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Starting a small welding and fabrication business during COVID-19

There’s never a perfect time to start a business. Developing a concept that fills a need is tough enough. Add in the startup costs associated with securing a building, acquiring necessary equipment, setting up infrastructure, and hiring staff. With all that in place, there still needs to be enough work coming in to keep the lights on and the doors open.

Small businesses are risky in even the best of times.

Now try starting a business with all those existing obstacles and add in a global pandemic. Sounds like a recipe for failure, right?

You certainly don’t have to tell that to Jessica and Daniel Crosby, who last March started Crosby & Drumm in Jasper, Indiana, 14 days before COVID-19 arrived and changed everything. What should have been a time of excitement and optimism paired with a healthy dose of stress quickly turned to straight-up chaos and uncertainty.

Though they thought they had done all the right things and had carefully planned and prepared for most if not all of the usual new business pitfalls, they certainly hadn’t prepared for COVID-19 or what would happen as a result.

What took place in the weeks and months since has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride to hell and back. But the Crosbys and friend/co-worker Joe Carter have fought tooth and nail to keep the company from going under well before it ever got a fair chance to get started.
The Calm Before COVID-19

Jessica Crosby, company co-owner and wife of Daniel Crosby, always saw herself as a business owner. A dental hygienist by trade, Jessica never lost the aspirations she had to be in business for herself.

Daniel, a trained underwater welder who moved to the automotive sector, has worked at multiple companies doing custom welding and repair on commercial trucks as well as upfitting them with service and platform bodies, heavy-duty frame modifications, all-wheel drive kits, and other custom components.

Daniel recalled always daydreaming during his lunch hour about going into business for himself. The more he and Jessica talked about it, the less of a pie-in-the-sky idea it became.

Starting a business always carries some risk, but even so, Jessica was fully onboard and supported Daniel. They wanted to build a small business with a heavy focus on what Daniel describes as commercial and personal vehicle upfitting, which included installing tarp systems, lift gates, and custom and stock ladder racks. They also planned to do custom Jeep upfitting, including installing lift kits, wheel, tires, and other accessories. In addition, they also wanted to dabble in custom fabrications and mobile welding to serve the needs of the automotive and agricultural industries.

They started planning back in October 2019, submitted paperwork for the LLC in December, and then signed a lease for the building in January 2020. The plan was for Daniel to handle the upfitting and custom fabricating and welding while Jessica dealt with the paperwork, accounting, and financial planning in her spare time.
Metal fabricators going over a job.

The Crosbys weren’t naive. They knew that difficulties and unexpected hiccups were bound to crop up once their doors were open, but they were prepared at least from a financial standpoint.

“We had our finances in order and were prepared to start this business knowing that Daniel probably wouldn’t bring in a paycheck for a while as we got up and running,” Jessica said.

On March 1, 2020, Crosby & Drumm opened for business. Of course it was an exciting, nerve-wracking, and gratifying time. Little did they know things would change just 14 days later.

Of all the things new business owners plan and prepare for, a global pandemic usually isn’t real high on that list, at least that’s been the case over the last century. But that’s exactly what Daniel and Jessica were dealing with.

The arrival of COVID-19 meant the closure of nonessential businesses, like the dental office where Jessica worked, putting a huge dent in their plan of relying on that as their one steady source of income.

“I was terrified,” Jessica stated. “I’ve been working since I was 14 and I’ve never been out of a job before. Our plan was for me to be the sole provider not only for our household, but for the business as well, at least temporarily. To say that having both Daniel and I out of work at the same time was scary would be an understatement.”

It also just about halted any major sources of income the business had hoped to secure. For how long? They didn’t know.

Needless to say, none of their initial plans from back in the fall were panning out, but that’s understandable given that they started a business during the most unprecedented and turbulent year of our lifetime.

But you won’t hear Jessica, Daniel, or Carter complain about any of that. Their doors are still open, the upfitting businesses is on the rebound, and in July they celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony with the Jasper Chamber, a day that they weren’t sure they’d ever experience back in March.

While they know they have a long road ahead, they have taken every opportunity to learn all the tough lessons that this year has doled out—and there were plenty.

Next week, we will discuss lessons learnt!