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A Single Step for Small Business, One Giant Leap for Community

May 3, 2021
John L. Daniel
John L. Daniel

When clients pass through the doorway of a Varsity Sports, whether in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Mandeville, or Lakeview, they are treated to tactile, familiar experiences. The senses are treated to the creak of well-trod wooden floors, the hum of low conversations, and the aromatic “new car” blend of leather and rubbery soles coming from walls of neatly-stacked shoeboxes.

It is an environment that Jenni Peters has worked hard to maintain since the opening of her first running equipment store in 2000. One that was almost lost to the pandemic.

“Back in March or April of 2020, we didn’t even know if we would open our doors again,” Peters sighed ruefully. “When you hear that you’re going to have to shut your doors totally, you think, ‘Can I keep it alive by going in there all day and night to keep us afloat, and not put anyone else in harm’s way?’”

JenniPeters_Option2Jenni Peters relied on her partnership with Hancock Whitney to keep her business running during the coronavirus pandemic.

Like many other business owners, Peters’ operation is not merely a financial investment, but a community offering. What began as a business experiment or “hobby” with then co-owner Jane Swift branched into a multi-location business with a legacy of local leadership 21 years later. Today, the company is a member of multiple community-based organizations, an employer that focuses on hiring and nurturing local talent, and staunch advocate for best workplace practices.

The thought of losing employees drove Peters to action. She spent hours researching options and keeping abreast of local and national news. Then the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a feature of the CARES Act, came into effect. The loan was designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep employees on payroll, even while faced with closures and losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was an opportunity for me. The idea of this loan said to me, ‘This is for your staff,’ and that was my first and primary concern, my staff,” Peters said.

She sought the counsel of her relationship partners at Hancock Whitney, Vice President and Business Banker Irene Kotval, and Senior Vice President and Regional Retail Manager, Stephen David. Peters had experienced multiple relationships with financial institutions over time as a small business owner, but the consultative nature of the organization’s services helped carry her through the education and application process without a hitch. The PPP request paid off.

“I got a text at midnight it was personal to them, like it’s personal to me. The relationship has paid off in aces. I hope that other small businesses have the same experience that I have, that they can pick up the phone and get any help on any matter,” Peters said.

Hancock Whitney associates weren’t the only ones who provided a lifeline to Peters. The community responded to the local store’s closure with an avalanche of support, both emotionally and financially. Varsity Sports noted a substantial increase in sales after the period of early 2020 setbacks, and is now building a new location a process that is also being handled by Hancock Whitney.

“Like most specialty running stores, the principal line of merchandise are shoes. It’s something that you can get anywhere,” said Peters. “What set us apart is that we sell a service, something that can’t be one clicked. We provide support, advice, and a community.”

For more information about Hancock Whitney’s Small Business Resources, please visit the following link: https://www.hancockwhitney.com/small-business.