How can companies not just survive, but thrive, learn and grow in the face of extreme hardship? By exploring this question, we reveal several key factors of building business resilience.

This spring, the Darden School Institute for Business in Society hosted the 2015 Business and Economic Resilience Conference to learn from Virginia companies that have demonstrated resilience successfully and to share these lessons with other local businesses.

The Blue Crab Bay Co., a certified women’s small business based in Melfa, Virginia, is an example of a company that has been very successful in building resilience. As the Blue Crab Bay Co. demonstrates, adversity is viewed as an opportunity and the local community becomes an extension of the company – two critical components of creating a resilient business.

Blue Crab Bay Co.

Never give up. Never give up. I have had so many times when I should’ve given up, but if somebody tells me I can’t do it I’m going to do it.” — Pamela Barefoot, Founder, Blue Crab Bay Co.

Megan Hess speaking
Professor Megan Hess leads a discussion at the 2015 Business & Economic Resilience Conference

For 30 years, the Blue Crab Bay Co. has safely navigated the perils facing small businesses on the Eastern Shore. The internationally recognized specialty foods producer has come back from a fire, weathered a recession and successfully reached beyond what some might view as an isolated location to a larger market seeking their high-quality specialty foods and Blue Crab stoneware. Their location is the source and inspiration of many of their products, including clam-juice infused Bloody Mary mix or Bay-seasoned spicy snacks. In addition to the scores of jobs it has kept in the community over many years, it is a beacon for other businesses and a testament to resilience on the Eastern Shore.

CEO Pamela Barefoot started the business on her kitchen table shortly after moving to the Eastern Shore under what she described as dire straits. Hit by the recent economic recession just after expanding their facilities, Blue Crab Bay Co. is still working to rebound by implementing many of the resilience strategies developed over the past three decades. “We know full well what companies in economically challenged areas must go through to survive,” noted Barefoot, and, “I am determined to make it work.”

Faculty Insight by Professor Megan Hess

The Blue Crab Bay Co. story highlights one of the key qualities of a resilient organization – the ability to see opportunity even in adversity. Barefoot’s business is located in a remote, rural location where even basic shipping logistics are a challenge, but she and her employees know that the history and traditions of the Eastern Shore are the secret ingredients that set her products apart in a crowded marketplace. When her business struggled to find qualified workers, she attracted talent by highlighting the lifestyle benefits of working for her company. Barefoot also sees the success of her business and the success of the Eastern Shore as intimately connected. She proudly advertises her products with the Eastern Shore’s tagline “You’ll Love our Nature” and partners with other area businesses on joint marketing and development efforts. Blue Crab Bay’s strategies for coping with adversity not only helped the business survive, but they also made the company stronger, more distinctive and more competitive.

Megan Hess is an assistant professor at Williams School of Commerce, Economics and Politics at Washington and Lee University. Her research focuses on corporate governance, ethical decision making and leadership, social networks, financial statement fraud and professional skepticism.

To learn more about business resilience, read the full report, Ideas to Action Special Edition: Business and Economic Resilience; What Virginia Businesses Can Teach Us.