Learning to adapt is the reality of any successful business, but COVID-19 may have been the ultimate stress test. Within days, businesses in industries such as travel, entertainment and hospitality were largely brought to a halt due to the shutdown. Many companies could not stand the shock of the pandemic and the economic havoc it had wrought. And in the pandemic’s first year, the Federal Reserve estimates that 200,000 businesses closed more than usual.
Others not only survived the turmoil, but thrived. Before the pandemic, for example, Instacart was gaining momentum — but the grocery segment, for the most part, wasn’t digitized. That all changed when COVID-19 hit. According to app founder Apoorva Mehta, the app saw five years of growth in just five weeks. Instacart has grown more than 300 percent year over year, and its valuation has doubled in 10 months — to a staggering $18 billion.
Others saw the pandemic as an opportunity to launch new ventures. When COVID-19 dealt a severe blow to New Jersey’s event catering service, which accounts for 50 percent of its revenue, the owner turned his indoor space into a mini market filled with produce and other kitchen essentials. This move was so successful that the owner was able to open a second site.
At my company, one of our major divisions runs live events at scale – so we had to pivot to survive. Knowing this, we began to explore different ways to reuse our event equipment. We looked at converting our audiovisual equipment cases into emergency hospital medical units. We also thought about creating UVC lights to sanitize shopping carts and luggage. In the end, we decided that the market could benefit from outside experiences. So we built a ticket-based attraction where consumers can walk half a mile through the woods for an interactive and immersive audiovisual technology experience. Within months, we’ve made multi-million dollar returns, and we have no plans to go back.
If you’re an entrepreneur considering a pivot program, here are three steps you can take to determine if it’s a good move for your business:
1. Read the room
What do your customers say? Do you lose customers? Is your profit rate going down? Oftentimes, your company’s sales team can answer these questions, but the salespeople probably won’t do their best to tell you all the rejections they receive. After all, rejection is just a part of their daily reality. So, be sure to check in with your salespeople on a regular basis, and document your findings so you can recognize patterns in your customers’ comments. Hearing a single comment isn’t impressive, but it could be something if several people pass on the same note to you.
2. Stay up to date with the news
I start my days with reading The Wall Street Journal Because it keeps me informed of the latest developments around the world. Current events may have nothing to do with my industry, but when they do, I want to be the first to know so I can make sure we take advantage of the opportunities. For example, there was tremendous traction around the idea of UV light at the beginning of the epidemic, and we were really excited about that. But as we learn more about COVID-19 and how it is transmitted, the urgency about UVC has waned. That was our signal to refocus our efforts.
3. Get yourself out of work
When I was a salesperson years ago, I would ask myself a question that still serves me to this day. I would ask, “If I’m a salesperson for a competitor trying to beat me up, what should I do?” The goal is to find weaknesses. You need to be objective and look at your company from an outside perspective. This competitive mindset will help you stay fresh. This is how we came up with the idea of external experience I mentioned above. We knew COVID-19 was going to change the entertainment industry forever, and we needed to innovate before our competitors did so to take advantage of new market opportunities.
The pandemic and the year 2020 have brought a large number of companies around the world, but those who have made it to the other side have done so because they have maintained a culture of openness and innovation. COVID-19 wasn’t the first market disruption – and it certainly won’t be the last. To prepare yourself, keep these strategies in mind and use them when you need to focus on the next axis.
With input from Bob Marsh, Chief Revenue Officer at Bluewater, a tech company that delivers design that helps craft moments that connect and inspire. Bluewater specializes in retail technology, displays and fixtures, as well as AV integration and event technology services, and works with top brands such as Walmart, Ford, and Rocket Mortgage.
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