The capitalist mantra and mindset of ‘Profit, Profit, Profit’ will not help businesses during these difficult times. That does not mean it is wrong to want to safeguard your business, however hiking prices and taking advantage of the situation may give short term gains, but in the long run, you will lose customers and overall faith in your brand and company. The reality is that throughout history, the companies that stand the test of time and survive are those that adapt to change. You do not need to invest heavily in expensive technology or replace your entire business model; however, you will need to start by changing your mindset and how you operate your business.
You might be a global company with sales around the world; however, during crises such as this, your local market becomes critical. If supply chains fail or it becomes difficult to ship internationally, customers in your local community or country will become your lifeline. For businesses that rely on over-the-counter sales, try drawing a three-to-five kilometre radius around your business, how many customers are located within that area? If you have a reasonable number of customers, why not consider putting in place a home-delivery service. If you have very few customers, are there WhatsApp groups, Facebook pages used by your local community? By targeting your local area in this way, you will be surprised by the number of opportunities, given that many potential customers might not even be aware that you offer your products or types of services in their area. Introducing a home delivery service does not mean you have to incur any additional costs.
Here’s how it could work
Local taxi companies have been severely affected by the pandemic with fewer people travelling around (if at all). If you serve customers in your local vicinity, you could contact a local taxi driver or firm and agree on a fixed daily rate. Whenever you have deliveries on a specific day, you could reach out to the driver or firm, and let’s say for example, that the daily cost was $100, the fee could be equally divided amongst your orders (you would need to inform your customers of any expenses that will likely affect their order ahead of applying the charge). So, if you had ten orders out for delivery, each customer would be required to pay an additional $10 for delivery - the more customer orders, the lower the delivery charge. If taxi companies are not an option, there are still many logistics companies offering a home delivery service.
Many businesses will be in a similar position to yours, so why not work together? Take the example of using a local taxi delivery service, rather than the driver collecting from one business, they could pick-up from multiple businesses, delivering essential items to customers within the local area. The same with stock and availability, if you are unsure what inventory will be available day-to-day, you could set up a WhatsApp, email group or Facebook post in which customers could check daily to understand what is on offer. Once they establish items that they may wish to purchase, they could call in or email orders directly to you.
It is easy to conclude that supermarkets, pharmacies and fast-food chains with long-established delivery networks will gain the most from the pandemic. However, there will be products either not currently stocked by them or readily available within their supply chains. These products may already be readily available to you or where you have easy access to via your supply chain. You could potentially get in touch with large chains offering these types of products, with a margin added to facilitate the process. By adapting, you will likely be able to tap into new markets to stay afloat and at the same time reducing any stock you hold.
Now let’s look at various business areas and sectors.
Restaurants, cafes and food retailers
Today, we live in the ready meal and easy access to food culture with many individuals in lockdown unable to cook at all or create limited meals following simple recipes. Using stock that you have, why not devise simple menus that could easily transition into home deliveries. These simple menus could be offered to customers in your local area and be delivered to homes daily. Cafes that traditionally served breakfast menus could offer take-out breakfast in a box or desserts such as waffles and pancakes. Restaurants could offer a three-course home delivery experience. Test the waters in your local area to see if there would be any demand for these types of services.
Bars, clubs and coffee shops
Depending on how long the lock-down lasts, it is likely that bars, clubs, coffee shops and anywhere offering drinks will see their sales greatly affected. For many of these businesses, they will also likely have a large stock of perishable items that might not last months, and many of these products will be in demand. For bars, clubs and pubs, you could potentially bottle products from a tap/keg, as well as already packaged products via a home delivery service. Any bottles used could be reused and sterilised each time, with customers paying a small deposit for any bottles used. For coffee and tea houses, you could either create cold beverage ranges or drinks that the customers can reheat at home. Lastly, following the community example, you could offer your often large, currently unused spaces for local businesses to store excess stock or bulky items, charging a small storage fee.
Pet food and suppliers
There has been a significant surge in pet foods and supplies. Many large chains only offer customers a limited range and likely hold and have access to minimal stock. Reach out to your local community and tap into a home delivery service, such as using a local taxi or an established delivery company. If you still have pets in your store, and if you are unable to take them home, ask if people in the community would be willing to help by taking fish or birds into their homes during this pandemic. Many countries are classifying pet food as essential supplies, so if you do not want to tap into this new approach, you could contact local supermarket chains to find out if they wanted to purchase your stock from you.
Tradespeople, hairdressers, barbers etc
You will likely be significantly affected by the lock-down. Many trades, such as electricians, gas engineers and plumbers would be called out for emergencies; however, new projects and maintenance requests by customers will typically now be put on hold. Haircuts, nails, tanning services are not considered essential, so customers in many countries could be fined for using such services. Cash flow will be a big issue for many tradespeople, so one approach could be to adopt a prepaid discount for loyal customers. Customers that will use you after the pandemic could purchase services at a discounted rate now, giving you access to much-needed capital. So, for example, if a gas engineer carries out annual maintenance checks for customers each year, if the customers pay in advance, you could offer a 20% discount. Hairdressers and barbers could offer a ‘two for one’ hair cut deals, and nail and tanning technicians could offer bulk purchase discounts. The prepay approach would likely allow you to get some immediate cash flow during these difficult times; however, any commitments you make now would have to be factored into your business schedule when things return to normal.
Wedding planners and special event organisers
Many weddings and special events have been cancelled for the foreseeable future; however, planners and organisers offer their customers hope. We know that this pandemic will eventually begin to slow, and life will slowly return to normal. By still engaging with your customers, you could use the lock-down time to keep momentum, ironing out details and preparing for the lock-down to end. If you are organised and plan ahead, you would likely be able to keep many of these important events on track, especially if they will occur later in the year. If the pandemic lasts longer than anticipated, what about thinking about innovative ways for unions and special occasions to still happen? Facilitating virtual weddings with guest parcels delivered direct to guests’ homes, group screen sharing etc. Though many customers might be reluctant, remember that you represent hope and life does not stop, just things are on pause for the moment.
Bakers, cake makers and specialist food companies
The biggest issue facing many at present relates to the availability of ingredients such as flour, yeast, eggs, sugar etc., items that are currently purchased on mass by every bulk buyer and on each hoarders shopping lists. If you have a stock or have an established supply chain where these items are readily available, why not continue making essential items such as loaves of bread and rolls. Other essential items such as pasta could be easily made by individuals that have baking facilities. Establish the needs within your local community and tap into a home-delivery network.
Hotels, resorts and accommodation providers
With the lock-down in force, it is unlikely that you will be receiving new guests anytime soon. To increase occupancy rates, here are a few ideas that could help to utilise your venue: -
- Offer a quarantine service – especially for multi-generational homes, where members of the family are considered high risk. You could offer a room with three basic meals each day for affordable prices. With food left outside the room minimising interactions with guests
- If close to a hospital or emergency service – offer free or housing at discount rates to emergency workers. If you are an independent business and would be unable to provide accommodation free of charge, why not start a crowdfunding page asking the local community to help fund the housing for critical workers
- Storage – offering your building and rooms to local businesses to store additional and excess stock for a reasonable fee
- Stranded individuals – with borders around the world closing, why not offer reasonable rates to stranded individuals, with long term discounts available
Financial and professional services
There is a lot of activity within law firms at the moment, with companies asking their lawyers to look at contractual obligations and terminations, due to force majeures and the current restrictions as a result of the pandemic. For professionals and specialist firms, though some will still be extremely busy right now, for others, there is an opportunity to engage with the various governments. Countries around the world have implemented various financial packages to help individuals and businesses through difficult times. The scale of these changes and the implementation to all of the millions affected is a mammoth task. If trained professionals approached governments with a reasonable compensation request, they could be brought in by the government to assist with the current volumes.
Buses and trains are still operating in many countries, typically offering a heavily reduced service. For taxis, coaches, private bus companies, haulage and people with vans, there are opportunities to support local businesses in terms of home deliveries. Many hospitals are relying on volunteers and taxi companies to drive recently released patients’ home and anyone with a van or licence to drive lorries and haulage vehicles are being called upon to transport essential medical supplies and food around the country.
Health and fitness
It may seem daunting right now; however, there are still ways to get some much-needed revenue right now: -
- Home fitness workouts – reach out to your existing customers and devise a workout plan for them from home. You could schedule a video conferencing session in which you help with the routine, so still offering a one-to-one workout regime
- Pre-paid sessions- offering discounts to customers that purchase your services now, to be used after the pandemic ends. Prepay two yoga sessions now and get one free or two nail treatments for the price of one
The recent pandemic has devastated all of the travel companies and those that work within the travel sector. Likely thousands have become unemployed, and many are unsure when customers will likely begin travelling again. Though the impact is severe to this sector, they are also the best and most equipped to help stranded passengers. Most travel operators and agents have specialist systems that can view available flights around the world real-time, getting the best and most affordable flights in order to get people home.
- Cancellations – many stranded passengers are forced to frequently fork out thousands of dollars for flights only to have them cancelled at the last minute. If agents charged an administration fee and their usual commission, they could help customers by monitoring and getting them on the next available flights and adapting to any changes causing the least disruption to the customer
- Cruise liners – many of the cruise lines currently docked could be converted into use as cargo ships, helping to move much needed medical supplies and food around the globe. Alternatively, these types of vessels could also be used as makeshift hospitals
- Grounded passenger planes – could be used to transport cargo, food and supplies around the world. If a typical passenger plane carries around 400 passengers, they could carry 100-200 passengers, with the remaining seats used for cargo. This approach would give stranded passengers the ability to get home and supplies and food to be distributed across the globe
No one knows how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last, or the real impact, however, the most important thing is to stay healthy and look after each other, especially the most vulnerable in your local community.
If we all work together, adapt to change and are fair, we will not only come out of this together, but you will also build a loyal and committed customer base long into the future.
I wish you the best of luck and stay safe