For craft brewery Creature Comforts Brewing Co. and event producer SmartHustle, business withered when the coronavirus put the world on pause.

But rather than closing up shop, the companies pivoted, adjusting their operations to survive the pandemic.

Here Chris Herron, co-founder and CEO of Creature Comforts Brewing Co.; SmartHustle founder Ramon Ray; and Bridget Weston, acting CEO of SCORE, a professional coaching organization, chat with CO— content director Jeanette Mulvey on shifting their models to meet changing consumer needs in a radically transformed business landscape.

Think outside the box to uncork new revenue streams

When the pandemic hit, 50% of Creature Comforts Brewing Co.’s business vanished overnight, said Chris Herron, co-founder and CEO of the craft brewery in Athens, Georgia. That’s when the business started to “think out of the sandbox,” Herron said.

As demand for beer, its core product, fizzled, the business summoned its brand purpose for inspiration: “fostering human connection.” It became clear that as “people need the ability to be as sanitary as possible,” delivering on its brand promise meant offering a solution to achieve that goal, he said.

The business then shifted gears to producing what overnight became a high-demand product: hand sanitizer. Tapping a recipe from the World Health Organization, the brewery whipped up hand sanitizer on-site, selling it in beer bottles at affordable prices. The decision turned out to be a bona fide sales boon. When customers buy hand sanitizers, beer sales spike, too, Herron said. “It’s been going very, very well,” he said.

Create compelling digital events affordably by tapping the gig economy

Ramon Ray produces in-person events for brands via SmartHustle.com. When the massive and influential South by Southwest conference was canceled due to the crisis, it sent a sobering message to the event business. As a result, “I was in a little bit of a tizzy and a panic,” Ray said. “It was pretty traumatic and scary.” Then he pivoted: “Let’s do events online, keeping the fun and engaging parts in there,” he said.

Because nothing will substitute for the kinetic experience of a live in-person event, businesses would be wise to up their digital game, Ray said. “You kind of need to be cool and fancy now” — but cool and fancy doesn’t necessarily mean pricey.

One solution is to tap into the gig economy, from freelance developers to upgrade your website to video editors who can create compelling digital content, Ray said. Some of the best digital creatives in the business are working at a fraction of their usual rate given the economic climate, “so you get cheaper rates,” he said.

Making sure your business is searchable and can be found online is really critical.

Bridget Weston, acting CEO, SCORE

Tap professional mentors

The small business community is turning to SCORE, a national coaching organization for small businesses, for solutions to the big questions born from the pandemic, said Bridget Weston, Acting CEO.

Via free virtual sessions, they’re asking SCORE’s network of 10,000 volunteer mentors questions like: How do I keep my doors open? How do I position my business to pivot? How do I thrive and be sustainable?

For businesses, enlisting the guidance of a professional network is critical to making informed decisions, creating a survival roadmap and culling best practices, she said. In part, it’s about “how businesses are adopting their models” to meet the current moment, Weston said.

Create a touchless sales channel

Contactless business practices like curbside grocery pickup have grown exponentially in a world where touch can be perilous. The shift was not lost on Creature Comforts. “We had never done drive-through before,” Herron said. “So, we visited fast-food restaurants to learn how to serve people quickly and avoid long lines.”

The brewery now sells beer via its “touchless” drive through business from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., generating a revenue stream that previously didn’t exist, while using a fence and crossing guards to ensure social distancing safety guidelines.

Look to employees for business ideas; connect with your community

For Creature Comforts, the idea to sell hand sanitizer was hatched in a team brainstorming meeting. “It came from our tasting room employees,” he said.

Indeed, frontline workers are often the best source of business inspiration, speakers said. “We are opening the doors to their thoughts and ideas much more regularly,” said Herron.

What’s more, connect with your local chamber of commerce, said Herron.

Make sure your business has a searchable online presence

It might sound basic, but it’s imperative that your business can be found online in boom times. During a crisis when companies are on pause or have shuttered for good, “making sure your business is searchable and can be found online is really critical,” Weston said. For example, make sure your business is listed on Yahoo and Google, she said.

Consider bankruptcy for a fresh start

Some business models are simply not in a position to survive the pandemic. That’s when exploring filing for bankruptcy might make sense, said Weston. For businesses unable to pivot, bankruptcy may offer an opportunity to “reposition your business in a new way, or pursue a new opportunity, to [create] something that can grow and rise through these ashes,” she said.

For more resources from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

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Published May 05, 2020