What it really takes to pivot your business successfully

What it really takes to pivot your business successfully

Businesses may pivot out of opportunity or a need to survive. We asked business leaders who have successfully made the leap what it takes to pivot your small business successfully – and what hindsight has taught them.

After a decade in business, florist Claire Sawyers had grown to three stores in Auckland and an online presence. But she came to realise that operations were less efficient, and more expensive, than they could be.

“We ran the three stores for three or four years, but we had challenges with overheads and staffing, and also having the right product in the right place and the skew of each different shop.”

That ultimately led to her downsize and reposition Roses Are Red as a purely online business.

Meanwhile, New Zealand marketplace TheMarket launched in July 2019 with a strong focus on consumer goods, including homewares, fashion and lifestyle products.

“We already had a presence in grocery, but it wasn’t a dominant part of our offering,” explains Sarah Gunn, its general manager of trading.

But the stage 4 COVID-19 lockdown forced it to bring forward existing plans to expand its presence in essential goods – a pivot implemented in just four days.

Both businesses gained valuable insights from their respective pivots and are encouraging others to learn from their experience. Here are their tips:

Look for efficiencies

A business pivot will often involve some up-front establishment costs. However, it also presents an opportunity to deliver efficiencies.

Sawyers explains that her store network tended to service different markets – corporate, gifts and funerals – each with different product and delivery needs.

“It meant we couldn’t buy as much of the same things together.”

She also found that the bricks and mortar stores took double the time to fulfil an order than those processed online – in spite of the substantially higher outlay on rent and staff.

Despite initially costing her one-third of her revenue, pivoting online allowed Sawyers to not only slash costs and reduce headcount, she was even able to cut her opening hours.

“We went from 8:30am to 6pm to 8am to 2:30pm. Our hours are structured that way to work around our courier times, with four pick-ups each day,” she says.

“It’s a better quality of life for us as the owners.”

Customer loyalty isn’t guaranteed

Just because you’re renowned for a particular service or product doesn’t mean that the same customer loyalty will automatically transfer when you make a pivot.

“Being trusted in a category we weren’t originally known for was a challenge,” Gunn says.

“We partnered with reputable companies such as Foodbox and gained the support of the community by offering frontline workers a 15% discount on groceries.

“We also offered 15% off for Gold Card holders, as we knew they were a vulnerable area of the community that we wanted to support during this time.”

Embrace change in full

If you are going to make a pivot, Sawyers suggests embracing its full potential.

For instance, she uses an eproduct service to photograph orders as they are made up, with images sent to the sender before they are picked up by the courier for delivery to the intended recipient.

It allows senders to see the bouquets before they are shipped, demonstrating the actual bouquet is identical to product photos online and as proof against damage during delivery.

“I’m confused why [other businesses haven’t] taken it up. We’ve had really strong customer take-up!”

Get the right expertise

Both agree that having the right people and skills are crucial to making a success of any pivot – whether it’s within your business or externally.

“One of the things that really helped us act quickly was developing a COVID-response cross-functional team to develop and implement our strategy to not only survive, but to thrive at a time where ecommerce was a key opportunity,” says Gunn.

“We met each morning, reassessed the environment and revised our plan where needed. By involving team members from different areas of the business, we had loads of great ideas being tabled in a forum optimised for quick but solid execution.”

For Sawyers, the crucial component has been finding web support relevant to her business and industry.

“There’s so many people out there who will build you a website, and it’s very easy to spend a lot of money on something that’s not going to do the transactions for you,” she explains.

“We’ve been through five or six different websites over the years; some were burned through very quickly!

“So, find someone specialised in creation of the type of thing you do.”

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