Just how unpredictable are things right now? As the nation nears two months of lockdown and a very cautious re-opening of business in a handful of states, we’re only just learning of new confirmed COVID-19 symptoms, seeing its myriad impacts on different age groups, and finding out that there may not be immunity for those who’ve already had the disease.
For businesses toeing the line to restart something like normal operations, we’re all entering uncharted territory. There’s no blueprint for a pandemic; almost no business will see its day-to-day operations go back to what they looked like in January. For many clients we’ve worked with, that’s scary stuff.
During the financial crisis in 2008, many companies were in a similar situation. Facing a steep recession, almost no access to capital, and skyrocketing unemployment, it’s almost too easy a parallel to draw that situation today. But things are very different, and perhaps we’re in an even stronger position to recover today.
First, the internet. To compare eCommerce in 2008 to 2020 is to compare a Ford Model T to a Tesla. In 2008, online sales accounted for just over 5% of retail dollars spent in the United States. In 2019, that number more than tripled to 16%. In dollar amounts, eCommerce has grown from $453 billion to $601 billion, and by the end of 2020, you can expect both the percentage and dollar amount to jump considerably.
During the Great Recession, White House Chief of Staff uttered one of the most misunderstood quotes of all-time. He advised then-President Obama to “never let a good crisis go to waste”, something some called opportunism. It was, but he meant it as an opportunity to fix things that weren’t working, exacerbated issues like climate change or inequality, or never received the attention serious problems deserve.
That’s the second advantage we have during this unique time. Businesses have the chance to reinvent themselves to be more competitive, more adaptable, and stronger than ever. One of the best examples we’ve seen happens to be here in Traverse City. Mama Lou’s Taco Shop was a Downtown TC institution from Day One, a hit for locals and tourists alike. As successful as it was, it had limitations. It was famously small; seating was limited to only a few spots, often crowded and uncomfortable, and usually resulted in a frustratingly long wait. It might not be immediately clear how a taco join can benefit from looking for online sales and data, but it quickly became clear that something had to happen.
After first transitioning to curbside, they ultimately decided to close up, stop, and really think. The lockdown offered an opportunity to reshape its business to address its weak spots. On Cinco de Mayo, they reopened, but not before announcing some big changes. First, they would pivot to a bodega-style, grab-and-go format. They understood that it could be months before diners would feel comfortable dining-in, and with social distancing reducing the already small number of tables, it wouldn’t be sustainable in any case. The announced the news on all of their social media channels to inform patrons of the move:
“…we are so pumped to introduce you to Mama Lu’s Party Store! Mama Lu’s Party Store allows our guests to experience the food of Mama Lu’s in a new and exciting way! Mama Lu’s Party Store is a specialty grocery store mixed with a dash of bodega providing you all the Mama Lu’s essentials plus a whole lot more! Your Lu favorites will come pre-packed, ready to go, including prepared meats (with heating instructions), toppings, sauces, and sides. Marg mix, beer & wine, party snacks, produce, and a handful of pantry basics will be there for you too! We will also offer warm tortillas (best for same-day enjoyment), along with a daily featured “hot lunch” option, in addition to grab and go wraps and salads.”
The move also allowed them to offer online ordering, with patrons able to schedule their pick-ups and avoid any waiting. This also arms Mama Lou’s with a whole new way to communicate, reward, and attract repeat business digitally. By using data to track sales, orders, and other trends, they’ll be able to decrease waste, improve margin, and function as a leaner and meaner operation through the crisis and on the other side.
Mama Lou’s is just one example of how thinking past immediate problems can solve longer-term issues. Every business has the opportunity to plan, pivot, and market those changes using digital resources we simply lacked eleven years ago. This is the opportunity we’ve waited for to think through not just a pandemic, but the next five or even ten years.
We love helping decision-makers do something different. If we can help, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t just get through this; get stronger.