To succeed during challenging economic times:
Make a small businesses pivot to meet changing customer needs.
If you own a small business:
You need to keep the lights on and the money coming in.
When most of your local customers are either sheltering-in-place or working at essential jobs, they’re not thinking about shopping.
Unless you supply items they consider necessities.
So what can you do?
Figure out how to use the resources and relationships you have to meet your existing customers’ current needs or the needs of others who live near your business.
While this approach won’t work for every business, it’s worth considering.
Also, you may need to think outside your usual area of focus.
To help you, here are 3 ways that local businesses in New York City made small business pivots to yield revenue.
But before you throw your hands up in frustration, make this approach into a game. And don’t be afraid to ask others for help.
Consumer Behavior During COVID-19
To figure out where opportunities may exist, examine the current state of US commerce (via VisualCapitalist).
During this COVID-19 period, people in the US have continued to increase their grocery shopping. This shouldn’t be a surprise since most restaurants and other away-from-home eating options are closed. So everyone is eating at home!
Further when it comes to purchasing, customers rank reliability higher than speed! (GlobalWebIndex May, 2020)
Beyond the actual purchase, consumers are rethinking how they buy to minimize health risks. About a quarter of respondents expect to spend more time assessing purchase decisions online before they go to a store. And 2 out of 5 customers want to spend less time in physical stores.
The top reasons to support a brand include:
- Best meet my needs.
- Best product availability
- Helped people during the outbreak. This shows the power of being a purpose driven brand!
- Marketing During Uncertainty (Has useful charts and tips.)
Make A Small Business Pivot To Survive
While businesses that rely on people gathering in close proximity will continue to be challenged, to survive COVID-19 issues, make a small business pivot.
As my friend and colleague Joe Pulizzi pointed out in his book, Content, Inc., your audience often wants to buy other products and services from you beyond your initial offering. (Hint: it’s called customer retention.)
To survive current business uncertainty follow the lessons of Theodore Levitt’s theory of Marketing Myopia (published in the Harvard Business Review 1960).
- Marketing myopia consists of “[s]hort-term focus on and definition of your firm’s needs and products instead of evolving your business to continue to serve your customers’ needs and wants.”
Levitt pointed to the failure of railroads to focus on their customers’ needs for travel more broadly. By redefining their business, railroad companies could have expanded into airlines and other travel services.
Small Business Pivot 1: Restaurants Change From Eat-In To Eat-Out
Like many parts of the US, some restaurant owners have converted to curbside pick up and/or delivery. These small businesses pivoted to serve current customer needs while keeping everyone safe!
Some restaurants have created attractive pickup areas.
In addition to an attractive service area, the wonderful Asian restaurant Laut used painter’s tape and paper signs to mark proper social distancing for patrons.
By contrast, Allison Lanzilotta Arevalo, restaurateur and author of The Pasta Friday Cookbook: Let’s Eat Together made a different small business pivot. She went back to her cooking and marketing skills!
When her local supermarket and other shopping options ran out of pasta, she decided to make her own with a fancy pasta maker that had been collecting dust.
Since flour was in short supply due to the home bread baking boom, Allison turned to a restaurant supplier and ordered a 50 pound bag of semolina flour.
By selling online via Facebook and her own website, Pasta Louise, Allison has built a list of regular customers. She sells a whooping 120 pounds of pasta a week.
By giving people another way to get their pasta fix, Allison has attracted local press. And by press, I mean The New York Times and NBC NY.
Personal note: Allison was one of my NYU marketing students. I’m thrilled to see how she’s succeeded!
Small Business Pivot 2: Drugstore Expands Offering
As an independent drugstore, The Habitat Specialty Pharmacy has faced challenges to staying in business before.
When they first opened, Habitat Pharmacy had a pharmacist and filled drug prescriptions.
BUT they couldn’t compete with insurance companies that limited patient’s fulfillment options.
So Habitat Pharmacy closed its pharmacy section and expanded its offering to higher margin products unavailable at the local CVS or Walgreens.
With the increased need for face masks and the lack of supply, Habitat Pharmacy offered handmade masks. They were made by a local woman and came in a variety of bright colors
In addition they added an important and difficult-to-get service:
They give eye tests for New York State driver’s license at a cost of $20.00 per test. And they register the results directly with the DMV.
Even better, you don’t have to go to the DMV. During normal times, its line is VERY long. As a result, the $20.00 seems like a bargain!
Small Business Pivot 3: Cheese Storefront Becomes OOH Advertising
Retail window displays have been a casualty of COVID-19, at least in lower Manhattan.
Ironically, the neighborhood, known as the Ladies’ Mile, gave birth to department stores. In part this change was due to the installation of the Sixth Avenue El-Train. It was constructed in 1878 and helped change the area into a thriving retail area.
Now, instead of window displays arranged to lure passers-by in for retail therapy, many stores have put up ply-wood boards or plain brown paper.
But Theresa Rivera found a way to add beauty to the neighborhood and keep people’s spirits high. At the same time, she employed people and promoted local businesses with her “The Mural Project”.
In Theresa’s words:
A portion of all proceeds from The Mural Project will be donated to #citymealsonwheels @mealsonwheelsamerica @feedingamerica. We’ve donated over $1K so far to these and other organizations out there that focus on helping our elderly, homeless, and in-need NYC neighbors.
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Some good news from @abc @localish x @disney, thank you so much for showcasing this project! Featuring the lovely @jlef423 @meatpackingny ❣️ . #TheresaRiveraDesign #creativedirection #setdesigner #productiondesign #productiondesigner #meatpackingNYC #meatpackingdistrict #fifthavenue #design #1Crew #NYC #smallbusiness #essentialservices #NYC #CreateArtForEarth #NewYork #matisse #mural #paint #painting #painter #artist #coronavirus #quarantine #quarantinelife #flattenthecurve #timelapse #press #media #TheMuralProjectNYC
My husband and I watched Theresa Rivera transform the window of Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, at Broadway and East 20th Street into a cheese inspired mural. (BTW—It’s across from the original Lord & Taylor’s Department Store building.)
Look how Theresa’s design wraps around Beecher’s corner location!
Note: Theresa included a shout out to sponsor, Northwell Health, a local hospital chain.
Small Business Pivot: Actionable Marketing Tips For Difficult Times
So how should a small business pivot in this challenging times?
Use these 5 Actionable Small Business Marketing Tips:
- Assess current resources. Include your existing inventory, employee skill sets, supplier and distributor relationships, and location.
- Determine what products and services your existing customers need and also consider what other customer segments might want to buy from you.
- Assess where your resources and customers needs overlap. Take the time to write these ideas down on paper.
- Determine the viability of each of the possible offerings. Estimates the amount of product you can get and how much you can sell the product for. As part of this assessment, determine your costs.
- Create ways to promote your offering to your existing housefile and local community. It doesn’t have to be formal. Here are some examples.
Small Business Pivot In Difficult Times Conclusion
When you’re a small business owner, the most important thing you need to do in the short term is to cover your costs.
Getting established and staying in business is often more difficult than it seems from the outside.
So take a deep breath and follow these small businesses who have found ways to keep going despite the curve balls that the COVID-19 has put in their way.
And there’s a good chance you can too.
Take the time to rethink what you have or can do for your customers that other businesses can’t do.
Go on—I know that this period is scary and it will take work to get through it.
But as history shows the companies that survive lay the foundation for future growth.
PS: Still looking for marketing support during COVID-19 and beyond?
We’ve got you covered with 2 free downloadable marketing offerings.
- Joe Pulizzi created a marketing ebook tailored to help you through this Corona period.
- Mark W. Schaefer, a COVID-19 survivor, wrote his Pandemic Business Strategy Playbook.
Get Heidi Cohen’s Actionable Marketing Guide by email:
Want to check it out before you subscribe? Visit the AMG Newsletter Archive.
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