One common refrain I have heard many times over the past year was that the past 12 months have been “a painful learning experience” for area business executives.

Virtually no executive in southeastern Wisconsin was prepared for the huge impact the pandemic would have on all businesses, no matter how big or small. All were forced to change the way they operate, including pivoting to new products, having all of their employees work from home or in a worst case, being forced to shut their doors for weeks.

Executives are also quick to admit that the pandemic exposed many of their business’ weaknesses and threats, some of which were a surprise. At the same time, it also opened their eyes to their many strengths that got them through the past 12 months and the unexpected opportunities that were there if they pivoted or tried new ways of doing business.

Who would have thought a craft liquor manufacturer such as Central Standard Craft Distillery would be able to sell hand sanitizer or that fine dining restaurant Sanford would have success selling upscale hamburgers as a carry-out option.

That is what our fourth installment of our national project “Small Business, Big Mission” is about. All 40 American City Business Journals this week are taking an in-depth look at local businesses and how they are handling the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) that have been exposed by the pandemic.