 5 years we feel we’ll be more of a tourist destination than a manufacturing facility as we once were.”
The show, our online community, and eCommerce capabilities will allow us to be the company we want to be; the show invites people into our studio to learn a craft and various forms of expression, but into a space that feels a lot like our family living room, too. It’s a connection and a sense of presenting who we are that we want to continue.
After all of this, Glass Academy is leaner; we’ve changed our hours of operation, our staffing, our classes, and more to better suit the new reality. Where we come together isn’t necessarily in the studio, nor is that where it needs to be. That’s why our live shows are called “The Gathering Point”. We’ve made a conscious decision to bring people together where there are and connect in new ways, while still treasuring the value that these connections have for all of us.
It may not be over, but Michelle is already looking back at the past year as a challenge and, in many ways, as a gift.
“In the end of 2019, I was wishing for a personal sabbatical. I was tired and needed a break from self-employment. I longed for some time off so I could regroup and assess where we were as a business and how best to move forward. Then Covid gave it to me. While I realize all the struggle and pain it brought, it also brought so much to our business. Joy, love, compassion, communication, strength, family, laughter, and home-cooked meals. It gave us a gift of sharing our passions with the world around us and gave our customers the freedom of feeling like they were part of our creative mission as well. They were educated to our craft and our creative behind-the-scenes process of how an artist develops a body of work. A community came together where we could all share the trials and tribulations of 2020 and have some glassblowing stories and the products to share as well!”