COVID-proof businesses: Food trucks, exclusive ‘appointment’ dining, tech support and self care
With the disruptions and uncertainties of snap lockdowns, it may seem like a crazy time to be starting a new business — and yet, some are thriving.
So what are they? And why are they immune to the pandemic?
Essential service businesses are thriving during the pandemic
Pre-booked sittings and lockdown-proof pop-up food trucks are becoming a fixture of the hospitality industry
A start-up business group says the key is being able to service customers online and offline
The demand for professional services such as lawyers, accountants and human resources has increased during COVID-19, as has the demand for medical, NDIS support, wellbeing and mental health-related services.
In addition to traditional psychology and counselling businesses, relaxation and meditation activities such as online yoga classes, online team building events and businesses that support recreational hobbies have also emerged within the evolving mental health and wellness space.
But the growth has not only been in services and self care. Some in the hospitality industry have also found ways to thrive.
Adaptability is key to survival
According to Elena Kelareva, CEO of Gippstech and facilitator of the Startup Gippsland business support program, it all depends on what kind of business you are in, your overheads and whether or not you can pivot your product or service to the changing conditions.
“Technology-enabled businesses that can adapt to online and offline services, businesses with low overheads, those are all business that find it easier to deal with lockdowns,” Ms Kelareva said.
“You need to be more organised with booking appointments rather than being able to expect that you can just turn up as a customer.
“Mental health demand is absolutely through the roof, so a lot of businesses focused on mental health are seeing their demand increasing really significantly.”
A new era pop ups
A number of trends have been developing in the food and hospitality sector besides the shift towards takeaway formats that has been a lifeline for many cafes.
Models that can operate under lower cost circumstances that are resilient to lockdowns have started to emerge.
Flexible, re-locatable food trucks with low overheads, that can strategically set up in towns, markets and festivals with limited takeaway options, are becoming popular attractions in the wake of limited sit-down dining opportunities.
In-house dining has also had a makeover, with some businesses gravitating towards a set price ‘sitting model’, whereby customers pay a set base fee for an ‘experience’ within the time-frame of a sitting.
“So there’s a higher cost per customer and higher revenue per customer, to make up for the fact that there may be a limited number of customers and periods of time where the business cannot operate.”
The flip side of the ‘sitting’ is the booking of an ‘exclusive appointment’.
What has traditionally been a practice of the rich and famous, now extends to the everyday consumer, who may pay a premium for booking an exclusive shopping experience.
Many bars in Melbourne, hit hard by the consumer lethargy that has come with lockdowns, are now trialling exclusive membership models that enable them to communicate directly with customers, earn more from fewer events, reduce costs and keep their venues going.
Think online first, clicking for convenience
Technology support services, and online entertainment providers such as game and app developers have also done well in a world of increasing automation.
A new era of innovative, socially and environmentally conscious manufacturing has also been developing with the assistance of government grants and incentives.
But the key to future proofing any business, is to be scalable and flexible to changing dynamics. Lockdown plans and provisions need to be in place with everything from staffing to stock.
There are as many businesses that have traditionally seen their online presence as a promotional ‘add on’ to their bricks-and-mortar shop front.
Ms Kelareva said the pandemic had switched the emphasis to the online shop front. Many real-life stores are now becoming the add-on experience, the showroom to support online purchasing.
“The online option will eventually become the default, low-cost, budget option — the standard option for time-sensitive consumers,” Ms Kelareva said.
With 24-hour online shopping, click and collect and deliveries becoming a fixture of many larger retailers and supermarkets, Ms Kelareva said retail customer expectations had shifted towards the convenience of being able to shop anywhere, on any device, anytime.
“I think businesses that have no ability to service customers in a virtual format are struggling a lot more because with retail, for example, customers have all moved to expecting online to be available”, she said.
“If they have a choice between being able to buy online right now or wait until the store reopens, a lot of customers will buy online just for convenience.”