What does the future of business look like? In normal times many things can be uncertain, but with a pandemic almost everything is - demand might have increased, operations closed, plans paused, or business models changed entirely.
We know that businesses need as much support as possible and we’re here to help. Our newly launched free Reset. Restart programme helps you to understand your business, give you the tools to plan for future success and prepare for change in the short-term. The BIPC is here to help you take the power back and become more resilient, sustainable and agile.
To tie in with the launch of our new programme, we are featuring just a small selection of businesses who have come through the Business & IP Centre’s doors throughout the years and who have successfully adapted during the COVID-19 crisis.
“I manufacture a small range of alcoholic drinks from things that I grow or forage. So, by a year-long process of cold infusion I make fruit liqueurs, sloe gin, damson gin, etc. I also make two distilled gins, for which I grow some of the botanicals. On top of this, I run a small weekend cocktail bar, which showcases the products I make... A bit like a brewery tap room, the building I rent acts as manufacturing unit, bottle shop and bar. I also sell my products wholesale to local delis, bars and direct to the public through my website. There are lots of different strands to the business which I think was my saving grace when COVID-19 came along!
Due to the pandemic, we had to close the bar, which can be up to 90% of our income in some months. Very quickly I saw that alcohol was considered essential shopping (phew!). So I set up myself as an off-license with a table moved out into our doorway – we opened the day after lockdown. We had a lot of people come and buy direct from us – being an outside activity I think people felt safe.
The established online business went crazy. I offered free delivery to a fairly wide area of East London, which I did on my bike. I also created some new products, a hand sanitiser, two bottled cocktails which had previously been favourites in the bar and a bar in a box, where people could buy gin, tonic, snacks and have it delivered to their door. The new products and the free delivery were both taken up well by customers. And so we stayed connected to our customers and got by pretty well throughout the months of closure.”
Another business who has continued to flourish throughout the pandemic by capitalising on the benefits of an online offering is I Can Make Shoes. Its founder, Amanda Overs, explains how she’s managed to keep her head, or should it be feet, above water.
“During one of my mentoring sessions with Innovating for Growth delivery partner, Fluxx, they helped me realise the importance of starting an online community, which I went on to do. This community has steadily been growing and when COVID struck (which, in theory, should have put me out of business). I spoke to this community and heard what they wanted, which was online courses. I quickly pivoted my business, filmed and released my online course in two weeks and have since made over £100,000 of online course sales in under six months. It's kept my business open, my staff employed and opened up a whole new revenue stream.”
For Becky and Mother’s Ruin, it was also a good time to reflect on the business. “An opportunity to ask myself if I were to do it all again would I do anything differently? We had to incorporate COVID-19 secure regulations into the re-opening of the bar on Saturday 4 July, but it has also actually enabled me to do things I had wanted to do i.e. Table service, a smaller more sustainable menu, better use of staff resources, a lower impact business with lower overheads – all good.
Plus, I had been quite old school in my approach to the business, never borrowed any money and have no debts. I have always run the business in a way that has felt personally sustainable – and not having to worry about servicing a debt is great.
One thing the Innovating for Growth programme taught me when I thought I was looking to scale-up (as I thought this was the way that businesses inevitably must progress), was a clearer understanding of what I didn’t want. Which is a difficult but extremely useful lesson! Not to be confused with feeling like a failure because you don’t fit with what appears to be the standard of success...”
Another business, who previously used BIPC Norfolk for support on intellectual property, has also used this as a time to reflect and refocus their business. Hazel Russell, co-founder of The Wood Life Project, had onboarded over 20 retailers when they launched to wholesale in September 2019 and she partnered with Not on the High Street and Joules a couple of months later. By January 2020, they were looking to increase this number to 45 after a successful trade show. However, when COVID-19 struck, retailer orders stopped and conversations were put on hold.
Hazel explains, “This enabled us to focus our efforts on our online sales, via our own website, as well as Not on the High Street and Joules. We worked on our SEO/CRO, blogs, and used social media platforms to drive sales and grow brand awareness. As a result of this, our sales far surpassed those experienced last Christmas.”
Hazel continues, “The rise in sales can of course be explained by the change in consumer habits in the lockdown period; shoppers were no longer hitting the high street to find gifts for loved ones, they did this from the comfort and safety of their homes instead.”
Much like Becky and Mother’s Ruin, The Wood Life Project were also able to work on their sustainability, “During this period, we spent time preparing for becoming Grown in Britain (GiB) certified, and successfully gained accreditation in June. We also gained our Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) accreditation in July.”
Hazel is now looking forward and is currently working on a new range of products to complement their existing product range. These include seasonal children’s products especially for Christmas as well as some products for adults and the hospitality trade. They are also now back in discussions with the large retailers too. Watch this space for The Wood Life Project products in a retailer near you soon!
New products and innovations are continuing to pave the way for businesses to continue trading and move forward. Innovating for Growth alumna, Central Vision Opticians, founded by Bhavin Shah has done just that. Bhavin explains “We’ve had to adapt the business as a result of coronavirus and I believe it has had a positive effect. We were already a multi-award winning practice and I’ve always been looking at ways to innovate and offer more to our patients. As a result, safety now became a very important priority in a way that we’d never considered before. Not just for our patients but for my staff and myself. I re-mapped our entire customer journey from the point of first contact, to when patients entered the premises, how the examination was conducted to trying spectacles. After identifying all of the potential risk points with my staff, we planned and found ways to make everything as safe as possible.
I had been planning to invest in new technology that would allow us to examine our patients’ eyes in more depth, so we could identify problems more quickly and accurately. This technology also had the benefit that we could examine patients without getting as close as before, which meant that it would be safer as well as more thorough.
We also noticed a few common symptoms that patients were experiencing as a result of lockdown and working from home. Many children have become more short-sighted because of reduced outdoor time, excessive screen use and close-up work. We had already been successfully working on innovative programmes to help reduce the rate of this type of deterioration, so we were able to help many children who became short-sighted (myopic). We also noted a surge in patients who were experiencing symptoms of eyestrain as a result of working from home and additional VDU/screen time. We created blog posts and information guides to help alleviate the symptoms from home where possible and invited those with lingering eyestrain to attend the practice for a specialised assessment to solve their problems.
I believe that the crisis has helped to focus the way we help our patients and has increased the value we can offer in keeping their eyes safer and healthier with better vision than ever before.”
For Becky and Mother’s Ruin, there continues to be positivity, “It is hard to know what the future will bring for us. What the crisis has taught me is that the business does have a good resilient core, and that we can only live in the moment and try and respond creatively to changes as they happen. So I ask myself, is everything OK today? This week? And if so, I think that is all I can hope for, and I am grateful! I think being a tiny multi-stranded business makes all this possible.”
If you are looking to Reset. Restart your mind set, business model, market opportunities, customer offer, social and environmental impact, products and services, marketing, finances, funding options or digital productivity, visit our free programme page to find out more and to sign up to our webinars.