Open We Stand Snapbar

The SnapBar shifted, but it’s still making smiles.

Imagine nurturing your idea to become a real business. It takes off and is soon named one of the fastest growing companies in the country by Inc. magazine. Then, after years of hard work and success, it comes to a screeching halt — overnight.

That’s what The SnapBar’s co-founder Sam Eitzen experienced when COVID-19 moved into the country, resulting in a deluge of canceled events that devastated his photo booth rental business. To stay afloat, he and his team did the unexpected. They created another startup.

Always in the smile business.

It was the beginning of March when Sam and his team started to grasp how dire the situation was becoming. As human interactions were being limited, they knew it was only a matter of time before events — their company’s bread and butter — would start disappearing.

“It was like the floodgates opened of event postponements and cancellations. And so, where there might have been some hope at the beginning of March, it honestly dissipated very quickly,” says Sam.

As sales plummeted, Sam knew if he was going to keep his team employed, he needed a plan. He spent the night coming up with 50 ideas to pivot The SnapBar. He met with his brother, also a SnapBar co-founder, and their team to whittle the ideas down to one winner.

“It was the cooling down of a lot of crazy ideas. Some of the ones where we liked the idea, we just realized if we were being honest with ourselves, we’re not the right team for this.”

Four days after his marathon brainstorm session, Sam and his team landed on a seemingly simple solution: care packages. Not just your average box of gifts, but rather a city-specific bundle with curated items — like chocolate, coffee, and candles — from local shops. It was a double win: The SnapBar could stay afloat while also helping local businesses get money for the unused inventory gathering dust in their closed shops.

Businesses and customers alike were delighted by The SnapBar’s new venture, which they dubbed: Keep Your City Smiling, a nod to their flagship business.

“The vendors, some of them have almost been in tears. When you’re able to sell 300 of something that had been sitting on a shelf…” explains Sam. “We’ve had seriously emotional text messages and letters from people that have purchased boxes for their friends and family. It’s pretty incredible.”

Keep Your City Smiling sold 1,300 boxes their first month and has expanded to include San Francisco, Portland and Los Angeles, plus a special box dedicated to healthcare workers.

The hardest part is wrestling with the elation and joy that our pivot is working, and then the harsh realization that it’s still not enough.

Sam Eitzen

Filled with realistic hope

Sam and his team have been working around the clock to keep The SnapBar open using virtual photo booths, which they’ve recently launched, while simultaneously running the new business. It’s been an adjustment not just for Sam, but his entire team. They’ve transformed from event specialists to customer support overnight, which is why he advises other small business owners to rely on their teams but also be realistic about capabilities and lean on the talent around you.

“I think if you’re like, ‘Okay, I’m going to hunker down. It’s me. I started this business. I’m going to restart this business.’ If you buy into that, and I know that that’s the temptation, you discount incredible minds, work ethic and innovative spirits.”

Sam also recommends leading by example for the benefit of the team and being transparent about business decisions. “We haven’t cut anyone’s pay but ours, my brother and I took a 50 percent pay cut. And then the leadership team started voluntarily cutting their own pay.”

Perhaps the most difficult piece of advice Sam has for fellow entrepreneurs is to accept that your shift might not work as needed to retain the revenue, headcount, or even products that you’re accustomed to.

Sam is realistically optimistic about the future, but he knows the journey ahead is long.

“Things suck right now. And it might even get worse before it gets better, but historically it’s always gotten better.”