CORONAVIRUS

Marion media entrepreneur creating free videos for small businesses

Terri LeBlanc, manager at M and M Bookstore in Cedar Rapids, shows the precautions taken when assembling grab bags for c
Terri LeBlanc, manager at M and M Bookstore in Cedar Rapids, shows the precautions taken when assembling grab bags for customers. The store is among the small businesses being profiled in free two-minute videos created by Robert De Corah, owner of Ajax Media in Marion. (Robert De Corah)
/

When Robert De Corah III drones on about his business, it’s a good thing.

Drones are among the tools the owner of Ajax Media can use to maintain physical distance while creating videos during the current pandemic.

One of his most recent projects involved getting drone footage of sanitation workers for a Hefty commercial thanking these essential workers. Videos were shot by different crews in six locations around the country, and De Corah chose Cedar Rapids for his piece of the project.

“At the end of the day, it’s up to the client to pick which shots tell the story best, but hopefully in the next week, we’ll see Cedar Rapids in a Hefty commercial,” he said.

In the past, De Corah, 33, has focused on Hollywood and professional sports, including NBC’s motorcycle racing series the past three years. When he and his wife, Elyse, relocated from Kansas City to Marion in December so she could join her mother’s financial service business, he could still travel and fly wherever clients needed him to go.

Now that the COVID-19 protocols have clipped his wings, he’s flying solo, by car.

As a small-business owner, De Corah has felt the effects of canceled and postponed engagements, so he’s turning his cameras toward other local small-business owners, creating free videos and posting them at Facebook.com/ajaxmediaco/

He wants to let the public know whose doors are still open in virtual and curbside delivery realms.

“My biggest thing with this pandemic was that I don’t want to sit at home and just do nothing,” he said by phone en route to a video shoot in Wisconsin last week. “There’s something that I can do — I do have talent — and I was trying to figure out how can I leverage those talents to support small businesses, because I, myself, am a small business.

“That’s when I came up with the idea that I can use my talents to explain or show how businesses are operating in a different capacity. Sometimes the customers don’t even know that a business is still open. They think that everything’s shut down except for the restaurants. That’s not true. There’s art galleries that are open,” he said.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“I wanted to get the point across that they’re still open, this is what they’re offering, and this is how you can continue to support them.

“Everybody’s trying to figure out a new way to do business, and unless you can physically see with your eyes, like ‘Oh, I understand that. This is a process for me to support them, I’m gonna go online, I’m gonna click this, I’m gonna purchase that, and then when I arrive, this is where the product will be or this is how we’ll interact so I can get that product or service.’

“It’s just clearly laid out, and a lot of times, some business owners aren’t as technically savvy as some of the younger folks these days, and I want to be that outlet for them to communicate with the community.”

He’s used his free, two-minute videos to profile Fairfax Greenhouse & Landscaping at 555 E. Southview Rd., Fairfax; M and M Bookstore, 212 Edgewood Rd. NW, Cedar Rapids; DKW Art Gallery & Studios, 840 Seventh Ave., Marion; and the Iowa Ceramics Center and Glass Studio in the Cherry Building, 329 10th Ave. SE, in Cedar Rapids’ NewBo District.

All have found ways to connect with consumers online.

“The best thing about now is that everybody’s at home. Gardening is gonna be a hobby that they’re able to take up,” Fairfax Greenhouse owner Tony Schmidt said in his video.

He noted the various ways customers can obtain the homegrown plants either in person, by delivery or by driving up. Social distancing practices are being observed in their landscaping services, as well.

“Books are a wonderful escape and also provide stories of hope and inspiration during difficult times,” said Terri LeBlanc, manager at M and M Bookstore, which sells used, new and independently published books. The store is offering online orders, as well as grab-bags, all through its website, mandmbookstore.com

Likes and shares on social media also help support the bookstore, LeBlanc said, adding: “We appreciate all of that, because the more word we get out, the more love that we receive, then we can continue to do what we love, and hopefully open our doors again once this is all done.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

At DKW Art Gallery & Studios, “We do an awful lot of art classes here for all ages and all levels,” gallery manager Mark Weiser said. But with COVID-19, the studio has shifted to online instruction, offering Saturday classes on Facebook Live, along with other classes and storytelling on DKW’s YouTube channel.

“COVID-19 has greatly affected the normal business and operations of the Iowa Ceramics Center and Glass Studio,” executive director Ellen Klechner said. “Our studio is closed to the public at this time, and we have suspended all of our classes and workshops, which is our main revenue source for us as a nonprofit. For us at this time, it’s really important that we keep our community connected and that we keep creating.”

So the center is offering take-and-make projects using air-dry clay or ready-made ceramics people can take home and decorate, then bring back to be glazed and fired in the center’s kilns.

“It’s super-important for people to know that especially, the arts are still operating,” De Corah said, “because that’s one way to stay sane, to stay creative. We’re all trapped indoors and if we just watch Netflix all day, that does nothing for us creatively. I think it’s good to continue to keep those creative juices flowing just as a form of sanity.”

The process has been eye-opening for him.

“When I first offered to create these videos for small businesses, I thought I would be utilized more by restaurants, showing how customers would order and do their curbside pickup,” De Corah said. “And then, I haven’t done one restaurant, but all these other businesses really opened my eyes to how many types of businesses are still operating and trying to pivot to stay alive.

“Government (grant) programs are really hard to get — the funding’s out — so every dollar that they can get in sales is going to help them help them stay open that much longer. We don’t know how long this is gonna go, so the more that we can put money back into our local businesses and communities, the better we’ll all be,” he said.

“The reason I’m doing these for free, not only does it give me something to do, but after I did the first one, for M and M Bookstore, it was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done,” he said.

“There’s no money being involved, but the appreciation that these businesses have, that ‘Hey, somebody cares. Somebody’s going to actually help tell my story and what we’re doing, and hopefully, with the extra people that this video brings in, that will allow me to reopen doors when this virus ends or when the state opens back up.’ ”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

Details

• What: Free small-business videos by Ajax Media, Marion

• Owner: Robert De Corah III

• Videos posted: Facebook.com/ajaxmediaco/

• Information: (386) 299-9965, Ajaxmediaco.com/ or email RobD@ajaxmediaco.com

Support our coverage

Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.

Support our coverage

Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.