Meeting the New Need: Adapting your Business Model to the Coronavirus Pandemic
While there have been some glimmers of hope here and there with certain areas beginning to lift restrictions, the fact of the matter remains that the coronavirus pandemic is continuing to have a severe impact on businesses large and small alike.
With paycheck protection programs and small business loans proving difficult to obtain at best and impossible to navigate at worst, entrepreneurs are struggling to stay afloat without the safety nets they were promised. As such, the customers they depend on and employees who depend on them are all trapped in uncomfortable positions of uncertainty, unsure how much longer the businesses they love will be able to meet their needs. This economic anxiety is the last thing the world needs, but thankfully, there are some creative companies who are taking steps to address this uneasiness. In doing so, they not only find ways to remain in business, but are also earning a great deal of favor amongst their local (and sometimes international) communities.
If you want your business to survive, if you want to improve the wellbeing of the community you serve, then learn from how these companies have adapted their business models to meet the needs of the current situation, and see how you can do the same.
One of the most notable changes you may have seen is how grocery stores and other retailers are implementing social distancing protocols into their shopping experience. Certain locations are only allowing so many customers inside at a time, even denying entry to those without a facial covering. Additionally, they are placing marks on the floor so people waiting in line can keep a safe distance apart, as well as installing clear plastic sneeze guards to protect cashiers. On top of that, they are requiring customers who bring their own bags to bag their own purchases, preventing employees from handling the customers’ potentially unsanitary bags.
Other brick and mortar locations like restaurants and bars are not allowed to permit customers entry the way markets can, but locations that serve food are still allowed to offer take out options and delivery options. Ordering take out from a store you can’t even enter may sound like a doomed premise, and having a potentially infected person bring your order directly to you may seem to defeat the purpose of social distancing, but both options are being safely and successfully carried out through the implementation of contactless delivery. Whether you’re picking up your purchase or having it brought to you, you will find not only the employee handling your order to be wearing both gloves and a mask, but your order itself will typically be packaged in a bag or container of some sort. As the good are given from one party to another, neither come into direct contact, helping to preserve the safety of all involved. While we’re on the subject of restaurants, it should be noted how some are using their connections to wholesale suppliers as a way to add essential items such as toilet paper to their menu, which can be a godsend considering how quickly most markets sell out of the stuff.
Indeed, businesses who find their usual offerings no longer popular are refocusing their efforts to meet current demand. Automotive and plastic manufacturers are repurposing their facilities to produce parts and components for lifesaving medical tools like respirators and masks, while some distilleries are changing their brewing procedures to produce hand sanitizer instead. Stories like how a stage building company that lost work due to event closures is now making desks for people working remotely, or how a freelance writer specializing in wedding vows adapted her business to writing eulogies, are testaments to the adaptable nature of the entrepreneurial spirit.
Mind you, having the right tools and technology at your disposal can be the deciding factor in whether your business can continue to meet your clients’ needs. Instructors can use video conferencing tools to stream their lessons to their students, such as yoga or art classes, though this requires the instructors and students to all have access to the necessary materials. If your primary demographic doesn’t have the tools or time to follow along with you live, then recording these lessons and posting them to social media or video sharing sites like YouTube can be a useful way to gain views and direct traffic to your primary website. Additionally, some of these platforms can be monetized, which could become a useful revenue stream to help offset other losses.
Speaking of timing, some markets are offering special hours for older shoppers to come in and buy what they need before younger and more energetic shoppers. This is a useful strategy to not only cater to a specific demographic, but also tend to a vulnerable group of the community, as elderly citizens do not always have the energy to stand in long lines only to find the essentials they needed were already sold out. These long lines can sometimes result in rowdy crowds, which means hiring security guards to keep watch could be a worthwhile investment for you. Not only can they preserve the peace, but their presence can be a helpful means of keeping potential customers informed if the store has sold out of certain items. A customer who learns what they wanted from you isn’t in stock will leave unhappy, yes, but they will appreciate not having wasted their time, and are more likely to come back for future business.
Making sure customers come back could be critical to long term survival, and selling gift cards is a fantastic method to give loyal customers a way to support you, as well as ensure you will have their business once the pandemic passes. Offering discounts on gift cards, or even including them on transactions of a certain size, demonstrates good will on your part and incentivizes the customers return to put their gift cards to use. With so many people losing their jobs, consumers are having to carefully manage their spending habits, so any discounts you offer will be greatly appreciated. That being said, some shoppers are unhappy with how certain businesses are no longer offering returns or exchanges in order to avoid bringing contaminated products into their store, though offering store credit could be a satisfying alternative.
Whatever offers and options you do decide to implement, you’ll need to take steps to keep your customers engaged and reassured during this period. The more transparent you can be, the better. If you have a membership program, be sure to reach out to them and remind them how much their safety matters to you, then lay out the steps you’re taking to meet their needs without putting them in danger. In order to inform customers who aren’t on your mailing list, have an easily accessible FAQ on your website about the steps your business is taking, then head over to Google and update your My Business listing to reflect the changes you’ve made there as well.
These changes have all yielded positive results for the companies enacting them, but it’s up to you to decide which ones, if any, will work for your business. Keep in mind, however, that even these successful strategies are not necessarily long term solutions, and depending on how long the coronavirus continues to impact us, further changes may be needed.
While I began this article by discussing how paycheck protection programs and small business loans aren’t as effective as they were advertised, you should still continue to pursue whatever relief efforts are available. Uncertainty is the only thing you can count on during these tumultuous times, and ignoring what could possibly be a useful resource could deprive you of vital support and funding. No one was prepared for this pandemic, and that’s a fact you must keep in mind when adapting your business model.
Acknowledge that any plans or goals you had set before may no longer be viable. You may not see the growth you had initially projected, you may not be able to open a new location as scheduled, you may not be able to reach milestones you were hoping for. This is all unfortunate, but the reality is that none of that is as important as simply surviving. If you and your company can get through the crisis, then that is enough of a victory.