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Four stories of owners saving their business with a quick pivot

Your Customer Fulfillment system—the way you deliver your product or service to your customers—is an essential part of every business. But at EMyth, we talk often with our clients about how your fulfillment system is more than your product or service: It’s the promise you make to your customers, the experience they come to expect from you, consistently and reliably.

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The pandemic has made it difficult or impossible for so many business owners to deliver on that promise as they usually would. But when changes in the external environment affect the habits and needs of your customers, you have to be ready to change, too. You need to pivot, to find new ways to deliver your promise, and create a contingency system that not only serves your business in the moment, but can become a part of your long-term strategy.

So many businesses have done an amazing job of this: innovating to create a new service or delivery model, exploring different markets and communication plans, meeting their customers where they are. Here are four ways we’re seeing our clients successfully change some aspect of their customer fulfillment strategy to protect revenues and their team during this ever-changing time.

Create a new delivery model: The Music Rooms

When governments ordered businesses to close several weeks ago, EMyth Client Rodney Beggs lost all opportunity to deliver his service. His business The Music Rooms is located in the outskirts of Belfast, Northern Ireland, and consists of three small music shops specializing in instrument sales and music lessons for students of all ages. But with strict community-spread prevention measures in place, Rodney was looking at a 100% loss in revenue if he didn’t come up with a quick solution.

Until then, all music lessons were delivered face to face by Rodney or his staff, mostly in the shop but also in local schools. How could they still achieve their Brand Promise of delivering “a journey to musical heaven” for every student, every lesson, without being in person?

Rodney quickly came up with a solution: live lessons delivered by WhatsApp. While only half of his young clients have laptops, they all have a phone—and they all use WhatsApp. Within the last three weeks, The Music Rooms has managed a complete shift in providing unique and immersive video lessons to students. And while he’s lost the revenue from instrument sales, Rodney has only lost 30% of revenue generated by lessons—and he hasn’t had to let go of any staff.

In just two weeks, he launched a totally new product, went live and sold lessons. But that’s not to say it’s been easy. It took creating a new delivery model, setting up the basic technology and communication needed to deliver it, and being in a constant process of troubleshooting. “They're literally problem solving all the time,” says EMyth Coach Nick Lawler. “They’re getting feedback from the teachers about the issues … trying to figure out online ways of sharing sheet music and online ways of developing curriculum. They’re trying to figure out how to create a perfect online lesson.”

The work that The Music Rooms is doing now to improve this delivery model—developing promotional videos, improving the customer experience, and marketing—has future vision: It’s giving Rodney a wider market so he can serve students across the globe.

Explore your flanker markets: Special Occasions

Depending on your product or service, changing your delivery model may not be an option. Such has been the case for event suppliers like Kyle Tegner at Special Occasions in Corvallis, Oregon, who, after the state required cancellations of public gatherings, lost all his business for the foreseeable future.

But he quickly came up with a solution.

“He and I had done a lot of marketing work about six months ago,” says Coach Janet Beatty. When he lost all his primary market customers, he went back to this work. “He pulled out his flanker markets. … He knew back then that he could rent his tent to things like wineries [or] construction companies during certain seasons.” It was a profitable option that he hadn’t truly explored because it wasn’t his primary market. He realized that there was an immediate need for hospitals and clinics to have supplies for pop-up facilities to service the influx of patients—so he started to reach out, to connect with a different set of customers and create business channels to keep his business going during this moment. And this approach does more than just support his business in the present. “It’s also a long-term strategy,” says Janet, “a picture of what his business could be post-crisis.”

With the expectation that Kyle’s entire primary market might be gone for the next 6–12 months, he knows that they’ll have to pivot to their secondary and tertiary markets to keep business running. “Having that thought process already going has reinforced the support of my creditors as we navigate changes within our market [and] moving to other markets.”

Find new sourcing opportunities: Village Beach Market

In mid-March, business at Village Beach Market was running as usual, serving the community in Vero Beach, Florida, like it has since 1951. A fine food and wine shop, Jason Keen’s family store specializes in fresh foods, wine and beer, and gourmet products, along with everyday grocery items. But when the coronavirus caused so many food-related businesses to close, including local restaurants, consumers started buying up supplies quickly.

“After the first week, they were selling out of everything,” says Coach Susan Wilhelmsen. “His store went up in business by 50–75% within the first week or two.” With that quick uptick in demand, Jason couldn’t get the food supplies he needed to meet it. “That’s when he turned to other vendors.” With the restaurants in the area closed, Jason started working with their vendors—a different distribution channel than small grocers use—and purchased the inventory that the restaurants could no longer use.

“Rather than the meat spoiling because the vendor couldn’t take it to the restaurants, they all banded together.” And it wasn’t just helping the businesses involved, it was helping to save the community and to prevent a lot of waste.

“When the chips were down, nothing stood in Jason’s way to change. It’s been the most unbelievable thing to see,” says Susan. “And because of this moment, he’s upping his game in the online market. He’s offering home deliveries, and now that’s just going to be a way of doing business going forward.” Jason is doing things now that have been part of his business’ long-term strategy, but he’s been forced to jump on them sooner than he’d expected—or had been ready for. “He’s fast-tracked his vision in a way that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.”

Change your product or service offering: First Street Cafe

Of all business industries, food service has been one of the most hard hit and most innovative during this time. In areas where they’ve been forced to close for service, many have kept things going through online ordering for pickup and delivery—like First Street Cafe in Benecia, California.

“Prior to COVID-19, we were a full-service restaurant in downtown Benicia,” says owner Mark Krull, an EMyth Coach and Client. “We served breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days per week, and also offered catering and a variety of live music, jazz, trivia and comedy.”

On March 17, when all restaurants closed, Mark and his team—including his wife and daughter—knew they needed to find a way to keep the doors open for his employees—some of whom had been with them for almost 20 years.

Mark and his team started with drop-in service hours, then shifted their delivery model to doing online ordering, takeout and delivery. At that time, they had nothing in place for online ordering. “We worked with our POS vendor and support people [to get] an online ordering system up and running within the first three days. It’s now accounting for about 40% for our business.”

Aside from the dramatic change in their delivery model, they’re changing what products they offer. They’re paying close attention to how customers are buying and refining his menu to reflect that. “[We’re] removing items that don’t sell as well or that require ingredients that we don’t use for any other purpose. We hope to continue to refine and reduce the menu to help us run better costs, reduce inventory and simplify our operation.” And for the first time, First Street Cafe is creating meal packages that customers can order in advance. That way, Mark says, they can plan better, only bring in the necessary supplies at the last minute, reduce inventory and provide customers with choice—along with the customer experience that they’ve come to expect.

We’re so inspired by how these business owners are pivoting in the face of such immense challenges—and we want to hear your stories. Have you changed an aspect of your customer fulfillment strategy? How has it changed business for you now, and how might it affect how you do business in the future? Share your story in the comments below.

Tricia Huebner

Written by Tricia Huebner

Tricia Huebner is EMyth's VP of Coaching Emeritus. As one of the leading experts in all facets of the EMyth Approach, her 20 years of experience at EMyth included leadership roles in program development, coaching, coach training and marketing. Tricia’s commitment to helping business owners came from her own upbringing in a family of small business owners. In her time as a speaker and trainer, she addressed business audiences throughout the U.S., and internationally in Canada, Europe and Africa. Throughout her career, Tricia designed programs for the Small Business Administration and consulted with Fortune 1000 companies, and personally coached more than 200 small and mid-sized businesses, helping owners create businesses they love leading and lives they love living. She retired from EMyth in 2022 to pursue her own business within the wine industry.